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Reflections on Holiday Season for Immigrant Families

Holiday celebrations at my childhood home were pretty non-traditional. My parents immigrated to the US from India in the late 1960s. They brought their own cultural and religious traditions with them, but I can imagine how difficult it may have been for them to celebrate the way they and their families used to. I imagine that once they had children, they discussed how they wanted to celebrate “American” holidays and keep some Indian traditions as well.

My family celebrated Diwali, “the Festival of Lights”, which usually occurs in October/November, but did not celebrate in an overly ritualistic way. When I was a child, I associated Diwali with gatherings of our group of Indian friends and family for a puja, or religious worship, and as a mostly social occasion. When I was older, we celebrated at an Indian community center and sometimes performed plays or music pieces with my cousins and other members of our Indian social group.

We celebrated Thanksgiving, but not with the traditional meal since we were vegetarian. My mom made Indian food, but as our family and friend circle grew, we expanded our menu items, and ate with people who eagerly ate turkey and all the rest of traditional American Thanksgiving fare. To this day, my mom favors Thanksgiving, as she enjoys “giving thanks” before the meal, in place of saying Grace or a prayer, as many others do.

We celebrated Christmas too, but as an immigrant family with a single breadwinner, our gifts were not extravagant. One of my favorite memories from Christmas past was having my youngest sister wake me up VERY early on Christmas morning when she was three or four years old. My oldest sister usually waited until late on Christmas Eve to place the presents under our scrawny plastic tree (because, you know, Santa Claus). My youngest sister asked me to go downstairs with her to see the tree and held my pinky finger as we walked down the stairs together. The look of amazement in my youngest sister’s eyes when she saw all the gifts under the tree was a sight to behold. Of course, as we looked at all the presents, most of them were for her; after all, she was the baby of the family!

As a grown up, I appreciate my parents’ efforts to keep our Indian cultural traditions and adopt some from their new country. Their efforts made us feel included in the larger American cultural celebration of the holidays (our celebration of Christmas was not religious) and we did not feel excluded at school or among our classmates and friends, etc. as a result. I think my sisters and I got the best of both worlds. Now, when holiday celebrations are few and far between due to a global pandemic, I’m grateful for the traditions we kept from our native country and the ones my family adopted from our new one. I look forward to keeping some of our family traditions alive with my parents, my siblings and their children. I hope all of you have a happy and safe holiday season.

Ajit Samudra, LMFT

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

CORE - Center of Relational Empowerment, PC

[email protected]

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