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Teen Perspective: Celebrating Culture/Traditions

by Louise | December 21st, 2011 | Teen Perspective

If your family has some tradition other than the typical “American” ones, cherish them. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of the American holidays and the aspects that go with them, but there’s something about having a special holiday that no one else celebrates (in close proximity) that can really bring a family together in a special way.

I’m a first generation American. My parents moved to the States from the Netherlands (well, technically they moved from France, but that’s a different story) about 20 years ago. One of the biggest cultural factors that my parents brought with them to America is the Dutch language. Frankly, it’s pretty darn cool to be raised in a bilingual household. I mean, how many people do you know that can speak Dutch? It’s like a secret language for my sisters and me (except of course when we visit our family in Holland). One of the traditions that my parents brought with them to America is the celebration of Sinterklaasavond (Saint Nicholas’s Eve) or pakjesavond (night of gifts) on December 5, which we like to call Dutch Christmas.

Sinterklaas is essentially the Dutch version of Santa Claus. (Christmas is also celebrated in Holland, but is more of a religious occasion, than a time to give gifts.) On the night before December 5, children put out their shoes or klompen (wooden clogs) by the fireplace (analogous to stockings), leaving a carrot/apple out for Sinterklaas’ horse. The next morning, traditional items that fill the shoes include kruidnoten (small, spiced cookies, pictured), speculaas, taai-taai, perhaps a mandarin orange, and other treats. That night, Sinterklaas and his helper, Zwarte Piet, leave a sack of gifts by the front door, though no one ever sees them come or go. For my family, it’s an exciting night filled with gift-giving and Sinterklaasliedtjes (Dutch Christmas songs).

Some might claim, “My family has been living in America for many generations. I don’t have anything else special to celebrate.” Many Caucasian Americans vaguely know their background. I’ve heard many friends say something along the lines of, “I’m 50% French, 25% German, and 25% something else.” If you know that much, you could set aside a particular day each year just to, as a family, look into where your family came from (not just locations, but traditions). If your roots only trace you further back into America, then that’s something else special to celebrate as well.

Doing some research to find out a special holiday that would be relevant for your family to celebrate provides a valuable cultural lesson and adds an extra day of celebration to the year. Now that’s what I call a win-win situation.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

  1. […] Study the celebrations of your family’s heritage […]

  2. Jane Wangersky says:

    “I mean, how many people do you know that can speak Dutch?”

    Dat kan ik doen, maar alleen een beetje.

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