How learning about different cultures has enriched our family life with new traditions
For the past six years, our family has spent each year learning about a new country and/or culture. We have explored Mexico, India, Scotland, France, Greece, and are currently exploring China. By spending a year learning about each culture, we have a chance to immerse ourselves in the many different aspects of each culture, such as traditional foods, music, art, customs, and festivals.
There are many reasons this has been enriching to our family, and one of those reasons is the lasting connection each of these cultures has had. Various customs and celebrations are enjoyed with each culture, and we enjoy them as we learn about them. But each culture seems to have one or two traditions that fits with our family, that we enjoyed or related to so completely. Without planning to, our family has incorporated and adapted these traditions and customs into our family life – creating new family traditions we look forward to every year.
One of the first traditions to have been adopted into our family is Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday celebrated in honor of friends and family who have passed away. Though upsetting, death is a natural part of life, and though our daughters have not yet experienced the passing of a close friend or relative, they have lost beloved pets. Every year, we set up an altar of sorts, sometimes more elaborate than others, with photos and drawings of pets the girls put together, and photographs of family members our daughters may not have known, but that hold a place in mine and my husband’s hearts. We put out the sugar skulls the girls made that first year, light some candles, and drink atole. The tradition of celebrating Day of the Dead has been a way for our daughters to process death, to learn how their parents process death, and to celebrate the lives of those we have lost.
We also have adopted celebratory customs: we continue celebrating our name days, and use henna to mark important events. Name days are the Greek tradition of celebrating the patron saints day that matches your name, rather than birthdays. Though we continue to celebrate birthdays with parties, cake, gifts, we have a quiet, family celebration on our name days. We enjoy a Greek dessert, most often karithopita and ouzo candy, while celebrating and appreciating the person whose name day it is. Henna is used as body art in parts of India, especially applied to a bride in intricate designs on her hand. We have used henna as body art to commemorate special occasions, such as birthdays, graduations, and our wedding.
We adopted the French tradition of enjoying galette des rois on the day of Epiphany, an almond pastry with a hidden feve (dried bean). The one to get the slice with the feve gets a gold (tissue paper) crown, and calls the shots for the rest of the day. In our case, it has also become tradition to have a quarter of the filling seep out of the pastry while cooking :), and the need for each of us to have two or more pieces before someone finds the feve.
Certain traditions have also been adapted into our traditions – for example, our Easters now have a touch of Mexican and Greek flair. Every year, we include cascarones (Mexican confetti filled eggs) with our chocolate eggs, and since last year, the Greek game of tsougrisma is played with red dyed eggs.
As for Chinese traditions? Celebrating the moon festival was memorable – cuddling up together, staying outside together to watch the full moon rise above us, and being grateful for all we have been blessed with.
Marie-Claude is the mother and step-mother of two incredible girls. Over the years, they have immersed themselves virtually in various cultures. This year they have been exploring the Chinese culture, which is being chronicled on her blog at mariespastiche.blogspot.com.
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