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How to create multi-cultural holiday traditions

How to create multi-cultural holiday traditions

Funny how as an adult it feels like Christmas comes earlier every year! People start decorating their houses, putting up trees, mailing holiday cards and starting their holiday shopping immediately after they’ve stuffed their faces with turkey and pumpkin pie (hence the reason for Black Friday and Cyber Monday).

This year, between living out my dreams and adjusting to motherhood, I felt a panic when I realized it was time to consider setting holiday traditions for our first child, Aiden.  

When I was younger, it felt like Christmas couldn’t come soon enough! I was eager to write my Christmas wish list to Santa, watch my favorite Christmas movies, sing Silent night and bake cookies for Santa. I had no clue how much effort went into creating these magical moments. And it seems that my parents always did it so effortlessly.

  Advent calendars

Advent calendars

This is why I felt a bit of pressure to make Aiden’s first Christmas as magical as it was for me when I was a child; full of happiness, anticipation, warmth and other special moments that will be remembered for years to come. 

But before I could start decorating trees and scheduling pictures with Santa, there was one important factor to consider! I could not forget that my husband and I come from very different cultures and backgrounds. 

Ironically enough, when I mentioned this to my husband, I discovered that I was more concerned about what Finnish traditions to incorporate than he was!

Still I wanted Aiden to be exposed to both cultures so I began a bit of research and started some discussions with Janne’s family to understand how. It was a fun exercise and I am excited to share what I learned and how we will be incorporating the best of both worlds!  

Christmas Eve vs. Christmas day

In Finland, Christmas Eve is the most important day.  From what I read online, traditionally the Christmas tree is brought home on this day and adorned with decorations which may include sweets, elves, stars and apples (relating to Adam and Eve). Even though Janne remembers bringing the tree home much earlier and decorating way before Christmas Eve, similar to Americans.

Also on this day, Santa visits the family while everyone is still awake, and he asks “are there any well-behaved children here?” He hands out gifts while the children sing Christmas songs. There is also a special dinner prepared with ham, green peas, potatoes, all kinds of vegetable purees (e.g. carrot) and of course, karjalanpiirakka!

  Karjalanpiirakka

Karjalanpiirakka

Christmas day is a time for rest and relaxation. In fact everything is closed, including public transportation on that day. People do not leave their house and it is generally spent with your immediate family.

So what are they doing? Well besides eating sweet Christmas treats (cookies, plum tarts and the famous pulla) they are also watching cartoons. For Janne, this day of rest was especially difficult for him because he got all these new toys and presents but couldn’t go play with his friends. 

  Pulla

Pulla

According to Janne’s mom, Paula, and his cousin, Sonja, here are a few more special traditions for their family:

  • Christmas eve at his Grandparents
  • Making a snowball house outside for the candles
  • Having an advent calendar with chocolates or little presents, building anticipation for Christmas
  Finnish snow houses

Finnish snow houses

In America, Christmas Eve is special for different reasons. In general, this is the time where you have a traditional meal with your family, potentially attend a special Christmas Eve service after dinner (depending on how religious your family is), and then you prepare for Santa’s visit. This could include leaving treats for Santa and his reindeer and then being forced to go to sleep so that Santa could come down the chimney.

  Treats for Santa and his reindeer

Treats for Santa and his reindeer

I must say that when I was young, I especially enjoyed our candle light church service. Everyone would receive their own candles at the start of the service.  At a certain moment, the lights would go off in the church and it would be completely dark until the pastor would light his candle. He would then light another person’s candle, which in turn would light his neighbor’s candle and this would continue until the entire room was lit up by candles. Then everyone would stand and sing “Silent Night”. This memory still gives me chills.

  Candle lit church service

Candle lit church service

Christmas day is generally the most important day because we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

In our house, the children would wake up super early with excitement and anticipation of what Santa had left under the tree and in the stockings.  We were not allowed downstairs until the parents were ready and I remember that my dad particularly enjoyed seeing our anticipation grow while he slowly got himself together and called us downstairs. This was always such torture!!

My mother always made a special breakfast casserole on Christmas morning and everyone would fight over the middle piece! We would spend all morning in our pajamas unwrapping all the presents under the tree and eating the candy we found in the stockings. I always ate so much that I would get a belly ache. And my dad would always leave one last present to surprise us with much later in the day.

  Moms breakfast casserole

Moms breakfast casserole

Prior to Christmas, my mom always took the lead of setting up the Christmas tree and other holiday house décor, creating the annual Christmas letter, and making holiday treats (such as chocolate chip, snicker doodles, and oatmeal cookies). I would love coming home from school and smelling the house full of these treats fresh out of the oven. Oh how that smell still brings me back to my childhood.

And when we were younger there was always the annual Santa visit at the mall, where we would sit on his lap and give him our gift wish list (and mine was always way too long).

For Janne, spending time with family, slowing down and relaxing is what he cherishes the most and wants to be sure we provide for our family. But of course, I have much bigger expectations and the list keeps growing for what I want Aiden to experience every year.

But this year, I decided to start small with the things that matter the most! After all, Aiden is only 4 months old and although he is very smart I doubt he will remember his first Christmas!

Take a look at our video of holiday traditions we started this year!  And feel free to leave comments for me about your holiday traditions since I will be adding some new things next year!!

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones! And cheers to all the memories you will continue create together!

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