An Alternative Christmas Dinner: How to Plan a Holiday Meal for the Multicultural Family

Hungry Hong Kong

I am Taiwanese-American. My husband is half British, half French, our kids were born in Asia. We have family in England, Germany, Hong Kong, California, and Taiwan. If everyone got together there would be at least five languages being spoken at the dinner table. It is a definite melting pot for the holidays, so how do we respect every culture and still celebrate all the traditions? Here are a few tips if you're hosting a multicultural meal during Christmas or any day of the year.

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Take account of who is celebrating.

  • Some of my family members are just there for the gathering and others are there to celebrate Christmas Day. Take note of who is celebrating a holiday and who is happy to enjoy the meal and conversation. The family members who put more emphasis on Christmas may care more to have their traditions at the forefront. Our British relatives love a turkey on Christmas Day but my Dad is happy with good food and wine. You don't need to add unnecessary elements that will make your day of preparation more tiring. Make sure there's something to suit all tastes and plenty of wine to go around but leave the traditions to those who crave a taste of the holidays.

Ask for preferences and plan ahead:

  • We communicate with the guests at least a month before the holidays and set up a date and menu for the meal. We ask for dishes they are craving or things they may want to try this year. Maybe one relative wants to try more Chinese dishes or my Taiwanese family might want to just go full on traditional Christmas lunch. Some ingredients I need my grandmother to bring from Taiwan if we are celebrating in the UK, so we always plan ahead to avoid stress and ensure there's something for everyone on the dinner table. It's a family gathering so everyone should have a part in preparations. This also avoids any surprises or failure to account for new dietary requirements.

Value traditions.

  • What did your childhood Christmas look like? Try to picture the most important elements and add them when you are hosting during the holidays. My Taiwanese family always wrap dumplings during Winter Solstice, so we always dedicate a day to this before Christmas Day. Our kids get involved and learn the recipe and a large plate of dumplings is always on the table throughout their visit. Our British family love creating mince pies and watching Christmas movies and we always have traditional Christmas crackers during lunch Your family will feel more festive when you remember these traditions and value them in your own household.

Map out the table.

  • Are there vegetarians, grandparents who are nervous about unfamiliar cuisines, someone who is better at carving the turkey? When you have a multicultural family the dietary requirements can be endless. My Taiwanese grandparents aren't accustomed to many Western dishes and my mother-in-law is vegan. Your dining table will be full to the brim with food and love but don't forget full doesn't mean it has to be a mess. Draw a seating chart and plan where each dish will be placed along with where each guest will sit. Make festive namecards and place settings for the day. This ensures everyone will be near something they can eat and won't be offended by what is placed beside them.

Ask for help.

  • Cooking together can be a bonding experience and also a great way to learn about the other family's culture. Encourage everyone to have time the kitchen to create their signature dish to share with the family. Get your children involved with baking desserts and have your mother and mother-in-law share recipes. You can prep all the ingredients but don't be afraid to ask for help with the actual cooking process. This not only will help you with organizing other elements around the house but create understanding and new traditions.

Use "Happy Holidays"

  • Are some of your family celebrating Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Diwali? It's always safer to say "Happy Holidays" so everyone is equally important and respected. Also take the time to teach your child about all the holidays that are celebrated within your multicultural family. Ask each grandparent to host an activity to teach the children about their holiday. Often Christmas seem is most popular with children but it is important they respect their entire family and the traditions they bring.

Host Multiple Dinners

  • Use all the rules above but you can also host multiple dinners. Give each holiday the spotlight if you are together for more than just Christmas Day. My Taiwanese family celebrate Winter Solstice which happens a few days before Christmas. We have a traditional Chinese hotpot for Winter Solstice and then a traditonal turkey dinner on Christmas Day. If you have a big family you can all take turns hosting throughout the holiday season. Decide where you want to spend Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and even New Year's Eve. Don't forget to leave time to yourselves so aren't overwhelmed with gatherings and engagements.

Create a new tradition that is just yours

  • You are probably bending over backwards to try to please everyone so don't forget about your little family that is just you and your husband or your kids. Your new tradition may take place during the large group dinner or after everyone has left. Whatever you decide, take time to celebrate your way and bond over the holidays. Your children will want a tradition they can pass down too.

Gifts

  • Decide ahead of time if you will be exchanging gifts and inform all the guests well in advance. Create a budget for presents for the children so it doesn't feel awkward when someone has treated them to a Playstation and another gifts a box of cookies. Secret Santa is also a fun gift giving idea so everyone isn't obligated to buy and bring a present for everyone.

The 2020 way

  • This year the majority of us will not be able to be with family for the holidays. Don't forget to keep up their traditions with your children and show them you are celebrating their way too. We live in an amazing time with Facetime and Zoom at our disposal. Plan your holiday meal virtually and share all your different festive spreads from around the world.

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