Teaching Our Children the Value of Tradition
Some of our best childhood memories are of the things we enjoyed every year. From donkey rides in the summer to new pyjamas wrapped up and placed at the end of the bed on Christmas eve. It’s not the big flashy toys or trips to theme parks that Children cherish most, it’s the time spent with us, on the small stuff. The stuff that we do with and for them, over and over. This is what they will remember and it’s why I am teaching my children the value of tradition.
In a multicultural world where we are encouraged to embrace the richness of the diversity that surrounds us, it is even more important for families to reconnect with our roots and hold on to the traditions that make us who we are. For multi-lingual and mixed culture families the need is even greater and the richness of merging two cultures offers an even stronger foundation for raising children in today’s society . Giving our children as much colour as possible about their heritage will equip them with the best tools to live an even more enriched life.
Traditions passed on to our children help build an understanding of their heritage and reinforces their sense of being, self-esteem and self-belief. As dual-culture parents, Max and I agreed that it is important to teach our children about the traditions that we each experienced in our Italian / English childhoods. It’s all the more important given that we have two cultures to combine and two lots of beliefs to merge. Teaching our children about our family and cultural traditions adds to the completeness of their identity; whether that’s visiting the same restaurant every time for a special occasion, practicing the same routine at Christmas or visiting special places as a family or sharing a specific meal. Passing on the traditions of our elders, stories from grandparents and images of yesteryear, helps shape our own children even further as they are able to connect with their ancestors and build a picture of where they came from.
Family Traditions Explored
01 | Summer
Max’s family traditions are largely set around food. A lot of his childhood memories in Italy relate to food cooked by his Nonna and these recipes have been stored somewhere safe to be passed down to Sofia and Luca so that they too will carry a bit of Italy to their future.
When I was little, I always remember sitting on the back garden step with my mum drinking cream soda with a blob of vanilla ice cream in it. That was a treat that signified the end of school and the start of summer. We did it every year! My children are not allowed to have fizzy/sugary drinks but when we’re on holiday, as in in another country, they are allowed a lemonade. For them, having a cold lemonade in the sun signifies holiday time and is as important to them as my cream soda was to me. It signifies fun times, sunshine and sharing something together.
Our experience of summer holidays are quite different. Max toured Italy in his parents Mobile home and spent most summers camping with his sister. His memories of hot weather, blue sea and his dad cooking spaghetti on a camp stove are stories that our children often listen to and ask a million questions about. Summer traditions for me were visits to the safari park, eating candyfloss at the fairground and my mum trying to tempt me to eat whelks soaked in vinegar (!). I was very fortunate to go abroad on holiday every year with my mum so I too relate to the heat, the beach and the feeling of summer.
Travel is an important part of our family; Max has lived in America, I have lived in Peru (only for 5 months but still..) so it’s hugely important that during summer our children experience different styles of travel. This per say is not a tradition but the sitting at the table with a map, sharing our thoughts, putting our wishes down on paper and agreeing on a location is something that we started as soon as the children were able to comprehend what holidays were all about.
The way we, as parents, teach our children shapes not just their future but also who they are as beings and as adults later on in life. I feel very fortunate that my children are growing up knowing two cultures but are also encourages to embrace others. Both Max and I speak Spanish and have a passion for South America so our home is also flooded with music, food and cultures that we not only are from but that we also have a passion for.
Caravans, boats, trains, aeroplanes, tree houses, hotels.. they’ve experienced quite a lot in their short 5/6 years and we hope that as they get older, our traditional family holiday chat will produce some super eventful adventures!
02 | Christmas
As parents we don’t need to carry forward the same things that ours parents did. We can change and adapt as our family requires. I don’t give my children new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, for example, I give them on the 1st December, just because they’ll get a whole month of wear out of them. My mum however has continued to buy them their Christmas Eve pyjamas and they know that this is a tradition that Grandma set.
As the festive season begins, we become all encompassed in tradition. We have two Christmas’ in our house; one of the 24th, when Christmas is celebrated in Italy, and one of the 25th to celebrate a traditional English Christmas. On the 24th we wake up early and go out for breakfast before going to the children’s nativity service at church. Once that’s finished we come home for an Italian dinner, usually a Primo (starter) of pasta and a secondi (main dish) of duck with vegetables. With Italian festive music playing in the background, the dinner table is set with an hand embroidered cloth that my mother in law bought us after we got married. The table cloth is an important part of the dining experience in Italy and a tradition that I’ve had to get accustomed to! When Sofia and Luca were born, they were each given their own tablecloth for meal times (which I of course didn’t use as everything would have ended up all over the walls and floor!) that they often request to have on the table at weekends. The table cloth ideology is that its cleaner to eat from a table with a cloth; to not catch germs, to put your cutlery down on, to break your bread on (for mopping up the source – this is called scarpetta).
With matching napkins and all best crockery out, our Italian Christmas dinner really is quite special and something that we hope our children will still enjoy when they’re older and have families of their own.
After dinner, the children get ready for bed and open one gift from under the tree. Max reads them a Christmas story in Italian before getting the mince pies etc ready for Santa.
The 25th is usually a mad scramble down the stairs to find out if the big guy has been, breakfast, playing, huge turkey lunch, a walk around Greenwich Park, a movie and a nap on the sofa! It’s hard work bringing the two traditions together but its something that we and the children enjoy and we hope that they will embrace their cultures and pass what they’re learning from us down the line.
The lead up to Christmas is equally as busy and exciting. When I was little I always went to a pantomime followed by a trip to our favourite Chinese restaurant in Liverpool. Pantomime’s don’t exist in Italy so that’s been a whole new experience for Max and we love taking the children every year, although we’ve replaced the Chinese with a Pizza!
03 | Special Occasions
You need to give some thought to the traditions that you set as a family. As there is only 18 months between Sofia and Luca, I felt really mean when one got a gift for their birthday and the other didn’t. They were both too young to understand that birthdays were only for one child. So, we (I say *we* but it was actually me and I kind of lived to regret it later!) softened the blow and introduced a tradition whereby the birthday girl or boy would get a gift as normal while the other got a small gesture (so as not to feel left out).
As they’ve got older, the presents have got bigger and so this year I have had to have a grown up chat and explain that mummy made an allowance because they were too young to understand. But, now they’re older they each need to allow the other to celebrate *their* day. I was blown away by Sofia’s reaction when she said..
“that’s ok mummy. I will just be happy for Luca because he’s a very special brother”
So don’t be afraid to change your family traditions if they no longer suit – you can just agree to make new ones!
Tradition forms a great part of who we are, what we practice and what we enjoy. It’s our job as parents to ensure that our children understand, and are involved in, our family traditions. Traditions help create the memories that they will carry forward – its our job to make sure those memories are good ones!