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Celebrate cultural diversity this holiday

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

Happy holidays for multicultural families

Multicultural families are becoming more and more common — and that's something to celebrate! Don't let cultural diversity cause stress this holiday season.

Take the opportunity to honor and celebrate traditions from each culture represented in your multicultural family. Read our expert advice to ensure happy holidays for multicultural families this year!

Recognize each holiday

When Mom and Dad come from different faiths, it doesn't mean that one faith has to be left behind. Instead, a lot of families choose to educate their kids in the traditions and beliefs of both faiths, allowing the kids to learn about both and form their own decisions on faith.

For Jewish and Christian families, there is the opportunity to bring together favorite traditions from each of the winter holiday celebrations since they fall so close together, says Ellen Zimmerman of Jewish Holidays in a Box, LLC.

"A great way to weave together various traditions is to plan a cookie-baking afternoon where people bake a mix of Hanukkah and Christmas cookies. In families where there are young children, choose recipes that work well for little hands," says Zimmerman. "For instance, little ones can roll balls for Danish wedding cookies for Christmas — or sprinkle colored sugar on Hanukkah cookies. At the same time, older children can create stained glass paintings (with new, food-safe paint brushes) for both holidays. Set all the cookies together on a big platter — and enjoy!"

There may also be tradition differences in celebrating the holiday when families come from different cultures. For instance, an Italian family may always have the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve while a French family may traditionally have 13 desserts on Christmas Eve. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be either/or — you can do both and create a rich new tradition for your family.

Feast your eyes on these decadent holiday cookie recipes >>

Recognize cultural etiquette

Beyond religious differences, there may also be cultural differences to consider as well. For instance, touching people is taboo in some cultures. International trainer, coach, speaker and author Laurie Brown suggests these tips:

  • Don't assume everyone wants to be greeted with a firm handshake, a broad smile and direct eye contact. While we seem to assume everyone wants that in America, it is not necessarily true for people outside of America.
  • Touching some people, in any way, can be extremely offensive.
  • Simply shaking hands or touching the shoulder of traditional Middle Eastern or Japanese women can be the equivalent of assault in their country.
  • It is important to let the other person take the lead.
  • Some people will hug you and kiss you on both cheeks, which is why it is always important to let them take the lead.
  • Be aware that personal space varies among different cultures. Some people bow, shake hands and then take a step back. Other cultures may prefer to stand even closer than Americans.
  • Smiles convey different meanings as well. In America, we view it as friendly. In other countries, a smile can be used to cover grief or to hide embarrassment.
  • Direct eye contact is considered rude and intrusive in some cultures.

In all cases, it is best to let the person of a different culture take the lead.

Read up on 10 holiday etiquette don'ts >>

Recognize the lesson

Holidays present the perfect opportunity to help kids understand the importance of different cultures and their traditions and beliefs. Talk to your children about the various cultural celebrations that your family recognizes.

You can also help them learn about diverse cultures via lessons such as the Alphabet Kids series, a set of six books created by EMMY award-winning producer Patrice Samara and Allegra Joyce Kassin. The books follow a group of six kids — each from different backgrounds — on fun adventures, and at the end of each story, the characters learn something about a different culture's beliefs and traditions via music, food, language or behavior. The series is designed to teach kids tolerance and promote a more understanding generation, and it can be a great tool when helping your multicultural family understand one another's beliefs and traditions.

More about holiday traditions

Creating holiday traditions around food
Christmas around the world
Small holiday traditions that make a big impact

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