Building intercultural Christmas traditions: our personalized blended Finnish-Nicaraguan Christmas
It is holiday season, and this time of the year is a perfect occasion to put into practice the intercultural richness of our family. My husband is from Finland, and I am from Nicaragua. Together we are raising a trilingual 4-year-old girl who has big expectations for Christmas. But how do we reconcile two cultures in a festive tone? Christmas is not always nice and fun, but this blog is a photography of our life situation in December 2022, and if you relate to it, you might also be in an intercultural family.
Christmas started early with a generous amount of snow that fell and never went away. Back home there is no snow ever, so I find amusing to see my daughter play and eat the snow that announces that Christmas is near. A Christmas calendar with little chocolates to open day by day is a new experience for me: this time my daughter chose herself the type of calendar she wanted to have.
Our family playlist includes songs such as “El burrito Sabanero”, “Last Christmas” and “Tonttujen jouluyö Tip Tap (Soihdut sammuu)”. My daughter makes her own version of the lyrics in Spanish, Finnish and English, mixing all the songs. Yes, Christmas carols are part of our repertoire and that is where things get a bit intercultural.
The rest of our Finnish family is very small and lives in another city. It has been decided that we do not spend Christmas together anymore, although it used to be the habit. At the beginning it puzzled me why the whole Finnish family is not together on Christmas day. Back home, Christmas is all about being together with close and extended family members. It took me a while to process that culture difference and realized that Finnish honesty shall never be confused with rudeness: sometimes people want to be on their own and avoid big and stressful family celebrations that require a lot of logistics and expenses. Each family is different, and I shall adapt, give them space, and integrate.
Who brings the presents?
Well, it depends. In my husbands’ culture it is the Joulupukki, and in my culture is El Niño Dios (the baby Jesus). We decided not to select one over the other and somehow, we have explained to our daughter that on Christmas day, while she is sleeping, both Joulupukki and Baby Jesus will together leave her gifts under the tree. I wonder if other families have come up with arrangements like ours. She wrote and drew herself Christmas cards to Joulupukki and Niño Dios, and I am glad that our local supermarket has a mailbox dedicated to receiving children’s cards.
Being generous with others is particularly challenging in times of economic difficulties. Like many families, our thoughts are haunted with ideas about unemployment, to make ends meet, raising living expenses and war. My intuition tells me that intercultural families are more exposed to pressing finances. But we are grownups, and we owe our daughter beautiful childhood Christmas memories, so we must make an effort to put out there the best of our cheerful and festive mood. That does not cost money at all!
Christmas for our family is celebrated on December 24th, which is a common feature in both of our cultures. We will open gifts and the cherry on the pie will be THE traditional Finnish dinner. I am certain that Finnish Christmas food will be at our dinner table for some days after, until we genuinely start to get fed up with the laatikkos and ham. But now worries, it has become our new family tradition that I cook traditional Nicaraguan Christmas food around December 27th, in order to diversify our food palette during holiday season.
Nicaraguan relleno is the food heritage I bring -literally - to the table. One of its many ingredients includes the ham from Finnish Christmas food, which gives a special touch of cultural blending and zero-waste philosophy. I would serve relleno with soft bread, but my husband and her mom prefer it with Ruisleipä (rye bread), and that's honestly the beauty of interculturality. We do create new and unique ways to experience our family traditions, taking whatever feels comfortable from each culture.
Christmas has become a personal reminder of why it matters and what I can take from it. Missing my family and worrying about seasonal expenses are feelings I am learning to handle. Seeing my daughter so happy and excited about the magic of Christmas really pays off and cheers me up. What is even better, is to create our unique Christmas world with traditions from Nicaragua, Finland, and everything in between. The best of it, we have food and a roof over our heads, we are healthy, and we love each other to the moon and back.
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