intercultural holidays

When most couples start celebrating holidays together, they have to cross a difficult bridge: which family do we go to? do we alternate years? do we drive long distances to see both families? and what if both sides of the family see their plans as inflexible? Ah, the cause of much marital strife… When you add an intercultural dynamic, the questions multiply, as the holidays are traditionally celebrated in different (sometimes incompatible) ways for each partner.

And then for us, there’s the issue of the ocean between both sides of the family… which, in a way, can be seen as a simplifying factor. That is, the lengths to which some families go to see both sides of the family on the same day are just out of the question for us. But, it’s also hard to not be able to hop in the car and see my family.

Throughout our relationship, and especially with our wedding, we’ve seen how intercultural relationships, and particularly family celebrations, can present conflict  challenges opportunities for growth. The blending of cultural traditions can be difficult, but is also very important – and truly worth the arguments, the tears, any perceived “trouble” it may cause. It’s a chance to learn more about the other person, to evaluate what’s important and why, and to learn how to resolve conflict together.

One of the purely positive aspects, though, of being part of an intercultural family is the increase in holidays. When holiday traditions don’t clash or compete with one another, it’s a lot of fun! You just get to add in more special days, more fun traditions, more time with friends and family, etc. This month, we got to celebrate two fun holidays!

On the 11th of November, we celebrated St. Martin’s Day in a traditional way with just the two of us at home. You can read here about St. Martin’s Day, what it’s all about, and IMG_0934how I celebrated it the last time I was in Germany. In Julius’s family, St. Martin’s Day is the first day of the year that one is “allowed” to eat Lebkuchen (gingerbread). After waiting almost a year since the previous Christmas, children receive Lebkuchen, citrus fruit and nuts on St. Martin’s Day. They also parade through the streets holding lanterns and collecting sweets. We had a nice little spread that evening with Lebkuchen from Nuremberg and delicious juicy oranges, hot tea, and cozy candle light. (And an episode of Downton Abbey... although that isn’t a traditional way to honor the charity and hospitality of St. Martin, per se.)

IMG_0952And just yesterday we also hosted Thanksgiving dinner at our house! Since Thanksgiving isn’t a German holiday, everyone had to work, of course. We served dinner at 7:30 in the evening. I cooked from some of my family’s traditional recipes and served up a yummy feast of corn bread dressing, green beans, sweet potato casserole, corn pudding, kale-quinoa salad, and no turkey! Everybody’s belly was full. Being an Ausländer here, I am almost always in the position of learning about German language, traditions, customs, rules… So it is fun to get to plan and host an American holiday celebration for my German family. While I was waiting for guests to arrive and again after everybody left, I also got to video-call in to my family’s celebration in Kentucky. It was a great day!


A special thanks to my mom for sending Thanksgiving napkins and turkey decorations… It definitely notched up the authenticity of our celebration.

I’m sure I can reflect more on this topic of blending holiday traditions after Christmas, and I still want to write about our many diverse wedding celebrations… That’s a post that has been brewing awhile.

What about your family? Intercultural or not, what kinds of creative compromises and good solutions have you come up with for your holiday celebrations?

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