Sharing holiday celebrations

by Layla Shaw
Sharing holidays

My parents used to say that it takes a village to raise a child and in my case it certainly was true. With two working parents, it was my grandparents, uncles and aunties who were there to attend my parent-teacher conferences and to take me for endless after school activities and playdates. But that was the norm. Families took care of each other.

I grew up in Bosnia (prewar Yugoslavia) in a religious ratatouille family. As a kid, I loved that we celebrated Christmas, Easter and Eid twice a year and I thought that everybody else everywhere did the same. Kids would get gifts and/or some money on Catholic Christmas, Orthodox Christmas and both Muslim Eids, along with a range of sweets from sugar cookies to foil-wrapped chocolate coins to baklava and even coloured eggs twice a year on both Easters. The holidays seemed to stretch on forever and everyone I knew and loved took part in the celebrations, regardless of what faith they might subscribe to, if any.

I left Bosnia many years ago and ventured off with my family on this crazy nomadic lifestyle, not staying at any place long enough to let our roots grow. With a Bosnian mom and an American dad, growing up in US, East and Southern Africa, Europe and India, my boys learned to celebrate not only Christmas, Easter and Eid twice a year, but they’ve also
celebrated Holi, Diwali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri, Boxing Day, various Independence Days and President’s Days, Martyr’s Days, Chinese New Year, Chakri Day, the Buddha’s Birthday, Songkran and Loy Krathong. They have learned from their parents that respect and acceptance of every religion and culture and embracing diversity are among the most important lessons in life.

There was no blood family “village” to help raise my boys but there has been and very much still is an “adopted family (or the family that we choose)” around the world that we have made and cherished in every city/country we lived. Global nomads need such a family, which helps us with settling into a new place; is there to comfort us when needed and helps us to celebrate all of our collective holidays when our blood family is on the other side of the planet.

Traditionally we invite on holidays our family and friends, old and new, to bring a dish from their country to share, including those who have no holiday plans to help us in December to decorate the tree, while snow is falling on pine trees in the mountains in an endless loop (on our TV) and Christmas music is playing. We will crank the AC down as low as it can go and make up a huge vat of mulled wine. All to get us in the holiday spirit despite the 35+ Celsius temperatures outside. On gift giving holidays like Christmas we always tried to involve our boys and extended family in collecting presents and then sharing them with children at local orphanages (often with Dad almost sweating to death in a thick Santa suit designed for New England winters, not the tropics). On such occasions wherever I am in the world, I look around and see so many of people I love along with new friends sharing the joy and fellowship of a holiday, not because it is necessarily one of their “religious” holidays but because it is one of our collective special days. It is then I get the feeling that I am truly “home for the holidays”. As much we love to spoil our loved ones with gifts, remember those less privileged as well, so donate to a local charity, don’t use plastics, support animals in need. Sometimes the best present is to make a donation in the name of your loved ones!

“We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race” Kofi Anan.

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