A White Christmas or a Tropical One? How Our Family Blends Cultures During the Holidays
Growing up on opposite sides of the world, Alfie and I have very different ideas of what a traditional holiday celebration looks like. We both celebrate Christmas in the Western tradition. We both grew up with Santa Claus, Christmas trees and stockings. But that's where the similarities end. From the weather (white Christmas versus a tropical one) to the decorations (holiday cards versus Nativity scenes), our holiday traditions are literally worlds apart!
When we first got married, we alternated Christmases between his parents in England, and mine in the Philippines, so we each got to experience the holidays in our partner's culture. Later on, we began spending the holidays in the US, taking the traditions we loved best and adding a few of our own. Here are some of the ways we celebrate the holidays:
Our house is decorated like many other houses in the neighborhood: a Christmas tree in the living room, stocking by the chimney, a wreath on the door, white lights outlining the roof, garish plastic candy canes on the lawn, holiday cards on the mantelpiece. Unlike most houses, holiday cards are a big part of our holiday decor. Giving, receiving, and displaying holiday cards is a big deal in England, and we've continued that tradition in our home. Cards are displayed the traditional English way, hung on walls, doorways and windows with a plain white string. Last year I even made my own ribbon card holder to showcase our most special cards.
Also, unlike most houses, ours also has Filipino parols, or star-shaped lanterns, hanging from our porch. Symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, these parols consist of a bamboo frame covered with tissue paper, with two hanging tissue paper tassels. I bought the frames in the Philippines, and decorating the parols is a fun holiday tradition the kids look forward to every year.
In England, as in most Western countries, Santa Claus is The Man, and Alfie received a big present from Santa every year. Santa Claus also left presents for me and my siblings, but they weren't the ones we looked forward to. Santa usually limited his presents to a few bars of candy or some other inexpensive stocking stuffer. Actually, we didn't even have Christmas stockings. Or a fireplace. Hey, it's the tropics!
No, the big present givers in our house were the Three Kings, Melchor, Gaspar and Balthazar, the wise men who followed the star to the stable in Bethlehem and gave gifts of gold, frankinsense and myrhh for Baby Jesus. On the night of January 5, we filled our shoes with grass so that the camels would lead the Three Kings to our house and have something to munch on while the Three Kings left presents. We weren't hoping for frankincense or myrhh, but we did get the special toys that we had been wishing for all year. Nowadays, Santa and the Three Kings stop by our house to leave cool presents -- boy, are our kids lucky!
We have fun decorating a gingerbread house with the kids every year. Also, Alfie's parents send the kids a chocolate Advent calendar from England, a special reminder of his childhood.
I don't think we've ever had a roast turkey for Christmas dinner. The kids are more accustomed to feasting on lechon (Filipino roast suckling pig), ensaymada (Filipino brioche), and fresh mangoes! Food items that grace our table from the other side of the world include glazed ham, mince pies and flaming Christmas pudding. Santa Claus, however, always gets an American treat: cookies and milk.
Growing up, Christmas Eve was just as important as Christmas Day itself. My family always went to midnight mass, then trooped to my Grandmother's house for a midnight feast, or Media Noche, as they call it in the Philippines. Alfie, on the other hand, grew up in a country where the celebrations spill over into Boxing Day, December 26. Whereas Christmas Day is all about family, Boxing Day is all about friends: watching soccer on TV, hitting the after-Christmas shopping sales with girlfriends, drinking at the pub with the mates. We both love our respective pre and post Christmas celebrations, so we do both. The kids certainly love it -- Christmas ends up being a three-day party, with gift opening starting on the 24th and good food lasting till the 26th -- but by the end of it, Alfie and I are wrecked. Happy, but wrecked.
Our holiday celebrations may not look like everyone else's, but we love everything about it. In fact, our holidays have become just like our family: a blend of East and West, with some good old-fashioned American traditions thrown into the mix. Our holidays are unique, special, and totally our own.