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Celebrating a Multicultural Christmas While Growing up Hispanic

Celebrating a Multicultural Christmas While Growing up Hispanic - Mi LegaSi

I am Janny Perez.  I was born in Colombia and raised in Miami by two Colombian parents.  Growing up Hispanic in Miami during Christmas time meant listening to “Mi Burrito Sabanero,” (Little Donkey from Bethlehem) on the radio, attending Misa de Gallo(Midnight Mass), and having your neighbors gift your family everything from turrón, arroz con leche, and coquito (toffee, rice pudding, and Puerto Rican eggnog like drink) during the holiday season.  It meant Christmas Eve was usually very loud and jam packed with activity.  My husband, on the other hand, grew up in Bulgaria, in a very Americanized home, celebrating Christmas listening to 50’s Christmas classics on vinyl while having a quiet vegetarian dinner, yes vegetarian. 

christmas dinner

My Latino Christmas was, well, very Latino.  Unlike American traditions where the big event is Christmas Day, Nochebuena or Christmas Eve is the main event for Latinos and for us was a combination of partying it up, going to church, and opening presents.  Because I grew up in Hialeah, Florida, a Cuban neighborhood, it seemed like all of my friends also celebrated Christmas in a Latino way.  It’s what we knew and it didn’t seem odd that every other house on our block, including ours, was blasting El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico well into the A.M hours. 

gran combo de Puerto Rico 

While most American children were dreaming of Santa and the reindeer, us Latino kids were fighting to stay up with the grown ups. Most of us never made it though and we awoke either at our parent’s friends’ house or our house surrounded by our parent’s friends. We eventually opened remaining gifts on Christmas Day, but it was a much mellower event. I always wondered whether it was Santa or Baby Jesus who came and if my family and their friends had seen them since they’d stayed up all night. I never got a clear answer.

santa or baby jesus

Fast forward to today, Navidad 2018.  Here I am, Colombian married to a Bulgarian with a 3 year old US born child, living in Brooklyn, NY.  You can call us your now typical American family. I want to keep my Latino traditions that are so dear to my heart, the ones where family and faith are at the heart of Christmas, but I also want to observe my husband’s Bulgarian traditions.   Like our family, there are many multicultural families that want to share their customs with their children.  Here are some tips on:

How you can celebrate a multicultural Christmas while growing up Hispanic that will make everyone including abuela happy.

1) Decide where you will spend Christmas Eve & Christmas Day.

Thanksgiving was spent with my familia (mom, dad, and sister) in Florida.  Christmas I like to spend at home in NY.  While we have traveled to Seattle where my Mother in Law lives on previous Navidades (before our daughter was born), the past 3 Navidades she has come to visit us on Christmas Day.  We try and make everyone happy so we spend 1 big holiday with los abuelos, 1 big holiday with grandma, and 1 big holiday just us (Christmas Eve).  Navidad is about family, unity, peace, joy, and love.  Sometimes a little compromise is needed to make everyone happy and remember, especially with aging parents, time spent now will be treasured memories later.

Holiday Map

2) Use technology to your Christmas advantage.

If it were up to me I'd spend every single holiday with my mami and papi.  However, I'm not alone and unfortunately I'm not a million miler member with any of the airlines...yet.  But we have technology at our fingertips, so every Christmas for the past few years, I Skype or Facetime when we open my family's gifts and they wait to open ours.  It's the next best thing to physically being there and we get to see their reaction.  Plus, it makes our loved ones who are far away feel like they are still a part of our Christmas celebration and tradition.

Face timing during Christmas

3.  Share and embrace your spouse's Christmas traditions even if it means modifying yours.

I grew up in Miami and Christmas Eve or Nochebuena became a Colombian, Cuban, Puerto Rican mosh of customs.  We had pernil, with congri (Cuban black beans and rice), and natilla and buñuelos (typical Colombian Christmas foods).  After I married my husband, we adopted his Christmas Eve meal tradition because it was so unique and beautiful.  In Bulgaria, they observe Christmas Eve as the Last Day of Lent so a meatless meal is served.  Yes, MEATLESS, no pernil, no tamales de carne, no turkey, so that was a change for this Latina.  However, it is a beautiful tradition.  7 dishes are prepared, each with it's it own meaning, including "Banitsa," which is a bread that contains a coin. Whomever gets the piece with the coin is predicted to have good fortune for the following year.  Embracing my husband's tradition meant modifying my typical Nochebuena tradition.  Now on Christmas Day we do a mix of my Nochebuena meal tradition with Bulgarian leftovers.

