Saturday, December 11, 2010

Holiday Diversity

By Vivi Dumas

Growing up in a multi-cultural, military family brought a wealth of diversity to my holiday experiences. The holidays were always a special time in my family. I think my parents tried very hard to make a big deal out of them because we never had family close to celebrate with. My sisters and I grew up all over, moving from place to place, but never close to our grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins.

We spent a majority of our younger years growing up in Germany. As some of you may know from other posts, my father is African American and my mother is Korean. All these variables made the holiday season long and interesting. My parents celebrated all holidays for both our cultures, plus we celebrate the German holidays in school. September through January was a busy time of year for our family.

We began our holiday season with Chuseok. Chuseok is the Korean Festival of the Harvest or Korean Thanksgiving as my mother called it. It is celebrated very much like our American Thanksgiving with family and friends gathering and lots of food. Only thing missing is the litany of football games (1 point for Chuseok). During this time, we ate many of the traditional Korean dishes such as Japchae (glass noodles sautéed with vegetables and beef) and Bulgogi (marinated beef). Chuseok is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, usually somewhere in September or October.

Then we had our traditional Thanksgiving in November. Thanksgiving was a lot of work in our house. We didn’t have our family over for Thanksgiving, but my father would bring all his soldiers who were left in the barracks for the holiday to our house. There was always a large crowd of hungry guys and anyone from the church who needed a place to eat. The best thing about being on a military base is that it is a close-knit community. My father has a kind heart and also grew up as a military brat so had a special place in his heart for the soldiers. Another great thing about Thanksgiving at our house was you got both American and Korean food. The amount of food was overwhelming even with the guys from my dad’s company and my mom’s friends.

When I was 6 years old we moved to Germany and left during my freshman year in high school. Christmas or the Advent season was beautiful in Germany. I had the opportunity to learn the German holiday traditions from my friends and in school. I loved my Advent calendar (who doesn’t like a piece of chocolate everyday). In Germany, we put out our shoes or boots for St. Nicholas to bring us goodies or twigs sometimes coal for the bad girls and boys. Now that I think back, putting food in old sweaty shoes might not be such a sanitary idea, but as a child it was fun and exciting.

As I grew a little older, I researched and learned more about Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is an African American holiday, which brings a cultural message about love of people, self, and community. It was founded by Dr. Maulana Karerga. Kwanzaa is built around seven principles:

  • Umoja (Unity) – Focuses on unity in family
  • Kujichagulia (Self Determination) – Focuses on defining ourselves
  • Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) – Focuses on building and maintaining our communities
  • Nia (Purpose) – Focuses on restore our people to their greatness
  • Kuumba (Creativity) – Focuses on leaving your community more beautiful and beneficial than when you came into it
  • Imani (Faith) – Focuses on believing in our people, our parents, teachers, leaders, and the victory of the struggle

Kwanzaa is celebrated with a setting, which consists of covering a table with an African cloth. On top of the cloth goes the mkeka or mat. You then place the kinara (candle holder) with the mishumaa saba (seven candles representing the seven priciples) on the mkeka. Around the kinara we place the mazao (crops) and corn and the kikombe cha umoja (unity cup). The colors for Kwanzaa are black (represents the people), red (represents the struggle), and green (represents hope for the future). The principles of Kwanzaa are something I think any community can utilize to grow and prosper.

My world was filled with diverse traditions and great learning opportunities. I love the holiday season. Christmas is my favorite time of the year. It takes me back to my childhood and a time of innocence. It’s a time when family gathers, people are nicer, and we take moment from our lives to think of others. No matter how you celebrate your holiday season or even if you don’t celebrate any of the traditional holidays, take some time out to spend with your family and friends, spread a little love, and make someone’s day a little brighter.

One of the holiday traditions I've started with my family is collecting beautiful ornaments for our tree. In the future, I hope to pass these ornaments to my girls. I would like to spread a little holiday cheer and some of my tradition to a lucky commenter. My gift to you is a lovely Lenox Snowflake ornament. I hope you enjoy it as much as I love mine.

Happy holidays to everyone!

Vivi Dumas

Psst…If you’re looking for a special gift, think about a book. I know a few good ones;-)


  1. How wonderful that you got to experience all those different holiday celebrations. I always bought ornaments for my daughters when they were growing up so when they moved out on their own they would have ornaments for their tree. They always enjoyed them. Happy Holidays.

    seriousreader at live dot com

  2. Vivi, thank you for sharing all of your traditions! I also give my boys a new ornament every year. I still put ornaments on the tree from when I was younger.


  3. Those are some wonderful holiday traditions! And yes, giving books is a great tradition, too ;) Our family enjoys that one!

  4. I've always tried to pick up ornaments from wherever I travel. Then when we look at the tree, it's a way to remember where we've been... Sort of like making a charm bracelet out of a tree.

  5. Sounds like you had a fascinating childhood and a wonderful mix of traditions.

  6. I loved reading the post with all the different traditions!! I have a few ornaments that I cherish from my mother!!

  7. That's wonderful that you had so many traditions and got to experience so much, you were fortunate.

    My father was in the Air Force but by the time I came along (youngest of 4) most of our traveling was done. He was TDY a lot tho oiverseas and always brought back something for us.

    The school I teach at recognizes all of the holidays that our family celebrates. I am so happy that, unlike other schools, we have chosen not to ignore holidays in an attempt to be PC. I think our way is the better one, and much more respectful.

  8. I enjoyed reading about your childhood. Its nice to learn about the traditions of other places, Christmas is a time to love and share. Thank you, Vivi, and Happy Holidays,

  9. What fascinating traditions to pass along. Great post. Merry Christmas.

  10. I enjoyed hearing about your experiences during the special holidays and I think it's good to share. I have started a new tradition here. I got an ornament for each of us including our pet cat and we hung them on the tree. This is the first Christmas in nine years where we have our son with us and so we are making it special. I love the ornament you are offering and it sure would be nice among the special ones we got this year. Merry Christmas. susan Leech

  11. we also add a ornament to our tree every year . And we try to add a new christmas story to our bed time story collection and a new christmas movie to our family movie week

  12. Thank you for sharing your traditions. I collect unique ornaments and put them on a special metal tree at Christmas.

    Happy Holidays to you and your!

  13. It's great to see that you had so much diversity in your life. I knew next to nothing about tradition when I was a kid. My parents weren't much into doing anything with tradition or ritual. My family was very materialistic. I'm rather jealous of you and your family. Thank you for sharing.


  14. i love reading about other peoples traditions i do how ever feel lately that christmas has become about greedand gimmegimme and it irks me some i love the tradtion me and my dadgo out and find a new ordiment n decorat ethe tree we love the spirit and the beauty of the tree and the love sounds and smells of christmas

    ty for sharing!

  15. I grew up in a military family as well. We always has extras for dinner on holidays and we visited others ontheir holidays. It is unique.
    debby236 at att dot net

  16. Thank you so much for sharing your holidays with us, Vivi. This was a very sweet and heartwarming read. May all your holidays be fantastic.

  17. What a lovely brief lesson on Kwanzaa. We live in a fairly non-traditional house as well with Christmas being celebrated by only half. Its becoming the norm these days I think.

  18. Thank you everyone for stopping by. Happy holidays to all!

  19. This year was a challenge for me, the first Christmas alone, after my divorce.

    I found myself going through the ornaments, taking out the ones of our First Christmas Together and First Christmas in Our Home, every ornament we'd gotten for every anniversary. Getting rid of them was hard.

    But it was a Christmas for surviving and for making new traditions. Happy Holidays to you and yours, my friend. That's my wish for you. :)