Jenn's Culture Spark

Where to begin when you're a mixed-race, mixed-religion, mixed-citizen.


My husband and I were newly married and just moved into our first home. As we were touring the upstairs, I told my Jewish mother-in-law that if she wanted to move in with us, that she was always welcome. She looked at me as if I had just grown a third eye, and kindly thanked me for my offer while also dismissing that as ever being a possibility. She had her social life, and that would never fit in a world where she lived in the same house as grandchildren!


I, on the other hand, grew up in a multi-generational home. My grandparents lived 14 curved stairs away from me my entire youth, and practically raised me while my parents worked long hours. It was wonderful. My grandfather was Irish, and my grandmother was an amazing woman he serendipitously met in Paris while serving in WW2. My mother was as Boston as you could get, and my father immigrated to the US from Thailand when he was 18 years old. We were colourful.


My father refused to teach us Thai in fear that it would confuse our ability to learn math and science in English. For the same reason, it was decided not to let my grandmother teach us French. We grew up in the most Irish-Catholic way you could imagine, in hopes of assimilating our family with all the fair-haired and freckled people who surrounded us. My dad wore a Buddha around his neck, and some weekends we would drive into the city to have lunch in Chinatown. My dad would proudly order our dim-sum in words we didn’t need to understand. My dad was a mystery, and he worked so hard to make that ok.


In my family the first born girls are bestowed the middle name “Marie”, and oddly (going generations back) we also marry people from different countries with different religions. So, like the good little black sheep that I am, I moved to Canada and married a Jewish guy. I converted to Judaism, and with my family back in Boston, Judaism became the prominent culture in my new home - especially when we had children.


Our family is multi-cultural, and very religiously open-minded. I was raised in a home where holidays were important - everyone came together for a huge meal and tons of celebration. As an adult, we may not be able to attend every celebration (because of distance), but we always try to fly back to Boston for major holidays; where the children get to benefit from things like Santa visiting Nana & Papa’s house! My husband’s family was less holiday-centric, so I was left to lead many holidays for my family in Canada… and I made sure that every Jewish high holiday was celebrated with (respectful) gusto. But, with few family customs to maintain, I was just following the capitalist influence of needing everything new and fancy, with a “modern new menorah”, and “gluten free kugel recipe”... stripping away anything that was heirloom or traditional because it didn’t fit my instagram aesthetic.


In 2021, after a year of lockdown and socially distant holidays, the need for authenticity and genuine connection was fierce. Even if I couldn’t be with my family, I was compelled to celebrate in my home in the customs, traditions, and menus that would honour my elders. For the first time ever, we celebrated Chinese Lunar New Year. I couldn’t believe how many people were so happy to help educate me, support me, and share their lunar new year stories, traditions, and menus. In a year of at-home celebrations guided by Pinterest-perfect decorations and activities… we did Lunar New Year based on what my family and community suggested. It was simple, probably full of flaws and CNY faux pas. But it was amazing, and it’s how we’re going to be celebrating our multi-cultural calendar of holidays from now on.


I’ve learned that there is no right way to celebrate, and that if you ask, people are usually thrilled to answer questions, share stories, give tips, offer help, and even contribute! I’ve always thought cultural holidays were only for family, but now I understand that culture is community… and in today’s world, community is cross-cultural. It’s important to dig into the history of a tradition, understand its significance, and be willing to respectfully evolve things. More than anything I’m excited that Root & Seed will help our community discover, share, and celebrate together.