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Expat Nest holiday special: There are so many ways to celebrate!

In the spirit of the festive season, Hanna Cheda gives us a glimpse into what “celebration” means through the eyes of a truly multicultural family. She also gives thanks for the many joys it brings.

A few days ago a friend of mine asked my five-year-old son what makes for a good birthday party.

‘’A cake, friends, sweets and games. And a piñata, my grandma Aimara brings me stuff for piñata from Venezuela. But not this year. This year we went to Thomas Land in England,’’ he said with a clear British accent. ‘’But you know what? My mum said it’s going to snow this week, so it would be great to go sledding at a party,’’ he continued, looking through the window at the winter landscape of Poznań, Poland.

My friend felt a little overwhelmed. My boys, Andres  and Michał, born to a Polish mother and a Venezuelan-Dominican father in the South of Spain, know how to enjoy the best of both worlds. Or rather, the best of several worlds.

For Christmas, they get candy from St. Nicholas on the 6th of December (Polish custom) and presents from Santa Claus and Baby Jesus on the 24th of December (mix of Polish and Venezuelan custom). They also go to the Three Wise Men parade with their Spanish playmates on the 6th of January. Our Christmas Eve starts with sharing a Christmas wafer, one of the most ancient traditions in Poland, before we continue our dinner with carp, dumplings, poppyseed cake as well as ham bread and hallacas (a type of savory pastry).

Our boys are bilingual in Polish and Spanish and quite fluent in English. How did we make it all happen?

When I met my husband, I was in the last year of my Masters in Ethnolinguistics. I was doing an internship at a hotel in Lloret de Mar, Spain, where he was working as a lifeguard. We happened to share the hotel apartment.

It was his first time in Europe, he spoke Spanish only, and he felt happy but uncomfortable in a foreign country. He listened to bachata (a style of romantic music originating in the Dominican Republic), came from a big, united family and he loved to hang out on the beach with his cousins and friends. He was also a domestic god and an excellent cook.

I had been travelling around Europe and had studied and worked abroad since the age of 16. I was an only child in a small family, and spent my free time travelling and going out to techno clubs. I was fluent in four languages and had a two-page CV, but I couldn’t even fry an egg.

I believe that what attracted us to one another is that, despite our differences, we had the same values. We loved children and we always dreamed of our own family. And I think that our differences enable us to complement each other and make us a happy family.

Challenges? Yes, there are some, but I think most are more related to our personalities than different cultures. Many of our cultural challenges go on to become funny anecdotes – like when my husband was wearing a jacket and scarf in Poland in April, while everyone else was in t-shirts. Or when I tried to make an arepa (corn bread), but it looked and tasted like the sole of a shoe.

Yes, at the beginning my husband was surprised that I’d rather spent a Sunday on a day trip than make a family lunch with two courses and dessert. And when his mum told me that most women in Dominican Republic do all the cooking and housework and feel proud of it –while the men don’t even make a sandwich – I found it ridiculous. Fortunately we’ve managed to find our own way to do things.

We lived for four years in Spain and have been in Poland for one year. I’m thankful for all the ways in which our relationship has enriched our families. I’m thankful for my husband’s courage to learn Polish and live in a country that is so different from his own. I’m thankful for my children, who speak three languages and, more importantly, play with all kids, regardless their skin colour, clothes or kinds of toys they play with.

We truly enjoy the best of many worlds.

We would love to hear from you. How does your multicultural family celebrate special occasions? How do you balance different cultural traditions?

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© Vivian Chiona

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