What is your family’s culture at holiday time?

Culture doesn’t have to be something exotic. What traditions does your family have during the holidays?

What is culture? Often, people think of culture as a particular ethnic group. Everyone has their own way of going through life. The 4-H Backpack to Adventure: Youth Leaders in a Global World Curriculum states that culture is the way a group of people lives, including beliefs, values and behaviors. It also includes such things as customs, language, ethnicity, race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, family structure, family occupation, lifestyle and geographic location. This series of articles will help you look at your own culture and those around you, and maybe create some new traditions. By better understanding your own culture, hopefully you can understand and appreciate those around you.

Winter holidays are full of cultural traditions centered around family. Often, when multiple generations are in the home at once, it is a good time to ask questions and learn about family traditions and how they started. You can also share in memories with your family. Here are some potential examples of questions to ask.

  • Is there a particular day you start decorating? Has it always been that day?
  • Is there an order to how you decorate? Does a particular decoration go up first or last?
  • Do you get a live tree as part of your tradition? Did your older relatives have different traditions for the tree?
  • What are the oldest holiday decorations in the house? Where did they come from?
  • Which decorations are homemade? Do you remember when and how they were made?
  • Is there a decoration you remember that got broken or lost? Why was it special? Are there any photographs of it?
  • Are there any traditions about how decorations are removed or what you do with the tree?
  • Are there certain movies or television shows you always watch?
  • Are there jewelry or clothing that is only brought out at the holidays?
  • If you exchange gifts, who do you exchange gifts with and why?
  • Do you open gifts all at once or one at a time?
  • Do you have any relatives who saved wrapping paper? Or used newspaper for wrapping paper?
  • Ask an older relative what was their most memorable gift and why? Do they still have that gift? If not, do they know what happened to it?
  • Ask an older relative if there was a gift they really wanted as a kid, but never got?
  • Is there a certain place stockings are hung? Do they get filled in a certain way? Are they opened before or after other things?
  • Are there particular things you do when you get together, such as play board games, watch football or go to a movie?
  • When you leave home and maybe start your own family, what traditions will you want to keep? Are there any you definitely don’t want?

All these items and more are part of your culture and traditions. Reflect on them this holiday season and think about which ones you want to carry on as you get older. Continue to explore them and those around you in your club, your community, your country and your world. You may look at some of these ideas and create some new traditions.

This article was inspired by and adapted from the 4-H Folkpatterns curriculum. For more information, see the Folkpatterns Leaders Guide and the 4-H Foodways Project.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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