Keywords: Cultural parenting, multicultural, intergenerational communication, balancing cultures, Indian-American, tradition, heritage, parenting, informed choices, family stories, leadership, integrity, leading by example, make your own traditions, family values, family history, western culture, western influence.
Meenal Pandya has been writing about India and its culture for more than a decade. She has written several books, hundreds of articles, and poems. Her writings have appeared in many prestigious magazines, newspapers and journals around the world. She lives in the US and is a writer, publisher and a consultant. She has raised two daughters.
Meenal wrote these essays offering invaluable advice and guidance especially for Teach India Project readers and subscribers.
Traditions are your language; you identify yourself with them,
express yourself through them and around them, and most
importantly, you feel an instant bond with people who are
familiar with them. How can we keep traditions alive? How
do we decide which traditions to keep alive?
Looking to pass on some traditions to your children?
Here are some tips:
The word “tradition” invokes the idea of an out-dated, tedious, and complex custom too difficult to fit into our busy lifestyle. Actually traditions are just the opposite. Traditions are your language; you identify yourself with them, express yourself through them and around them, and most importantly, you feel an instant bond with people who are familiar with them. A friend of mine who lives in Boston tells me that, “There are two things I like to do to make me feel Indian – make chappatis a couple of times a week and Rangolis at festival times”.
Every family also, no matter where they are from or where they live today has some unique identifying traditions. Traditions create a strong bond within a family, a community or a group and reflect what your family considers valuable. They create memories and play a special role in looking beyond ourselves. Migration with its related isolation and distance and time pressures of our busy lifestyles can uproot traditions that have been a part of the family for a very long time – often centuries in a culture like India.
How can we keep traditions alive? How do we decide which traditions to keep alive?
Our seasonal and religious celebrations all involve special foods, house cleaning, new clothes and exchange of gifts with friends and family. Find out, if you do not know already, which traditions are in your family: your family’s special recipe for a particular sweet or a special way to decorate the home. Recall details from your favorite childhood celebrations and memories. You may find this to be an interesting search in itself. As you discuss this with your elders and your children you will see how it helps you connect with them.
Every tradition has roots and usually begins with a story. Try to find out what was the reason the tradition was started in the first place. If the tradition you enjoyed as a child has religious roots, try to find out the story behind it and share with your children. Finding out why a certain tradition has become part of your family may help you decide if it is worth passing on to your children.
Learn the details of what exactly is involved, and when. Tradition, by definition is something that occurs at a regular frequency. No matter how beautiful a tradition, if you do not observe it with regularity, it will lose its significance. Make sure you follow the tradition you pick with some discipline. Although obvious, this is the hardest part of keeping a tradition in a busy family life.
One of the benefits when you transplant any tradition is that you get a chance to reevaluate. See if this tradition is truly bringing any joy to you and your family. A boring tradition will not last for too long.
Making kids follow a tradition can be fun if you get them involved in whatever capacity that they can. For example, if the tradition involves a pooja ceremony, then make sure that the kids are helping you decorate or take part in the aarti, or play a musical instrument during the prayer time.
If the tradition involves food – as many of them do - see if you can get your kids involved in cooking. Not only it will be a fun family activity but it will also provide time together to talk about the tradition itself – a great way to introduce other things around the culture, religion or tradition.
Don’t get bogged down by gender roles – boys might enjoy making rangolis as much as girls.
When you are in a different culture, improvising becomes the key. Some traditions may not translate well in another culture but you can always improvise to fit your family’s current needs and circumstances. For example, as a kid I remember that every Sunday morning our family gathered around the dining table –with a plate that carried a small diya and incense for a prayer time. Each family member, including young kids, offered a prayer and the last prayer was sung together as a family. Living in America, I have changed this tradition from every Sunday to every birthday in the family.
If possible, consider making it open to the larger group. Extended family, friends, community whatever works. Instead of making it a family event, for example, invite your friends from other cultures. Share with others. This may help children feel proud of the tradition. For example, while celebrating Diwali, we always included our non-Indian friends and the parents of our children’s friends.
Keep in mind that traditions are created at some time or the other so if you find that your family does not have any particular tradition that is practical for you to keep in your new surrounding, try to create a new one for your family. A certain food as a new year celebration, a certain temple that you visit on every birthday, a pooja that you perform on Thanksgiving day, time that you volunteer as a family during Christmas. Be creative. Traditions do not have to be religious. Whatever you pick, will become a great memory for your next generation.
Although it is not important how often the traditional activity occurs, anything less than once a year will not help a child remember it well enough. The frequency can be daily, (such as offering food to the deity every day before eating dinner) to every week or once a year. Usually any tradition around holiday time is observed with gusto and it is manageable in your busy life.
So pick a tradition and go with it. Most importantly, have fun.
Updated September 2011