Like many others, my family watched Disney’s Encanto and absolutely loved it.
Having a peek into the rich culture of Colombia got me thinking about my own family’s heritage.
My husband’s family originates from Portugal and Germany. And my own family history goes back to other European countries – mostly Germany, England, and Ireland.
I’m not sure why exactly, but just knowing where we come from gives us a sense of pride and inspiration. Do you feel that? It’s like a tangible strength from so many people who came before.
After all, without their life path and choices, we wouldn’t be where we are today!
I also went on a service mission for my church, where I learned Spanish and met people from Mexico, El Salvador, and other Hispanic countries. They celebrate an awesome holiday that I think everyone should experience, called Dia De Los Muertos (or Day of the Dead). It’s a special day to honor and feel connected to our ancestors.
I could get into all of the interesting and inspiring stories of my family history, but I’ll save that for another time.
Today, I want to talk about 12 ways you can learn about and celebrate your own family heritage.
12 Ways to learn about and celebrate Family Heritage:
1. Set up your family tree & learn about early ancestors
This is one of the best ways to feel intimately connected to your family heritage. Learn about an ancestor who actually paved the way for you.
You can do this by talking to older relatives and reading family journals (if your family was good at keeping records).
You can also find your family history by using a website like Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.
Personally, I love FamilySearch (link here) because it’s free and very user friendly. If you need to set up your family tree, the process is not too complicated. You can search for any known deceased relatives (by selecting the “find” button under the “family tree” tab), and then quickly be connected to multiple generations back in time. The support team is always happy to help too! So, if you feel like the process to discover your family history will be daunting, I’d encourage you to just jump right in and try it out!
Once your family tree is set up and you start discovering relations, you may be surprised to find new connections or countries you had no idea were a part of your history.
Sometimes, there are even shared records and anecdotal accounts left by ancestors, detailing their experiences, and it can be absolutely fascinating to read!
2. Make or purchase a family history book
I recently came across this idea and loved it! Basically, it’s an album or book full of question prompts. You can come up with your own, or purchase a book like this one.
The idea is to sit down with your parent or grandparent and ask them about their life. Make an afternoon of it! Bring a treat to share, and settle in. Let them really reminisce and share their memories.
What activities did they enjoy as a child? Who was their greatest role model? What was their experience with new technology, like the invention of computers or smart phones? What traditions did they most look forward to during holidays? And the list goes on!
This simple activity can bring you closer to an older generation, and help you understand how their life circumstances shaped them into the person sitting with you now.
3. Visit somewhere meaningful
When I was a child, my family lived in England and had the opportunity to visit old historical sites. It was interesting to learn about customs and historical events that would’ve been taking place for our ancestors in their normal daily life.
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I also visited Portugal, where our family history is more recent. I gained an appreciation for his roots, and even saw where he lived for a few years as a child.
Visiting a meaningful place doesn’t have to equal traveling abroad. Maybe you could go visit a grandparent’s childhood home/town. Or search for local festivals. Or towns rich with the culture of early immigrants.
There’s a beautiful German town in Michigan called Frankenmuth or guided tours about the German colonies in Amana, Iowa. Or you could experience New Orleans, where French history continues to leave its mark.
Try to find a new place to visit and explore, connected to your own family history.
4. Try a new cultural recipe
Who doesn’t love good food? This activity is as easy as a quick Pinterest search.
Type in the country and search for traditional meals, and then go gather the ingredients to make it!
You could also ask your grandmother or another relative if they have a favorite recipe that has been passed down through the generations.
5. Learn a new language
After discovering your roots, maybe you found that early ancestors came from a distant country and spoke another language. Try learning a few words, something you could incorporate into your daily routine for fun.
For example, some words to try might be:
- Good morning & good night
- Please & thank you
- My darling (or other terms of affection)
- How are you? _ I’m fine.
I’m not saying you have to master a whole new language. But, this could be a fun activity to try with your children. Greeting them with a “Bonjour mon ami” or “Como estas?” or thanking them with an “obrigado” or “domo arigatou.”
6. Celebrate a holiday specific to your family origins
I love a good celebration. Consider having a party or attending a fun event, based on your family’s unique heritage.
As I mentioned earlier, if you have Latin roots, you may enjoy celebrating Dia de los Muertos. You could create an ofrenda and prepare a special meal.
If your family is French, you could go all-out with a big Mardi Gras party. Several other countries also have their own celebrations for Carnaval, with good food, parades, dances, and festive gatherings.
