Friday, January 3, 2014

Celebrating Chinese Holidays

Before we had even brought our first adopted child home, we, like most adoptive parents, wanted to have all the knowledge we could on how to continue our children’s heritage and on how to integrate it into our family. We desired to know all about the culture and customs unique to our child’s birth country… in our case China. We researched. We studied Chinese culture, and we formed a plan. This plan helped determine how we could help our child to retain the heritage of his native country. In addition, it would set in place the ways in which we would observe cultural holidays. We were ready to become a culturally mixed family (or so we thought).
Fast forward a few years and this plan would morph and change of its own will. It was not because of a lack of integrating cultural awareness or because of a lack of celebrating special holidays, and neither was it because we intentionally made changes to the way we did these celebrations. It happened as the result of some interesting things that we had not even considered as a part of our family plan.
First of all, we discovered that there were almost as many ways to celebrate any of the Chinese Holidays as there were people in China. As we visited with many of our Chinese friends, we discovered that all families celebrate in different ways, and that celebrations varied depending on different geographical regions. Second, we learned that most of our children coming from Social Welfare Institutes (orphanages) had little knowledge of holiday celebrations. Thirdly, our children from hard places (especially those adopted at older ages) wished to leave their old life behind and begin a new life being an “American”. Finally, we also discovered that many of the Chinese Holidays were steeped in ancient Chinese religious rituals that honored a false god or gods. As a Christian family, it is our wish to raise our children in the knowledge and love of Jesus. We knew that many of the holidays would have to be adapted for this reason.
As a result of all these things, we decided to celebrate many of the holidays “our way”. Our way is often very non-traditional and sometimes boring by other people’s standards. Over the last few years we have chosen to adhere to the basic Chinese Holidays that included Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) and the Moon Festival(mid-autumn). In addition, we celebrate our children… we celebrate the day that each child joined their forever family.
Chinese New Year, in late January or early February, is a time of celebrating family. The New Year celebration is not inclusive of China as many other Asian countries celebrate a New Year as well; however, in China, it is considered the most important holiday of the year… a time of refreshing and renewal.  This two week celebration consists of family gatherings with lots of fun, food, and laughter with a huge Lantern Festival to conclude the festivities. The dragon dance and lantern parade are all part of beautiful traditions that fill this ancient holiday. Our personal celebration varies from year to year. In the past, we have attended various celebrations put on by local adoption groups, but this has never been a real favorite. Attending one of these parties has created fear and trauma for some of our children. It seems that the extra stimulation, the reminders of some not so pleasant times, and the large groups of people are all too much for them to handle, and we have had to leave these events in order to help the child cope. Our more favored way of celebrating CNY is to throw a small party in our home with friends and family invited to share in this tradition. Each child has an important role in the success of our party. We join together in cooking favorite Chinese foods (making dumplings is a favorite), decorating (using many traditional lanterns and d├ęcor as well as child-made decorations), and cleaning and preparing our home for our guests. Dressed in our traditional silk outfits, we gather with family and friends to share lots of good food and fun. It is a special time of remembrance and a time to be grateful for God’s special blessings on our “blended” family. All of these things are somewhat traditional in nature but we add our own “American” twists adding various foods and games that are enjoyed together as a family.
The Moon Festival (Mid-Autumn),traditionally celebrated late September or early October, is a holiday based on pagan religious practices and one that we knew we would transform to fit our beliefs and at the same time honor our children’s heritage. This celebration, in brief, revolves around three concepts: the gathering of family and friends as well as the gathering of harvest, thanksgiving for the harvest and for happy relationships, and praying for babies, spouses, beauty, longevity and a good future. Ancient Chinese customs would often include worship of the moon, stars and spirits. To be honest, this is a holiday that we struggle with mostly because it sneaks up on us allowing limited time to prepare in the ways that honors Chinese heritage but allows for celebrating in ways that fit our family beliefs. If we hadn’t missed the date altogether, we would celebrate with local adoption groups. Included in these types of celebrations would be a picnic in the park with traditional activities. For many of the same reasons listed above, we have found that a private family celebration works best. We have dinner, sometimes Chinese food but not always, and since our children do not like moon cakes (a traditional food) we use old-fashioned moon pie treats (the chocolate/marshmallow variety). We then go outside to moon and star gaze, and each year, I hope to incorporate an idea that I borrowed from a friend. Their family writes a prayer and blessing for each child’s birth family on a slip of paper, ties it to the string of a helium balloon, and then as they are moon gazing the child speaks their prayers to God for their birth parents and the balloon is sent on its journey. It so perfectly incorporates the Chinese traditions with our Christian family beliefs. Since, most years, I learn the date of the moon festival on its calendar day, it leaves little time for us to prepare, and we often miss using this idea. So, once again, it is my hope to add this idea to our family’s celebration for 2014.
Although most adoptive families celebrate Gotcha Days or Forever Family Days, our family chooses to use these yearly celebrations as a time to remember and give thanks for all the blessings God has bestowed upon us as a family. We honor each of our children and the unique way that God chose to add to our family by spending family time looking at pictures, delving through life books and rereading travel journals. During these special days of remembrance the child can feel a certain freedom in asking questions about their birth families and about how they came to be adopted. All in all it is a wonderful way to celebrate each child and their special place in our family.
To celebrate means to rejoice in a special event; to observe a special day; to perform a special ceremony; and or to praise publicly. Celebrations aren’t unique to only one culture or lifestyle and are celebrated worldwide as a way to connect and honor family traditions. The importance of these celebrations is significant, most especially for our adopted children. Holidays and the observance of them strengthen and help our children identify with their birth country and its cultures. When families are willing to observe special holidays, a sense of personal identity and a strong family bond is formed. It is most important that we make the effort for our kiddos. Sometimes these efforts turn and twist to meet the needs of our children and of our families. Celebrate it your way! It doesn’t matter how we celebrate as long as we do the celebrating. After all, who doesn’t like a Party?!

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