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Keeping Traditions Alive: 3 Tips to Help your Kids Appreciate their Cultural Heritage

Keeping Traditions Alive: 3 Tips to Help your Kids Appreciate their Cultural Heritage

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots”. -Marcus Garvey

Growing up in Mexico, a country with a vast cultural heritage, one of my favorite traditions was (and still is) the celebration of “Day of the Dead” or Día de Muertos.

I vividly remember the colorful altars made in remembrance of loved ones, each one more elaborate than the other. People would lovingly and solemnly place the pictures of family members, along with their favorite meals while they were alive, bright orange cempazuchitl or marigold flowers leading the path to the ofrenda, and whimsical sugar skulls with their relatives’ names. Also, I remember the wonderful smell of burning incense or copal, and mariachi music playing in the background.

 Example of a Day of the Dead altar with marigold flowers and pictures of deceased loved ones

Example of a Day of the Dead altar with marigold flowers and pictures of deceased loved ones

The little girl I was, found these altars surrounded by dozens of lit votives and adorned with colorful tissue paper to be the most magical things ever. Older women would get together to prepare hot chocolate and a special bread called “pan de muerto”, which kids and adults alike would devour. All of a sudden, the cloudy month of November would be filled with colors, aromas, and tastes that would forever stay in my heart.

 Sugar skulls or “calaveritas” are a staple on Day of the Dead altars

Sugar skulls or “calaveritas” are a staple on Day of the Dead altars

As an expat mom, I strive to transmit the beauty and importance of cultural traditions like Dia de Muertos to my little boys. And, although tradition might be associated with notions of moving backwards, in fact, it serve as a basis to establish what defines us as a country and at the same time, what we expect in the future.

In the case of Day of the Dead, Mexicans see this tradition not as something sad and morbid, as many people think, but as a celebration of life. It is an opportunity for families to gather around the altar and tell the younger generation about the life and accomplishments of those that have passed away. By doing so, we hope to create a future in which they will learn from the wisdom of their ancestors and be reminded to live life to the fullest.

As crucial as integrating to your new home country is, preserving your roots and sharing them with your kids is also primordial. So, here are my tips of how to helps your kids appreciate their cultural heritage.

Tips to Help your Kids Appreciate their Cultural Heritage

  1. Explain the symbolism behind the tradition

The holidays represent a period of celebration of multiple traditions with different cultural twists. For example, on New Year’s Eve, in Spain and other countries, we eat twelve grapes before the strike of midnight, which represent our wishes for each of the twelve months in the new year.

For Day of the Dead, each item of the altar has a very specific meaning. The more kids know about the significance of each element, the more likely they are to appreciate its symbolism.

 Explanation of all the items in the Dead of the Day altar.

Explanation of all the items in the Dead of the Day altar.

  • In simple terms, let them know the values that the tradition helps to preserve and why they resonate with you

    Does the tradition promote the values of family? Is it a remembrance of a victory over a dark period in time? Is freedom one of the values? Whatever the main value is, if it resonates with you, let the kids know why this is an important value for you.

    In my case, one of my main values is family so, the Day of the Dead provides an opportunity for me to share the stories of my relatives with my kids—what they were like, what they would say to them if they were still alive, how much love they gave us and why we remember them to this day.

  • Find museums, expos and activities dedicated to your culture

France has a tradition of dedicating a month or even a year to a country in order to promote and honor it. This year it is the turn of Japan, with the celebration Japonismes.

But, Paris has several museums dedicated to many cultures. You can often find kids activities in said museums, which are dedicated to creating cultural awareness.

Here is a non-exhaustive list, hoping you can find a museum that celebrates your heritage:

Maisons des Cultures du Monde

Maison de la Culture du Japon

Institut Finlandais

Institut Suédois

Instituto Cultural de México en Francia

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