5 Ways to Embrace Heritage for the Holidays

By Deanna Bufo Novak

At holiday time, presents and delicious food are a big part of what makes the season so exciting, but many of us could do a better job of making family togetherness the most important part of all. Encouraging children to understand and be proud of their own heritage helps them form strong roots, thereby increasing their own self-confidence. Confident children will be much more likely to accept those around them. So, climb that family tree with your relatives and see how far you can reach!

Celebrated author of My Heritage Book  and family heritage expert Deanna Bufo Novak, herself mother to two young kids, offer these five tips:

1. Show your enthusiasm for your heritage. Nothing you write to children or grandchildren in an email will convey the same feeling of joy and pride that comes from the experience of you sharing family stories one-on-one. They’ll see you smile and feel your joy and pride. Engage your kids, listen to their questions and answer the best you can.  “I am of Italian descent and have always been proud of it,” Bufo Novak says. “As a child, I would ask my great-grandfather about life in Italy, what it was like coming to America, and why we ate macaroni every Sunday and I adored his broken-English answers!”

2. Make recipes or crafts related to your heritage. For generations, immigrants flocked to America, bringing their own traditions and making each family unique. “Passing down traditions with cooking, sewing and crafting or even looking at old photos gives our children a strong foundation from which to grow,” Bufo Novak says. “Attending a wide variety of cultural festivals is another wonderful experience for the whole family to get immersed in a culture, without stepping foot on an airplane.”

3. Have meals together. Eating together provides wonderful opportunities for the family to communicate. By sharing stories, ideas, thoughts, and feelings, strong and meaningful relationships are formed. Eating together as a family has several critical benefits for a child’s development, concerning with their physical, social, emotional, and academic growth. If you go out for a meal, restaurants are also an incredible source of cultural information and sensory experiences. Eat the traditional food of a country, listen to its music, point-out its traditional décor.

4. Gather in one special room of the home. The size of homes has grown by 50 percent, meaning family members can easily retreat to their own corners of the house—alone. But there were sweeping benefits to family bondingwhen homes were quaint and there were “parlours” to gather in on Sundays and special occasions. Ease of travel also plays a role in spreading us away from the core family dwelling. "Families, like my own, relocate often to different parts of the country and even the world,” Bufo Novak says. “While modern technology helps us stay close to loved ones, e-mails and digital photos will never compare to the experience I had growing up constantly surrounded by family, including my great-grandfather, grandparents, parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins.”

5. Avoid technology as a babysitter. Offer options other than television and electronic devises to a child who needs some quiet time: Give her supplies to write a thankfulness journal or let her help you cook something for a person less fortunate. Another idea is the age-old classic, reading. “Many libraries have entire sections devoted to the world’s countries and cultures and in your child’s eyes, a visit to the library can mean an exciting trip around the world,” Bufo Novak says. “Children find it fascinating when we as parents learn something with them, so encourage further interaction and be sure to point it out to them when you are learning something new.”  Simple phrases such as, “I didn’t know that! That’s so cool!” will likely get them excited to learn even more. 

Photograph by Chelsea Francis via Unsplash