Bulgarian Christmas Dinner

4.  Opening Christmas gifts may mean modifying your Hispanic traditions. 

Growing up, we opened gifts on Nochebuena, and on some occasions we opened a few gifts on Christmas.  Since we were confused anyway as to whom brought us gifts, Santa or Niño Dios, it really didn't matter whether is was Christmas Day morning or late Christmas Eve.  My parents were always creative and managed to surprise us.  Some years, when we weren't overcome with sleep, we stayed up all night on Christmas Eve, other years we woke up early on Christmas Day.  I know many Latino families that also stay up all night on Nochebuena with friends and family.  This year, like last, we will incorporate my all nighters with my husand's traditional Christmas Day gift opening by allowing Victoria to open 1 gift on Nochebuena and the rest on Christmas morning. It's the best of both worlds, welcome to a multicultural Christmas.

Christmas Day

5)  Create a new Christmas tradition to call your own.

My family is still young and without realizing it, we are creating new traditions of our own.  Traditions are created over time and while we have adopted the traditions passed down to us, it is nice to also do our thing and create something meaningful that speaks to our unique family.  Here are some new tradition ideas that I gathered from friends & family that you can incorporate with your family.  Check out our New Holiday Traditions Boardfor more ideas:

Pinterest Board

  • Have a Christmas Pajama Party (everyone wears similar pajamas).
  • Takes a Christmas themed pic.
  • Christmas Day at the Movies (go out to see the latest Movie).
  • Holiday Movie (watch your favorite holiday movie like Home Alone, Elf, a Christmas Story, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc) every year.
  • See holiday lights (maybe it's a specific neighborhood or the local zoo).Dyker Heights Lights
  • Go ice skating.
  • Go to church.
  • Create a family scrapbook page with leftover holiday paper.
  • Create Christmas Day Pancakes.
  • Play a Family Game like Monopoly or Loteria.
  • Do Christmas crafts with letftover holiday wrapping paper.
  • Write gratitude cards for family album.  (Each family member writes what they are grateful for this year.  Each year 1 new card can be added to your family keepsake album.)
  • Bake cookies, buñuelos, or churros for Santa.Santa Cookies and Buñuelos
  • Funny moments of the year game.  Each family member recalls the funniest story or moment of the year.
  • Listen to some vinyl.
  • Use the phone to actually call a friend or relative to wish them a Feliz Navidad.
  • Write Christmas Thank Yous/New Year's Cards if your xmas cards didn't make it in time.
  • Volunteer at a local charity.
  • Go to a holiday theme park.
  • Go hiking.
  • Build a snowman (out of snow or sand).
  • Create a time capsule (each family includes a treasure from the year, ex: kid's artwork, first lock of cut hair, first baby tooth, concert ticket stub, newspaper articles ).Holiday Theme Park
  • Go fishing.
  • Go for a scenic drive.
  • Do a 1000 piece holiday puzzle.
  • Make a Christmas ornament.
  • Attend a Broadway or off Broadway show.
  • Attend a concert.
  • Plan your next family vacation.
  • Visit a friend or family member you haven't seen in a while.
  • Play tourist in your city.Play tourist in your own city
  • Share holiday leftovers with the neighbors.
  • Adopt a pet.
  • Read a book out loud.
  • Read the bible.
  • Create a family new year vision board.
  • Make a family Christmas movie or music video.
  • Make a family bloopers video.
  • Watch old family videos.
  • View old family photos.old Hispanic family photo


    No matter where your family is from or what you end up doing for Christmas, what matters is that you celebrate in harmony and in an environment of love.  My fondest memories are those being with my family, laughing, cooking, dancing, and praying and not the gifts that I received.  It's the experiences that we have with our families, Latino, Multicultural, big or small, that leave marks in our souls as kids and later as adults. So this Christmas, share the love and your kids too will grow up with memories that warm their hearts.  

    From my multicultural family to yours, may you have a beautiful Navidad.  Un beso y un abrazo!    

     Multicultural Family Christmas


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