08/08/2013 09:25 am ET | Updated Oct 08, 2013

Yes, We Have Holidays Too!

While I was little we had a traditional way of observing holidays as a family. Our relatives, friends and neighbors came to visit us and we would visit them every holiday. My mother prepared special homemade baklava, stuffed grape leaves and pastries (börek) besides a full-course meal for every holiday. Our home was thoroughly cleaned in a special way called "bayram temizliği" (holiday cleaning) and as special holiday gifts I was given three different clothes, hair clips and shoes to wear for each day of the holidays. For me the best part of this special time was the freedom to eat endless chocolate and candies and, of course, collecting my holiday money by kissing hands...

Then after some years, older family members passed away and the younger ones' interests changed. Somehow things weren't the same as they used to be and when I was in college, I remember spending holidays at our summer house or going on vacation during the holiday break. So holidays weren't as significant as they used to be...

Nowadays, since I have been in the U.S. for almost two decades I really don't know what holidays in general really mean to people in Turkey anymore but it has become a regular day in my family since my parents and in-laws stay in their summer houses all year long after they retired and most of our family members go on vacation during holiday breaks to take advantage of holiday travel packages. Thus I wanted to spend the Ramadan holiday in the US this summer even though I had a chance to go to Turkey because I want my children to enjoy and remember the holiday time as happy and fascinating days of the year and not just vacation time.

Honestly, Islamic and national holidays have become more important for me when I became a mother. In our multicultural community in the U.S., my children enjoy many other holidays. I thought, "Why shouldn't I make something special for them for our own holidays?"

Actually, even though the U.S. is religiously the most diverse nation in the world, when you say "holiday season," everyone thinks "Christmas." It is impossible to get away from the persistent reminders of Christmas, with spectacular Christmas decorations and Christmas music playing constantly everywhere you go, the repeatedly running TV and radio commercials about what to buy as Christmas gifts, Christmas carols, photos with Santa, Christmas movies and shows, etc. Like many non-Christians, I really want to build bridges across the holidays. We make an effort and embrace seasonal traditions like gift-giving and sending greeting cards during Christmas while at the same time trying to preserve our own cultural and religious identities.

Since we have lots of Christian friends who we enjoy the Christmas season with, I think it's essential for us to emphasize our holiday celebrations to make our children feel valued. I believe in helping the children to build respect for the differences in religious holidays while connecting the dots on how they are similar is very important. When the thematic framework such as thankfulness, forgiveness, compassion and peace is the same, it's not so difficult to educate them about the different holidays.

Every year during Islamic or national holidays my children bring goodie bags to school filled with a variety of chocolate, candies, some objects to signify Turkey such as the Turkish flag, patch or pin and a little info about our holiday to share their joy with their classmates. This year they did the same at summer camp and were so proud to receive all the nice compliments.

Also, we enjoyed the holiday celebrations at the Bergen Mosque's holiday breakfast and the holiday picnic at the local zoo organized by the Turkish Cultural Center New Jersey. My children enjoyed the holiday with their friends with goodie bags, gifts, chocolate and the holiday money-filled pockets of their new clothes. As an individual it's important to acknowledge this time of the year but it's much better to get together as the Turkish-American community to share the joy of the special time.

Since the U.S. is religiously the most diverse nation in the world, it is most crucial to educate children about different religions. It's like being multilingual: When you are multilingual, you can connect with more people. If you open your eyes, hearts and minds to all religions and be more sensitive, you can understand each other better and your connections with others grow deeper. To contribute to the mutual culture effectively you have to know your ground and stick to your roots. In this way, we can build a stronger community together.

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This article was previously published in Today's Zaman.