If your family is from China, embrace the Chinese New Year. Fill your house with plenty of red decorations, give your children their special red envelope, shares gifts with family, and celebrate good fortune.
When my family lived in England, we thought it was fun (albeit a little strange to us) to participate in Guy Fawkes Day, complete with a huge bonfire, fireworks, and delicious potluck-type meals.
You could even embrace your family heritage in more recent times. If your family has been settled in a city for multiple generations, participate in local events. For example, in the western USA, rodeos are an exciting and frequent occurrence. And many small or older towns have yearly festivals or days dedicated to celebrating their community.
7. Wear traditional dress (or a family heirloom) for a photoshoot or special event
Again, I’m gathering inspiration from the movie Encanto. Did you notice their beautiful Colombian dress? I loved it!
When you learn about your own family’s heritage, it could be fun to create or find traditional dress for your family to wear.
You could plan a special photoshoot, dedicated to embracing your roots. Or dress up for a holiday or other event.
I was curious, so I searched for traditional Portuguese dress, and I would 100% put our kids in some cute folk costumes.
In more recent family history, I also acquired a dress that my Grandma made herself in the 1950’s, and when I wore it, not only did I feel SO cute, but I felt more connected to her spirit. It was special to know that she wore the exact same outfit as a young woman.
8. Attend a Folk Festival or other cultural event
This is similar to earlier suggestions, but I feel like it’s worth giving it’s own spot.
There are so many organized events, dedicated to celebrating different cultures. For example, every year in Utah, there’s a Scottish Festival and Highland Games. In Pennsylvania, one of the largest and oldest folk festivals in America, the Kutztown Folk Festival, celebrates the Pennsylvania Dutch. And in Massachusetts, the Lowell Folk Festival gives you a taste of the diversity of the U.S. melting pot.
My family has also attended the Spanish Fork World Dance Festival, where dance companies from all over the world come to present their form of dance in traditional costumes. It’s a fascinating experience that our whole family enjoyed, from parents down to the littlest kids.
Search nearby areas for any festivals that immerse you in a cultural experience. If you’re unable to find anything, consider watching coverage of an event online. I especially recommend finding videos of cultural dance because it gives a beautiful visual representation of many countries’ early values and traditions.
9. Explore literature, poetry, or visual art
Every country has its own famous authors and artists. Choose a country that is meaningful to your family, and find out which respected authors/artists originate from there.
As a family, read a new book or collection of poems by that author (obviously, you may need to find translations). Or consider adding a beautiful piece of artwork to one of the rooms in your home, as a constant reminder of your heritage.
10. Listen to traditional music
Maybe literature and artwork isn’t really your thing. You could try listening to cultural music instead!
Again, you may want to search for a famous singer or instrumentalist. Or you might just do a generic search of traditional tunes and lullabies.
My husband sings a sweet lullaby to our children in Portuguese, and I love the simple but meaningful effort to connect them with their heritage.
I also want to add on here – if your family culture is known for music and dance, it would be super fun to make a family activity out of learning one of those dances!
11. Learn about the history of your origin country
Alright. Now you’ve got a handle on all of the food, unique customs, and celebrations of your family heritage. But do you really know much about the country’s history?
Fill in the gaps with a little history lesson. Ask questions such as:
- When did the country first gain their independence and what major triumphs have they experienced throughout the years?
- What were the hardships that people faced?
- How do you think the country’s history shaped its people or influenced some of their lasting traditions?
Again, remember that you don’t have to go so far back in history. Especially if there were interesting events happening in more recent times. You don’t even have to search out the history of another country if there’s something you’d like to learn about locally.
12. Write about your own personal history
Learning about the past can truly be an enriching experience. Now, it’s time to consider future generations!
Continue to celebrate family heritage by keeping the chain strong. Allow it to pass on, through you, to your children and hopefully on to many other descendants!
Do them a favor by sharing your wealth of knowledge and experience.
Some ways to do this are through keeping a journal, documenting photos (actually organize and label the photos you take – so that they know what was happening), and even writing letters to your future relatives.
It doesn’t take much effort to spend an afternoon jotting down some of your thoughts, but the lasting impact is huge! Trust me, this is something that future generations will cherish.
I hope you’re excited to embrace your family heritage!
I can’t wait to continue these activities with my husband and kids. I’m grateful for the generations that came before us, and for our own story that we’re creating now!
What is something that you’ve learned about your family’s heritage? And will you be trying any of these activities in the future? I’d love to hear about it!
Comment your thoughts below, and let’s celebrate the richness of family heritage together!
Until next time!