Culture Shock

The trees are glistening with snow and the smell of peppermint and pine trees fills the air. Santa and his elves are at the mall passing out candy canes and the spirit of Christmas is everywhere! It’s a wonderful season, but unfortunately children from families of other cultures and religious traditions can feel a little left out and confused.

Confused little boy

Not invited to the party?

As members of the Baha'i Faith, our family struggles with this each year. We don't have any qualms about our children enjoying the festive spirit of the season, but at the same time, it's important to us that they understand our own religious traditions. And we certainly don't want them to feel like the only kids not invited to the party when Santa makes his personal appearance at their nursery school.

Christmas is a cultural tradition

In this country, Christmas is more than a religious holiday -- it is a cultural tradition. It is true that many people who are not Christian still enjoy celebrating the glittery merry-making of the season. On the other hand, there are those from other backgrounds who feel a little put off by the barrage of Christmas commercialism that begins just days after Halloween and lasts for almost a full two months.

Retain your own identity

If you are raising your children in a different religious or cultural tradition, the best way to confront Christmas is by making sure your children are developing a strong identity in your own faith/culture. Teach your children about your own holy days and celebrate with gusto! Plan special crafts, outings and parties to make the experiences memorable. If you are part of a larger community, plan celebrations as a group so the children can also build lasting friendships with those who share similar beliefs and enhance their own identity.

Erin Margolin, blogger and mother of twin girls, explains, "Our family is Jewish, and yes, my girls ask about Christmas a lot. Especially with all the Christmas lights out at night and the decorations everywhere. Santa also visits their school. They often ask why Santa doesn't come to our house. I tell them that it's because we're Jewish, so we celebrate Hanukkah instead. We do lots of things to help them build a strong Jewish identity. At Hanukkah, the girls love lighting the candles on the menorah. We make the traditional Hanukkah fare: latkes, cheese blintzes and brisket. We have presents, but not every night. We spend time together as a family and usually one of the other nights we gather with some of our other Jewish friends and their children."

Share your traditions with others

Another way to bridge the gap is to invite your friends and neighbors to share in your traditions. Most people are eager to learn about other cultures and would be delighted to be invited to one of your holiday celebrations. This also opens the door for conversations about different cultures and religions.

Your children will learn by experience about the beautiful diversity in the world and will appreciate learning about these differences from an early age. As Baha'u'llah, the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith, said, "It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens."

Read more about other holidays

Don't forget Hanukkah starts 12/1!
Kwanzaa recipes
8 Unique Hanukkah gifts for kids

Tags: baha’i christian jewish religious

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Comments on "How to survive Christmas (when you're not Christian)"

Julie Johnson January 19, 2011 | 6:33 PM

Thanks for pointing out the fact that not every child in a school setting is celebrating Christmas. It is so easy for children to feel there is something "wrong" about themselves if they don't conform to what the majority culture is doing. Rather than take away the holidays in schools, I suggest we respect each faith's holy days by allowing kids to talk about what makes the holiday, and maybe even finding a way to add a celebration of each to enrich the understanding of the class. Thanks for publishing this article.

Bertha Larralde December 14, 2010 | 12:35 PM

Great Article! We have to open up to each other's various backgrounds and learn to appreciate and respect them rather than simply tolerate them (or think negatively of them). Happy Holidays!

fshake December 10, 2010 | 7:05 AM

Way to go! Great suggestions when one is struggling to transition belief systems and still feel a sense of belonginig. Thanks this was very helpful.

afshin December 09, 2010 | 4:39 PM

Thanks Naomi. I love your article because it tells us to respect other religons and cultures as well as to practice our own holy days. As a Baha'i I truly believe in it. Afterall, we are all human beings and should respect eachother. Unity in Diversity.

AllAboutJoye December 09, 2010 | 11:35 AM

Excellent suggestions, Naomi. Growing up Christian, the best part of Christmas for me was attending my non-denomenational Christmas Eve service at 10:00 pm, then racing across town to enjoy Midnight Mass at the Cathedral. Only in church did I truly feel Christ in Christmas. As a Bahai, I feel some conflict about decorating for Christmas, but great joy in the giving of gifts to my Christian family & friends. For me, still, Christmas is about Christ in my heart in the still, peace of the night. I'm so glad I had a strong foundation in my faith tradition as a child and strongly encourage all parents to ground their kids in their own cultures & traditions.

Jeanne December 09, 2010 | 7:31 AM

Thanks for this article, Naomi. We are in the same predicament as other families who don't celebrate Christmas. I come from a Christian background and we do celebrate and decorate when family comes to town, since it seems kind of cold to have them here at that time and not celebrate one of their biggest holidays. Our daughter loves it when this happens, but knows that when no one visits at that time, we don't celebrate. It's difficult for her, but when our own holidays come around we always decorate and celebrate with family and friends. She gets so excited about it every year!

