Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa are some of the winter holidays celebrated around the world — and right here in Charm City. While culture often forms the foundation of these celebrations, families embrace the holidays differently. Some combine and weave holiday traditions together, creating their own interpretations of the season. Others are inspired by historical customs but add their own modern flare. And of course, there are some that are traditionalists when it comes to holidays.
“My husband’s mother–we all call her Manji– is the family matriarch and, intentionally or not, has always introduced me to her traditions by way of food,” said Kathryn Chib.
“Ironically, my first taste of my husband’s traditions was the first Thanksgiving I celebrated with Vikram’s family. His mother is an incredible cook and had developed her own adaptation of a Thanksgiving feast: about half of it include gourmet versions of the traditional items and half are Indian dishes like chutneys and raita that complement the traditional dishes. She enhanced a celebration I had grown up with by both weaving in her personal interpretations on the holiday and infusing it with her own culture.”
Kathryn didn’t grow-up celebrating Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights. She was introduced to the holiday when she met her husband, Vikram.
On the first night of Diwali, Kathryn and her family light diyas, tea candles placed in little bowls, and put one in every room. They say prayers, feast together, and the candles burn through the night and symbolize light conquering darkness and good conquering evil.
Combing cultural celebrations is something that Kathryn and Vikram have wholeheartedly embraced.
“Since we knew we wanted kids, my husband and I talked a lot before we got married about what our home’s combinations of religion and culture would look like. Our wedding ceremony stood as a public symbol of what we would set our separate traditions and celebrations up to look like in our blended home: I wore a Western wedding dress, my husband wore traditional kurta pajama, we put wedding rings on each other’s fingers and garlands of marigolds around each other’s necks, etc.,” said Kathryn. “Manji’s Thanksgiving feast is a great metaphor for how we’re passing our previously separate traditions down to our kids: we believe in embracing the good things from each side and making them our own.”
Like Kathryn, Sam Sessa didn’t grow up celebrating Diwali and was introduced to the holiday when he met his wife, Amie. They always have people over for Diwali, and they dress the house with lights. Someone, typically his Father-in-law, tells the story of Diwali during their celebration. The family feasts together and there are always a lot of sweets (and macarons).
Since Diwali typically falls near December, Sam said it’s a great precursor for the Christmas holiday. “We don’t go to church but we celebrate the American Christmas, so we leave the lights up that we hung for Diwali all through Christmas,” said Sam.
Like Kathryn and Vikram, Sam and Amie are forging new ground when it comes to combining their past traditions.
“It’s all about creating traditions for the new generation,” said Sam. “Their Indian heritage is just as important as their American traditions. We want our kids to pass both traditions down to their own families. We hope our kids look back and think fondly of the celebrations.”