Share Your Story: Holiday Traditions

We asked the Adoptive Families Reader Panel: How do you integrate your child's culture of origin and/or adoption story into your family's holiday rituals?

Family Holiday Traditions

How do our readers celebrate the holidays? For many, bringing their new child home involves incorporating a new set of traditions from their child’s heritage into their holiday festivities.

Whether it means celebrating a whole new holiday (Kwanzaa or Chinese New Year) or adding elements of another culture into their own holiday celebrations (Russian ornaments on the Christmas tree; Korean sweets mixed in with the other treats at a Hanukkah celebration), it’s the perfect way to make your child feel right at home. Here are a few ways other adoptive parents have done it.

Winter Festival

“Every January, our adoption agency hosts a Grandfather Frost festival to share Russian holiday traditions and foods with our children. For my husband and me, this offers a wonderful starting point for celebrating and investigating our son’s heritage throughout the year.”

Kristin Dodson, Woodbury, Minnesota


“Both my husband and I come from large Italian families who have maintained a lot of old customs. We brought up our biological children on heartwarming Italian traditions and food specialties each Christmas. With the addition of our Korean daughter, we realized that we should add another culture to our celebration.

So, each December I visit our local Asian market and buy Korean treats to add to the platter of Italian cookies and pastries and mandu that is part of our appetizer spread. Family members have now come to expect these, and they have truly become a part of our extended family’s traditional celebration.”

—Anna Marie Bonafide, via e-mail


“I love to cook, so we’ve worked to incorporate my daughter’s Chinese heritage into our Jewish family’s traditions via food. For Chanukah, we make Chinese onion cakes because they are fried in oil, like latkes.

We received two authentic moon cake molds as a gift from her godmother, and now, for every Autumn Moon Festival, we make homemade ‘Moon Cake Knishes,’ filled with mashed potatoes instead of the traditional dough. My 3-year-old daughter’s favorite part is banging the cakes out of the mold!”

—Alicia Messing, Phoenix, Arizona

Korean Lunar New Year

“We now celebrate Lunar New Year, which we never did before adopting our children. I usually teach a short Lunar New Year lesson in each of their classrooms, and they wear their traditional Korean hanboks to school that day.

Also, I give them at least one Christmas gift that is Korean in nature. Last year, they each received Korean paintbrushes and rice paper, as well as a book on Korean culture. These are a few of the ways in which we try to keep their cultural identity alive–and learn a bit more about it ourselves. We always have fun in the process!”

—Tracie O’Connor, via e-mail


“My family has passed down the Polish tradition of blessing our Easter basket food (swienconka) on Holy Saturday. After adopting our son from Russia, I was happy to find out that this is a Russian tradition as well! This past Easter was the first time that my 3-year-old son showed a real interest in such things. While lining the basket with the beautiful linens we brought back from Russia, we talked about his birth country. In addition to the usual food items, I added pysanky (decorative Russian eggs) this year.”

—Amy Havens, Grosse Ile, Michigan


“We adopted our son from Kazakhstan on Thanksgiving Day, and his birthday is November 30, so this is a joyous week for us. I love telling his adoption story as part of our celebration. My favorite part of the story recalls when I ran down the street to a little market. As I left the store, I almost ran into a crowd of babushkas selling produce.

A lone pumpkin in the middle of the pile caught my attention, and I began babbling in Russian, pushing coins into the seller’s hands as tears came to my eyes. Our host understood why I was crying over a pumpkin, and the cook fixed us a traditional Kazakh pumpkin dish for breakfast the next day.”

—Dianne Combs, Indiana

Adoption Day

“We celebrate three Adoption Days a year to honor not only each child, but how we became a family. Each celebration is much like a birthday, complete with cake and the singing of “Happy Adoption Day to You.” But we have party bags for all of our kids rather than larger gifts for the celebrant alone.

I also take the opportunity to share cake at school, and to teach the child’s classmates about adoption through an interactive presentation. The teachers are always warm to this idea, and the kids are receptive.”

—Cindy Roberts, via e-mail


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