Have you noticed? One month ago Christmas was in the air! Let’s close our eyes and be there again… Christmas! In the baubles, trees, and nativity scenes, everywhere the atmosphere is festive. The child in us could not wait until Christmas. But waiting for what? Father Christmas, Baby Jesus, the Christmas Eve or Christmas morning? What about the German Nikolaus (Santa Claus) coming on the 6th December or the three wise men arriving one month later at Epiphany – how do multicultural families celebrate Christmas? And what about those who also are from different religions?
In all my encounters for my project the Christmas-topic is one central element, and in most cases the parents themselves bring up its significance in their life. It looks like the main cultural event they want to transmit to their children. Some of them cite some memories from their childhood, and I feel how much these are related to a positive and fundamental experience in their lives. All agree that Christmas is a moment where cultural differences are definitely present and that multicultural parents have to find some compromises.
The book Bilingual Families: Bringing Up Children between Cultures will bring together lots of different anecdotes about this main subject, but in the meantime, have a glance at these extracts and why not comment on your own experience!
Magda and Stefan met in Germany, she is Polish and he Austrian. Their work brought them to Britain where they build a family. They have an eight-year old son who speaks Polish, German and English.
At Christmas we just combine everything: we celebrate the arrival of the Christkind (Baby Jesus, in Austria) and we prepare a biscuit and a carrot for the reindeer of Santa Claus. So far our son is not questioning anything. The three traditions take place in our own ritual around Christmas. First the Christkind like an angel rings a bell outside and brings gifts, as this is usual in Austria. Outside as well, Santa drinks milk and the reindeer eats its carrot. And in Poland the tradition is to go upstairs in your bedroom and watch for the first star in the sky, which means the presents will come. We’re preserving this magic triangle but we know it won’t last for ever…
For Céline and Ridvan a French-Albanian couple, Christmas was a tradition to create. Used to a Muslim atmosphere in Albania, but not practicing the religious rituals, Ridvan didn’t know much about Christmas. The arrival of their children gave them a reason to build a tradition around Christmas. For them it’s a day of joy and a day for the family.
Celebrating Christmas is something we have done since we have been together and especially since the kids. We do a bit of decoration, have some gifts and a nice meal together. And now even my family in Albania says “Happy Christmas” to us. For them the biggest day in the year is New Year, but they understand the sense of Christmas and want to share it with us.
For Nathan and Melanie the Christmas-topic is quite delicate as it doesn’t have the same place in their original culture. Nathan is Israeli, for him as a Jewish there is no Christmas but other holidays like Hanukkah or Yom Kippur. Melanie grew up in Germany and even if her family is not particularly religious she was used to Christmas. For her marriage she converted to Judaism which is the religion they practice in their family. The fact that they are all Jewish means that there is no more Christmas for them.
I feel comfortable being Jewish as we transmit this religion to our children. But when we are back in Germany for Christmas the atmosphere can be difficult, because my parents want to introduce the Christian elements of Christmas to our children.
I remember your mother showing them Baby Jesus in the manger and talking about the nativity story. I did not agree with this, as I am worried that they will mix up the religion and do not understand.
Do you really think? I am wondering if my mother would like to show them why they celebrate Christmas, and give them some presents. She is not particularly religious, I think, in her perspective it’s more a cultural transmission of Christmas.
Valentine and Philipp are a Franco-German couple, they live in Britain with their two children. Every year they discuss which day they should celebrate Christmas. The 24th December in the afternoon, Heilig Abend (Christmas Eve) like in Germany or the 25th December in the morning like in France? Both remember their childhood memories and usually decide according to the place and the relatives they are celebrating with. The 2014 edition was very special to them as they were only with the children.
It was the ideal situation to create our own traditions around Christmas. So we went to mass in the early evening, afterwards we discovered the surprises hidden in the stockings –this is our British touch- and eventually, the children opened their presents on the Christmas morning. This way every culture has its own place and we loved it!
What about you, how was your intercultural Christmas 2014?