My son, Beckett, wasn’t invited to his best friend’s Hanukkah party last year. He was only 3 years old at the time, so it was hard to explain that the reason we weren’t asked over for dreidel games was because we aren’t Jewish. I broke the news to him at the zoo, hoping some popcorn and a good view of a baby giraffe would help him get over it. It did. I, however, was still fuming.
When I started dating my now-husband, Seung Yong, his Korean parents vehemently opposed our interracial relationship. They seemed against his marriage to this Irish-Italian girl, right until the moment I was wearing their family heirloom on my left hand—at which point they accepted me completely. Eventually I saw that what my in-laws had feared was that I wouldn’t preserve their family’s traditions. I could appreciate that concern, and I still do. I hired a coach and learned enough Korean to communicate directly with Seung’s parents. And on our first family trip to Korea, I asked his dad to purchase the traditional gowns we later used for the babies’ 100-day and dol (first birthday) ceremonies. We’ve become a household that celebrates everything, from the Chinese New Year to the Mexican Day of the Dead, and it all culminates with our late-December Christmas Cringle party.
We started the tradition when Seung and I became a couple. We asked each of his friends and nearby relatives to bring a gift for one of my friends or family members and vice versa. Nearly 10 years later, it’s hard to say whose people are whose anymore. At the buffet table, his cultural delicacies are set out right alongside mine: the galbi next to the gnocchi, the kimchi beside the broccoli rabe.
Our mingling of traditions has become my children’s experience of what it means to be American, which is why the Hanukkah-party slight felt like such a shock. So I did what any indignant mother would do: I threw my own Hanukkah shindig. I enlisted the help of my best friend, Laurie, who happens, conveniently, to be a member of the tribe. She laughed at my first-time-mom rage, but, perhaps realizing how close I was to gate-crashing a toddler’s house party, she got behind the idea of an impromptu fete for all of our kids. My son was thrilled to “light” a candle (or rather, twist a tiny lightbulb on the electric menorah). While everyone happily scarfed down their latkes, we discussed the Festival of Lights and the meaning behind it.
A few days later, I began planning the Christmas Cringle, and Beckett asked if we could include his classmates. As he and I rattled off the names of his buddies, I paused ever so slightly after he said the name of his friend whose family had excluded us.
“Can’t everyone come, Mom?” asked my kind, still nearly perfect young man. In that moment, I realized it’s only us grown-ups who feel the need to assign boundaries, and I didn’t want my biracial kid to think that was ever okay. So the entire class was invited to the Cringle, at which Laurie gifted me her 20-year-old menorah to use next year at our newest family tradition: an everyone-is-welcome Hanukkah party.
Diane Farr is an actress and author. Her latest book is Kissing Outside the Lines.