Benjamin December 09, 2010 | 5:16 AM

I'm thankful to be a member of a Baha'i community as it is from fellow Baha'i's that I learned about the wonderful continuity of all faiths. And I'm also thankful for the Christian side of the family as it is with them that I get to truely internalize and enjoy this continuity every year during Christmas. It is also heart-warming that at least this group of Christians resist the commercialization and materialism by focusing with me on worship and service opportunities. There's so much to be thankful for during Christmas. I love it!

Anne Perry December 08, 2010 | 11:26 PM

Enjoyed the article! We all need to learn more about other traditions and holidays.

Harriet Gilman December 08, 2010 | 10:49 PM

Yes, Christmas is often perplexing for children in Baha'i families, also Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim families. Some figure that Christmas has ceased to be a religious holiday, so why not join in? But I just don't enjoy commercialism and consumption promoted in Jesus' name. Rearing our daughter as a Baha'i, we tried to make sure that each Ayyam-i-Ha was unforgettable. Baha'u'llah ordained this 4-day season for the pure joy of service, charity and hospitality. Thank you, Naomi, for a thought-provoking article!

AJ December 08, 2010 | 10:09 PM

I thought Christmas was a cultural celebration. When did it become religious?

Lisa December 08, 2010 | 9:36 PM

Hi Naomi, As a fellow Baha'i, I very much appreciate you writing this piece. I am organizing a World Religion Day event, which although it won't happen till Jan. 13, may make mention of the topic you bring up, as it will still be relevant, not long after the Judeo-Christian holy days.

parentingadabsurdum December 08, 2010 | 4:22 PM

I wish I had this article as a kid!! As the only jewish girl in a small town, I felt very lonely at Christmas...perhaps that's why I married a Catholic ;). Now we celebrate hannukah and christmas, and I love every moment of both (as do my kids).

Maya December 08, 2010 | 3:05 PM

Great piece. I would love to see Christmas get back to the true meaning behind it. I think other faiths are miles ahead, simply because their holy days are about the religion, instead of the glitter and sparkle. (Although, I do love the sparkling lights on my tree, and the green and red presents underneath it.)

Jayme W. December 08, 2010 | 12:46 PM

I love this article. I am a Catholic married to a Jew so we celebrate both holidays. Since I am not a very religious person we celebrate Christmas more for the Santa aspect of it. My kids do realize that it is the birth of Jesus too, but that is about it. We do try to make sure that our children understand as much about Hanukkah as they can. We celebrate Hanukkah by lighting the candles on the menorah every night and opening up gifts (almost) every night. Then on Christmas we open up gifts again. Some may say that my kids are spoiled with both holidays, I say that they are cultured. I love learning about different cultures and religions.

erin margolin December 08, 2010 | 12:18 PM

Naomi, Excellent article and I'm so glad you've written this. People need to realize not everyone does the Christmas thing...and we need to teach our children to be respectful of all kinds of faiths/traditions. Love this. Wonderful job!!!

Saleem December 07, 2010 | 5:02 PM

Thanks great article Naomi . I have taught my children about the Turkish saint Nicolas. How his openheartedness started a tradition that has grown over hundreds of years. I love to celebrate all days that remind us of the divine As the prophet Mohamed said “There are as many ways to God as there are people “

A Modern Military Mother December 07, 2010 | 2:22 PM

I don't even think of Christmas as religious anymore but more traditional seasonal event, like sporting occasions. I would happily enjoy and celebrate every faiths holidays. When I was in the US I was invited to a Passover supper with a Jewish family. It was fascinating. I think you can be non-Christian and celebrate Christmas - it's good to give and anyway Santa was invented by Coca Cola and Christians - he's purely commercial!

R.Beyer December 07, 2010 | 10:50 AM

With all the commercialism around Christmas & the whole Santa thing, I find myself having to explain what it's all about to my 6 year old. I'm very excited that this year his school which is faith based has started a social studies project exploring different traditions among other faiths & cultures!

Mindy December 07, 2010 | 9:20 AM

Great article! I managed a cookie store several years ago, and quickly grew to hate Christmas!! Each of the mall stores were filled with loud displays, and I'd see parents carrying their kids kicking and screaming as they left. I did my best to get their attention, and explain that the problem wasn't their child's behavior, but the over stimulation of the stores and displays. Sad to think of how many children may have received a spanking or had to deal with parental anger due to screaming commercialism! Remember Jesus' reaction to the moneychangers?

Sama December 07, 2010 | 9:16 AM

I'm glad the author of this article took the time to write about such an imperative topic that relates to a significant percentage of U.S. citizens. I remember telling my friends in grade school that I believed in Christmas but I didn't get any gifts until it was my own holy day. I never thought to include my friends in my celebrations, or even offer gifts to my friends or teachers when I was celebrating my religion's holy day, thanks Naomi for that idea I will definitely use it when raising my own kids. Happy Holidays everyone!

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