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Crossing Over: Celebrating Holidays as Transracial Families

by Brad Griffith

One of the fun aspects of becoming a transracial family is discovering new holidays pertaining to your child’s race or ethnicity. Whether it’s the Chinese New Year, Diwali, or any other holiday that may not have been a part of your annual tradition, these celebrations are an opportunity to help bridge the gap between your family culture and your child’s culture of origin. 

This weekend, our family will join many in the U.S. in celebrating Juneteenth (now a federal holiday), commemorating the day chattel slavery effectively ended in our nation. Although traditionally an African American holiday, all Americans truly have a reason to recognize Juneteenth as an important day in our collective history. It marks a milestone in our journey toward freedom for all people, and we Americans do love our freedom.

A Fuller Picture

If you are like my wife and I, you may not have known about Juneteenth until only recently. The events on June 19, 1865 -- when news of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached the slaves in Texas two and a half years after it was signed -- was not part of our education. It seems there was a lot of history we weren’t told about as children, but that is changing. Now that as adults we are beginning to have a fuller picture of our history, we have a responsibility to educate our own children. Multicultural holidays are a great part of that education.

For white parents raising a Black child, a holiday like Juneteenth becomes even more important to the annual traditions of our family. For starters, we do not want our Black son to be deprived of knowledge and experiences that many of his Black peers will share in their families. We realize that we will not be able to replace the experience of living in a Black family when it comes to passing on Black culture, but we can do our best to participate in some of the larger cultural markers and experiences that will serve as connection points to the Black community as he grows into adulthood. 

Crossing Over

There are many books available on the importance of cultural awareness and experiences for transracial adoptive families, and educating our children in their culture of origin is vital in shaping a healthy identity over the course of their lives. But I also want to consider how engaging with our child’s culture of origin, including celebrating its holidays, enriches us as parents and our entire family. After all, cultural engagement is not like teaching our child to play a sport and then from the sidelines sending them off into the game. It’s a full family activity that we must immerse ourselves in before we can expect our children to do the same.

I’m not sure when our adoption terminology moved from “multiracial family” to “transracial family,” but I think the change is meaningful. The term “multiracial” feels more compartmentalized, as if we were divided into multiple segments of race and culture in our family. On the other hand, “trans-” means “beyond” or “to cross over.” Here, we are going beyond compartmentalization to make something entirely new. 

In terms of crossing over, the most obvious application in a transracial family is the sudden change our children experience when they leave their culture of origin to join the culture of the adoptive family. But adoptive parents (and families) have their own, albeit slower, journey of crossing over to embark upon -- a journey toward the ethnic culture of our child. This is what it means to be a transracial family: every member of the family has a journey of “crossing over” to make toward a new ethnic culture. The result is not a full assimilation into one culture or another, but a beautiful blend of the best of them all. 

A Shared Story

When adoptive parents discover new holidays or other experiences from the ethnic culture of our child, we do well to learn how to celebrate and adopt them into our annual traditions. Indeed, we must pursue these for the sake of our child’s education and identity. However, these practices and remembrances and immersions are not for our child’s sake alone. Together, they are one of the ways our child, through the long and storied history of her people, can bring richness and fullness to the new and shared story our adoption authored.

It is a shared story that points upward and onward, common not only to our adoptive families but to all of humankind. In this way, transracial adoption points us to a God who “crossed over,” who became like us that we might become like Him. The God who meets us where we are and transforms us beyond the confines of our limited, compartmentalized experience. The God who makes one people out of the many “ethnos”: a unified people, holy and radiant and as multifaceted as our reasons to celebrate. 

Happy Juneteenth.

Guest blogger and Clement Arts Founder, Brad Griffith, shares the importance of embracing cultural holidays when you're a transracial family.