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Wisdom Wednesdays: Celebrating Your Child’s Culture

When we adopted our older daughter in 2007, my husband and I felt really lucky to have so many resources available to us. We live just outside a major city with a thriving Chinatown. We have Chinese restaurants, celebrations in Chinatown, and several Chinese schools in our backyard. What we quickly came to realize was that we needed to have Chinese culture in our home — not just next to it. Here are three of the main ways we have incorporated culture into our home.

1) Celebrate Chinese holidays in your home. While we have fun going to New Years and Autumn Moon festivals, it is important to honor those traditions too. Some books that we have found helpful as guides to Chinese holidays include A Good Luck Life by Rosemary Gong and Martin Yan, and Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragons by Leslie Swartz and MeiloSo. Look to the internet for craft ideas for Chinese new year. We have found simple patterns for making lanterns and have decorated images for Fu, or luck, with glitter glue. It doesn’t have to be fancy —  just fun! We also attempt cooking traditional Chinese holiday foods that we have found through cookbooks and on the internet. My younger daughter, adopted at age 5 ½, serves as our judge of authenticity. Don’t be afraid to cook a new food! Each January, I cook the traditional German New Year’s meal like my Grandmother taught me. I rely on my memory as she did hers and tell my daughters that I do the best I can, but it is never exactly as I remember it. Then, a few weeks later I cook a Chinese meal for the Lunar New Year and remind them that we are doing the best that we can with the Chinese food, just as we did with my German dishes.

2) Books, magazines, and music are simple ways to enjoy culture every day. Two of our favorite books are Favorite Children’s Stories from China and Tibet by Lotta Carswell Hume and One Year in Beijing by Xiaohong Wang. Grace Lin is another author that our children enjoy. I subscribe to Audrey magazine, which is an Asian fashion and culture magazine, and my older daughter gets Mei magazine, a magazine for Chinese adoptees. We have purchased music from various online sellers including Amazon and Chinasprout.

3) Look to your local community for Chinese mentors. If you live near a university, check to see if there is a Chinese department or an Asian Studies department. You might find a college student willing to spend time with (or babysit!) your child. Many universities are also affiliated with the Confucius Institute, whose mission is to promote Chinese language and culture. Look to see if a China Care Club chapter is at a local high school or university. These provide fun activities and mentorship for Chinese adoptees. Also, look to less obvious areas. We recently found a Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking babysitter on an online sitter website. She is fantastic and serves as a positive role model for our daughters. Art museums sometimes have celebrations for Chinese New Year, and you may connect with members of the Chinese community this way. Other friends have found local churches with Chinese services.

Looking back on the past six years, I wish I hadn’t worried so much about making it to every New Year and Autumn Moon event and focused more on the every day things to infuse our home with Chinese culture. The good news is, it is never too late to start. So whether you live right in San Francisco’s Chinatown or in rural Vermont, you can take some easy steps to celebrate your child’s culture.

~Kerry Palombaro, Huainan Foster Care & Tuition Assistance Coordinator

What are some ways you keep your child’s birth country culture part of your lives?

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  • MB says:

    I love to incorporate little traditions wherever I can too. Like the author, our family lives near a metro Chinatown which affords all the rich festivities, like the Dragon Boat Races, summer festivals, etc. This is not enough culture, I agree. We do many common everyday things, but here are some of our favorites. DD wears red outfits during the Chinese Holidays; and one of our favorite traditions is to have a “tray of togetherness” of nuts, dried fruits and simple candies during the CNY. We encourage friends to visit during this time. In addition, I order crafts (lanterns, Lai See envelopes, paper dragons) for her and her friends to do together (very inexpensive from Oriental Trad*ng online). During the Moon Fest, DD sends moon cakes to her favorite teachers, or favorite aunties. Last year for CNY, DD got to decorate a display case at her school to share the holiday with her school mates. She put in an empty box of dumplings, her favorite Cheongsam, fans, dragons, Lai see with coins, and her Oriental dolls. It is a pleasure to share these time-honored traditions with her.

    Thanks for your post. I have ordered a book to further our involvement in DD’s culture. I never leave the library without a book of Chinese culture. Search “Chinese (or Chinese Americans) Juvenile fiction” for grade schoolers, and one gets a wealth of great fictional stories to grow with. Our favorite this summer was “Where the mountain meets the moon” by Grace Lin (She has many good titles).

  • randil says:

    So bummed! I went to see about ordering MEI Magazine, and it looks like their summer issue was their final one.

  • Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this great blog. My daughter is a young teen, and I don’t know why I hadn’t thought about subscribing to an Asian fashion magazine for her. I just signed up for the one you mentioned.

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