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Holidays in the Melting Pot

It's long been said that the good old U.S. of A. is the great melting pot of the world. It's definitely an optimistic view at best. But maybe that's because we've never taken the time to ask questions about our neighbors and the reasons behind their customs.

Some of The Echoes Blog subscribers and contributors have offered a quick guide to how their family celebrates their very own unique blend of Americanism and their family's culture.

Enjoy. And maybe incorporate some in your own traditions.

Reggae Anwisye

Kwanzaa is celebrated by people of the African diaspora including African-Americans in the United States. For our family, celebrating Kwanzaa has become a week of positive inspection and introspection around how we intend to meaningfully participate in building a stronger African (Black) community. During the Kwanzaa season, there are seven principles we celebrate: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

For most of the nights of Kwanzaa, we light our candles at home, taking time to talk about the meaning of the principle for the day and how we see ourselves enacting that personally and collectively. We make sure to attend one or two community celebrations during the week which allows us to commune with others and create bridges for growth in the community. At these events, we find friends, Black-owned businesses and Black entrepreneurs to support, and community leaders or ideas around which we can collectively rally our efforts.

Lastly, we endeavor to host a family party on one of the days which really just allows our family a special time to eat together, to enjoy each other’s company, and to affirm our love for one another. We really try to make Kwanzaa a time for the growth of ideas and practices. We try very much to resist the commercialization and materialism that marks this time of year.

Emelia Cedercreutz - Finland

Our Christmas celebration has stayed much in tact, with everything centering on the 24th. At noon we eat a rice porridge for lunch, with cinnamon and sugar. There is always an almond hidden in the porridge, and whoever gets the almond supposedly gets married the incoming year. That it is at noon, is probably because traditionally, an the city of Turku would announce "The Christmas Peace." This has been done since the 1300s, and in the early days, meant increased penalties for murder and other crime during the Christmas season. In modernity, it is simply a reminder, a sort of official start-announcement and a reminder to be peaceful in and out."

The food we eat has not really changed. We eat casseroles of root vegetables. Rootabaga casserole, potato casserole, carrot casserole. The salad is made of beets, apples, onion, boiled eggs, potatoes, and carrots. The desert is a prune pudding with whipped cream. Basically, all the fruits and vegetables that would have been available in Finland, in the middle of winter, before imported vegetables. This food is only eaten on Christmas, so the taste-feeling relationship is very strong.

Leila Tualla Martinez - Phillipines

Pancit, or rice noodles, is served no matter what holiday we’re celebrating; so are white rice and eggrolls. My mom is still in charge of making dinner, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to help and ensure that our family recipes get passed down. She’ll make putos, which is a rice muffin. Depending on how much your family wants to “splurge,” there may or may not be lechon, roast pig, on the table at Christmas time. For the past few years, our main dish depends on what my American brother-in-law decides to cook and he usually serves deep fried Turkey every year. We do serve some American foods, like ham, macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole but mostly, our table is full of traditional Filipino dishes which I love since I don’t have them very often and always brings back childhood memories.

Antoine Spruiel - Jamaica

During Christmas, it’s usually a time for us to get together and spend time with one another. We don’t exchange gifts or anything of that nature. My family occasionally has a small dinner on the 25th of December. The dinner is usually Jamaican/American inspired dinner that includes lots dishes that are typical for both nations. We usually watch television and just spend time together. We have never been people to participate in black Friday sales or exchange expensive gifts. The main purpose for Christmas for us is to spend time together.

Ashley Harris - Panama

Growing up, my grandmother worked to blend our Afro-Panamanian culture with our American up bringing. Our typical American holiday dinner had many Panamanian staples as well. For instance, we had arroz con pollo rather than chicken and dressing, and there would always be an friend plantains and a fresh basket of bakes, which are similar to fried biscuits. Lastly there would be a huge pot of souse, which is a pickled pig feet recipe, which would always confuse my American friends. Other traditions that we had, was that our tree had to remain up until January 6th for "Dia de Los Tres Magos" or Three Kings Day, in honor of the Wise Men bringing gifts to Baby Jesus. We would typically give one small gift again on this day, which was candies or baked goods.

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