Accepting, observing, and experiencing a different family culture as you would another country's may change your perspective.
Some years ago I went with my parents to India, a place they had visited several times before. My mom's sage words of advice as our plane approached New Delhi were, "Take in all the different sights, smells, and sounds, but try not to look at India as 'good' or 'bad.' Rather, just look at everything as 'That's India!'" Her advice served me well. Rather than judge the many different aspects of the experience, I accepted them as part of the journey. The result was an ability to love every minute of our stay.
This advice has proved to have a much broader application than just accepting another countries' cultures. I have since applied it to my relationships. Having been raised in Southern California as a meditating vegetarian, it was a culture shock when I visited my husband's birth state and family in Wisconsin. More than 20 years ago, when we first got married, "vegetarianism" was a relatively unfamiliar concept there, one I'm sure seemed absurd, though they did their best to accept and accommodate me.
Initially, I judged their differences as good or bad. Over the course of time and many visits later, I've learned that rather than assessing a situation, simply thinking "That's my husband’s family" makes the experience infinitely more fun. Different cultures are not just about different countries. Families, communities, cities, states, religions, and ethnicities all within this country can have their own distinct cultures. Accepting, observing, and experiencing my husband’s family culture as I would another country's has changed my perspective.
With the holidays upon us, this practice of shifting perspective and acceptance could serve you as well. When we bring two families together or even just two people from different upbringings and traditions, there is always some latitude for cultural clashing. Some of us hold different holidays in greater or lesser regard, or we honor some but not others. Some of us love them; some of us don't. Some have traditions passed down from their families so deeply rooted that the holidays don't seem real without them.
Here are some tips for overcoming a holiday culture clash:
- Suspend judgment and see whether you can see any differences as simply "what is" rather than what is "good" or "bad."
- Have a conversation with your loved one(s) to discover what their traditions are and which traditions truly matter to them.
- See if you can find playful ways to honor each other's traditions, and if you are in the home of in-laws for the holidays, see whether you can simply learn about and enjoy the cultural dynamics of that family without judgment.
- Develop traditions of your own; there are no rules. My husband's family always opened presents on Christmas Eve, and my family always opened them on Christmas morning. So we developed our own tradition of opening one special present on Christmas Eve and the rest in the morning.
On "Star Trek" the spaceship crew is governed by a "prime directive" that must be honored at all costs: not to interfere with the natural development of another culture. Imagine your job is to boldly explore a new territory with compassion, acceptance, and nonjudgment. This is the true spirit of the holy-days.