I love Christmas (if you haven’t guessed that already) and just as much as I love the lights, the tinsel, Santa and all the decorations, I also love the intensity of it all.
But I recognise this can be challenging and sometimes painful for families where, seeing each other once or twice a year is not always easy. Throw in a couple that have multiple heritages, traditions and backgrounds and it’s grounds for some pretty intense conflicts- if it’s not managed well.
More often than not couples from similar backgrounds can master the main events together easily. Not so in mixed-culture couples. Holidays steeped in tradition- often religious- and mountains of relatives in close quarters, can result in intense emotion from all sides and high expectations of what and how things should go down.
While my partner of Nigerian descent and I of Iranian/Canadian descent have been lucky to find acceptance from both sides of our families, it doesn’t mean we’ve not had our fair share of conflict around festivals and traditions.
Children bring out a new angle to building on and passing on tradition in a multicultural family. And what can follow can be intense feeling about what and how you should celebrate.
After 15 years of being together and 3 children later, my partner and I are gradually learning to let things go, reduce expectation and build our own unique family traditions outside of what we grew up with.
Like a lot of multicultural families, we spend most of our travel budget on visiting family. The yearly trips to visit my family in Canada and my husband’s family either in various parts of England or even Nigeria (if we can stretch it) are steeped in expectation and an idealised version of ‘homecoming’.
The pressure to create the kind of atmosphere you remember fondly can be stressful, especially if it’s at odds with how your partner may feel about it. I feel that I could or should do more for my girls or they will miss out on an important part of my cultural heritage. What kind of pressure is that?!!
Take last year for example. The intensity of my excitement to be coming ‘home’ for Christmas in Canada was endearing but nerve-wracking. The pressure to ‘do’ everything, see the lights, make a snowman, visit Santa and decorate the tree with the right Christmas album playing in the background (yes, I’m sure everyone has a favourite that was continually played while growing up) can lead to overload fast.
My partner, on the other hand, is much more relaxed when it comes to Christmas. Growing up in Nigeria where the weather is warmer and perhaps schedules looser, has different ideas and both our versions of how to ‘enjoy’ the holidays as been at odds.
The Holidays can also split a multicultural family down the middle…
For multicultural families that have had to endure prejudice from one side or both because of their union, the holidays can be even more painful. The pressure and desire to spend it with your loved ones, hoping against hope that they will have gotten over their racist ideas and accepted your relationship for the sake of the kids or just because ‘it’s 2018!’- is heart breaking when it doesn’t happen.
Social media has made many of these stories real to me, particularly after big political events such as Brexit and the US election when I read about many mixed couples planning to spend Christmas or Thanksgiving with family they knew had voted to leave or for ideas symbolised by the Trump campaign which represented deep rooted prejudices. Their fear and sadness that their partner would never be accepted, despite the love between them, was harrowing to read.
For lone parents in a multicultural family, the struggle is even greater…
Not at all surprising, all those times throughout the year where families feel separated, abandoned, rejected or deep in conflict become even more intense in December. In instances of lone-parent families where the non-resident parent doesn’t play a big role in their child’s life, it’s left to the resident parent to fill their child in on a culture they may know nothing about.
For many, the fight isn’t worth fighting because as a lone parent, it’s probably easier to just do it your way. And yet, the void children may feel as a result of the other parent’s absence makes it even more vital that they know about all aspects of their racial and cultural heritage. Even more so, so that they are comfortable with who they are, recognizing that they belong to two or more cultural and racial heritages.
All parents do things with their kids based on what they have known and learned throughout their lives. Their own parents gave them some of it, but a lot came from the culture in which they were immersed.
Looking back, I realise that what made the holidays so special wasn’t the Christmas album, the gifts or the right coloured lights. It was having our entire family round for a big meal celebrating our unique traditions, beliefs and cultures- in whatever form that took. It was spending time together and making memories that strengthened our bond as a family.
Releasing expectation about reliving your childhood can be what’s needed at this time of year. Your heritage cannot be exactly relived because it’s relevance becomes diluted when you have two cultures to merge in a multicultural family.
Perhaps that’s what will make our Christmases in a multicultural family more interesting and more memorable. Our Christmas turkey now sits alongside a giant bowl of jollof rice and plantain. And snow lined walks in the afternoon will be replaced with games. Either way, I’m hoping that that’s the part my children will look back on and remember- our unique heritages that blend together to make Christmas so special.