Chicago mom preserves cultural holiday traditions

Soon, millions of people around the world will be celebrating the holidays. It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year with sparkling holiday lights adorning homes in nearly every neighborhood and a fluffy blanket of snow covering the trees. I absolutely love the holidays. Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day or any one of the international holidays celebrated this winter, every family has their own traditions. For some families that means getting together on Christmas day to open gifts and for others it means leaving some milk and cookies for Santa.

With my mixed ethnic background of Puerto Rican, German and Polish, my family’s holiday traditions are a bit of a hodgepodge of cultural customs. I’m lucky to be able to pass down to my kids the traditions I grew up with – the things that made the holidays extra-special for me. Each, in their own special way, that celebrates my eclectic heritage.

Before the holidays officially begin, my kids eagerly anticipate the first of December. That’s when we begin observing the Advent calendar, a tradition that began in Germany. Each day in December leading up to Christmas, my kids get a small treat – a nice build-up to the big day.

One of my favorite activities leading up to the holiday is baking. Each year, much to the delight of our family and friends, my mom and I bake kolacky cookies using my grandmother’s secret recipe. Traditional Polish kolackys are light and flaky fruit-filled pastries and they are delicious. It’s one tradition that I’m glad to pass on to my kids.

Finally, my Puerto Rican heritage allows us to celebrate Dia de los Reyes or Three Kings Day. On January 6, Three Kings Day celebrates the three wise men that visited Christ in Bethlehem. Traditionally, children place an empty box of hay (to feed the donkeys) under their beds and wait for the three wise men to visit while they sleep and leave a small gift. While we don’t leave hay under our beds anymore, my family still gets together on Three Kings Day. It’s just another way we spend time together as a family around the holidays.

I truly hope my kids continue these traditions with their own families when they’re older.

I hope they realize the importance of these traditions and that they serve to bring them closer together.

I hope our traditions give deeper meaning to the holidays and they make the season more enjoyable for them.

I hope our traditions become a part of who they are and that they continue to be passed down through the generations.

So no matter what you have planned this year, I hope you get to spend some time with friends and family this holiday season because, to me, that’s what the holidays are all about.

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