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From South Africa To West Texas: Local Family Blends Multiple Traditions

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The Mistry family assembles Angel Chimes, a Christmas tradition. Neeraj Mistry holds daughter Nayna, as her sister, Zayne, and her mother, Allison Hodges Mistry, look on.
Rebecca Blatt
The Mistry family assembles Angel Chimes, a Christmas tradition. Neeraj Mistry holds daughter Nayna, as her sister, Zayne, and her mother, Allison Hodges Mistry, look on.

Traditions are often a way for parents to pass along family and cultural history to their children. But that can be complicated when families represent a number of religions, races and ethnicities.

Neeraj Mistry and Allison Hodges Mistry are in exactly that position. Neeraj's family is of Indian decent, and he grew up in South Africa during Apartheid. Allison grew up the daughter of white ranchers in rural Texas. So with the birth of the Mistry's daughters, Nayna who is 3 and Zayne who is 8 months, Allison and Neeraj began finding ways to share all of their family traditions.

"I'm very proud of where I'm from, and he is fiercely proud of where he's from," Allison says. "We're trying to raise them to be multicultural and to really understand all of the different aspects where they are."

To do that, Allison and Neeraj have made a point of celebrating many different holidays. For instance, they have lit candles with Nayna for Diwali, opened an advent calendar leading up to Christmas, and sung happy birthday to former South African president Nelson Mandela.

"We just try to remember that it's not all the trappings that she's going to remember, it's the experience that she's going to remember," Allison says. "If you think back to your childhood, you don't remember what you got for your fifth Christmas, but you remember the thing you did."

Allison and Neeraj have also created new traditions that speak to the values they'd like to share with their children.

"When it comes to traditions, a lot of it is related to or associated with religion," Neeraj says. "For me, traditions are more about community and a sense of community."

So he and Allison created a tradition of Tuesday night pizza parties.

"We just get a whole bunch of pizzas and invite all our friends over," Neeraj says. "It's always been finding that circle of friends where we can just enjoy and celebrate together."

Allison says she's not sure how much her children are absorbing at such a young age. But she says over time she wants them to have exposure to a range of traditions and perspectives, and she says it will be up to them to decide which traditions they want to carry into adulthood.

"It's our job to do this for them right now, and it's their job to be their own people," she says.

"I just hope, and I think it's already starting to show, that irrespective of who they're with or where they are, they're just going to be loved by people because they're just going to exude this openness to everyone," Neeraj says. "And then irrespective of the vocation, or the profession that they choose, they'd apply those values and that sort of inner heart and emotion to whatever they do. And that would make me the happiest father."


[Music: "Tea For Two" by Les Paul from Les Paul & Mary Ford Shows - May & June 1950]

Photos: Blending Family Traditions

Related video: WAMU 88.5 listeners talk about family traditions

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