Our America is a beautiful melting pot of cultures and there is nothing like the holidays to be inclusive! Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Already as humans we are a complex mix of temperaments and personality traits before we enter into the equation different cultures and religions. Children benefit from being taught to be more inclusive and accepting of differences as early as possible. I’m hoping we’ll try in our upcoming holiday gatherings to include a few more of these differences and allow our children to be more open in their outlook.

Planning holiday gatherings is especially important to foster more harmony.

Here are a few ideas on how to turn our holiday celebration into a fun inclusive party:

Give all the guests the opportunity to participate. From suggesting ideas to being included in menu or activities. A performance by the children? A reading out loud of a children’s book?
Choose your holiday festivity’s menu to reflect everyone’s food preferences or restrictions. Sometimes religious considerations and vegan or food allergies need to be adhered to and that can be a bit overwhelming but highly rewarding in terms of inclusion and bonding. A special label at the table will make that person feel all fuzzy and loved.
Ask your guests, ahead of time, what would make an upcoming holiday gathering very special. Then, try and fulfill one or all of the special wishes. This is especially helpful if different religions are part of your blending as your guests might have food holiday restrictions due to their beliefs.
If the gathering involves two different cultures, go full scale and stage settings to reflect them, including décor and menu. This is sure to become a treasured memory will all the children and their parents.
The sprinkling of an aromatic spice or the inclusion of an exotic rice recipe might be all that’s needed to make someone feel welcome. It might be easier than you think! A little research and presto; an effort of inclusion is born. Here are a few easy rice recipes that taste drastically different and would add a welcoming aroma!
Japanese Chestnut Rice- Kurigohan

Boil raw chestnuts for a few minutes, and leave soaking for about an hour. They will be easier to peel. Mix peeled chestnuts with 2 cups short grain white rice, 3 cups water, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp salt, 1 spoon mirin, or sake. Bring to a boil. Serve with roasted sesame seeds.

Middle Eastern Spice Pudding (Meghli)

Soak a cup of rice flour in 2 cups of water for an hour. Mix with another 2 cups water and, a tsp of rosewater, 2 tsp of cinnamon, 1 ½ tsp ground anise, 2 tsp ground caraway, 1 cup of sugar or sweetener. Bring to a boil while constantly stirring. When mix thickens, pour into individual bowls, and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve garnished with almonds, walnuts and shredded coconut.

Middle Eastern Zaatar Rice and Chips

Sprinkle 2 spoons of Zaatar atop cooked rice. It’s that easy! Chips are fun too. Mix 2 spoons of Zaatar with extra virgin olive oil. Cut pita bread into pieces. Spread mix over them. Toast for a few minutes until golden brown.

Indian Basmati Rice

Soak one cup Indian Basmati Rice for about an hour, drain. Brown a minced onion, and add rice to 2 cups water, one cinnamon stick, 2 pods green cardamom, 2 whole cloves, 1 tsp cumin and 1tsp (or less) salt.

I fondly remember while working at the United Nations, how pre-holiday gatherings at the Ambassador’s Lounge, featured menus from different countries each week! They were wonderful as they exposed me to great ethnic food and to different views regarding news and worldly issues. Even though discussions got animated at times, the friendly acceptance of differences inherent to our work setting made it possible to disagree without animosity. Changing your mind occasionally in a discussion was viewed as a virtue and as a sign of personal strength not weakness.

Today, sadly, religion seems to be at the base of such worldly discontent! To me religion is only one way to express ourselves and should not trump other aspects of our heritage and importantly should not provide us with an excuse to exclude others. This is why I wrote, The Boy Who Spoke To God. This non-religious, early reader (age 5–9) children’s book is set as a folk tale and describes the story of a creative young boy, who finds a way to help feuding Greek, Chinese, Zulu and Mayan tribes in finding peace and harmony during the holidays. People seem to think that my signature is the inclusion of international twists and/or multi-cultural characters. Well, I think some of it is automatic and some of it is purposeful as I really believe that the key to a better world is in the acceptance of each other’s differences. Most importantly differences in religious beliefs. Some people have compared my message in this book to Mandela’s with my rainbow society! I do consider that a major compliment!

I was very touched that a Rabbi was one of the first to review! Israel Drazin “This is a really good book because it teaches that despite differences in religions, beliefs, ceremonies, and traditions among people, God is the God of everyone, and people should not let their differences separate them from others.”

Despite what’s going in the world, I still believe ‘good’ will prevail! And, I will continue trying to instill a love of diversity, one children’s book at a time! Happy Holidays!