Navigating the holidays, filled with family obligations, office parties, decorations and meal prep is stressful for everyone. For mixed families, it can be even more complicated. Our own family’s traditions are what I would describe as a work-in-progress.
Since my family is Muslim and my wife was raised in a Christian denomination that didn’t celebrate Christmas, we don’t have religious orthodoxy or family expectations for the holiday. So we’ve explored the full range of figuring out how we celebrate, embracing the holiday with a blend of traditions, both Christmassy and not-so-much.
We’ve ventured out into the Christmas tree farms of Clackamas County, braving cold rain and numb fingers to harvest our own perfect fir; we have decorated gingerbread houses at home and we’ve sipped hot apple cider while walking the bright lights of Peacock Lane. We have also celebrated the winter solstice with a “shortest day hike,” by meditating in the darkness to welcome the renewal of sunlight and by lighting candles in the dark. And of course, no holiday would be complete without presents — something to wear, something to read and a few toys — under the tree for the kids.
We’re hardly the only ones juggling multiple perspectives.
A friend of mine whose wife is originally from Southeast Asia and whose large extended family has a Buddhist perspective, tells me that Christmas is like a “family reunion with presents.” They put up a tree, exchange presents and eat turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, along with lots of rice, noodles, and egg rolls. The same is also true for a Jewish colleague, where latkes, applesauce and the menorah share the stage with presents under the Christmas tree.
The balancing act for our family continues throughout the year where we’ve begun to expose the kids to festivities common to our heritage. Sri Lankan New Year, typically celebrated in April, consists of a party with other families of Sri Lankan heritage at the Buddhist Temple in Beaverton. After a potluck of curries, it’s time for games such as lime-and-spoon race and tug-of-war. Similarly, Eid al-Fitr, the culmination of the Ramadan fasting month is celebrated with new clothes and an outing to Oaks Park.
Our approach to all the holidays is rooted in being open and honest about the origin of these celebrations and the beliefs behind them. We have neither shied away from responding to questions about Jesus or Islam, nor pushed our own secular humanist views, choosing instead to enjoy and cherish these moments. Ultimately, despite all the differences, the holidays for us accomplishes for us what it does for everyone else: It brings family together in joy and harmony, we greatly exceed our optimal daily caloric intake, the kids are hyped up on sweets and presents. And at the end — just like your family, I’m guessing — my wife and I are exhausted.