Two years ago, my BFF announced she had just met the most wonderful man, and he had invited her to his family for dinner over the holidays. Not knowing that his family was celebrating Chanukah or that Chanukah was different than Christmas with a whole different set of rules, she showed up completely unprepared. While I applaud her energy and thoughtfulness at putting together a tray of bacon wrapped scallops, I feel a little intel into the evening and a little demonstrated interest in learning more about his beliefs and traditions could have saved her some embarrassment and a relationship.


We may not have all had a similar story but most of us know that feeling of meeting someone’s parents for the first time – the nervousness, the stress, the fear of saying or doing something to embarrass ourselves. Oh the joy of the first meeting! Dating someone from a different cultural background adds another layer to that first impression.
Whether you’re invited to celebrate the holiday traditions of a different culture or simply invited for a visit, these tips will help you arrive prepared, score brownie points and save you embarrassment with your cultural know-how!


Happy Chanukah!

So you meet this wonderful man and he invites you to celebrate Chanukah with his family that must mean things are getting serious! Lucky you. This year, Chanukah begins on the Sunday, December 6th and ends on Monday, December 14th so if you’re invited for dinner anytime during that period, you are walking into a Chanukah situation.


What is Chanukah?

In a nutshell, Chanukah celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration and of spirituality over materiality. Each night of the festival, there is a family gathering around the menorah to commemorate the victory of Judah the Maccabee over the Syrian Tyrant Antiochus over 2100 years ago.


It is traditional for friends and families to exchange gifts on each night and to share songs, games and toys. This joyous celebration is a time of family, friends and freedom.


Here’s what you need to know when attending a Chanukah dinner:


What to bring:

  • Food should be kosher
  • Foods and gifts should not bear the Santa Clause or traditional Christmas icons or themes.
  • Gifts like books, clothes, toys, DVDs, CDs and booze make great gifts for the family
  • Fine cooking oil, a cookbook, menorah candles or a floral arrangement in the Chanukah colours of blue and white make ideal hostess gifts
  • Wine is an ideal item to bring however find out if your host is kosher and be sure to bring kosher wine
  • For children, a dreidel (special toy top with Hebrew letters) or little bags of chocolate coins are appropriate
  • Desserts like doughnuts and fried foods are a great holiday tradition



How to greet your host and family

When you meet the family, be sure to use the proper greeting for the occasion. To simply wish the host or family a Happy Chanukah, say “Chanukah Sameach!” or simply, “Chag Sameach” (Happy Holiday). If you really want to wow them with your limited Hebrew, you can also say “Chag Urim Sameach!” (urim means ‘lights”). Good luck remembering that when you’re nervous.


Keeping Kwanza


Kwanza an African American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates the family, community and culture. Kwanza is open to anyone to celebrate celebs like Angelina Jolie, Oprah, Jamie Foxx, Stevie Wonder and Bill Clinton honour it every year. The celebration runs from December 26th through to January 1st. If you’re going to a Kwanza feast, it will likely be on the sixth day during a feast known as ‘karamu’.


So if your squeeze happens to celebrate, here’s what you’ll need to know to celebrate your first Kwanza feast.


What to bring

If you’ve been invited to a feast, it is more than acceptable to bring some food. Kwanza is about community participation after all. Consider bringing fruits, breads or specialities with a harvest theme.



Kwanza is about gift giving but not in exchanging expensive gifts. Instead, observers are encouraged to share gifts that are rich in meaning and don’t cost a lot. To that point, homemade gifts are much encouraged. Here are some gift ideas to make you look like a gift giving hero for your first Kwanza:

  • African folk art or heritage symbol
  • Books about African folk tales
  • Baskets
  • Games
  • African-themed décor
  • Woven African textiles
  • Ornaments
  • Gifts for children should be educational or artistic in nature


How to give a Kwanza greeting

During Kwanza, there is a special greeting in Swahili. As a guest, you would greet your host with “Habari gani”. There are seven principals of Kwanza and they will respond with the principal of that day. Another popular greeting you can use is “Harambee” which means “Let’s all pull together!” or you can be lame and simply say “Happy Kwanza”. You won’t score extra points but you won’t lose any either.


Whatever will you wear?

During Kwanza it’s customary for observers, both adults and children to wear traditional Africa-style garb with red, black and green colours. Clothing can include a buba (a loose fitting blouse), busuti (floor length dress), dashiki (hand-painted or embroidered shirt), kanzu (a coloured robe), gelee (a West African head wrap) or akanga (a colourful East African garment).


A Muslim invite


If you happen to be dating someone who is Muslim, there are some etiquette rules you’ll want to brush up on before your first visit to their home however, many of these customs aren’t any different than how you should behave as a guest in anyone else’s home.


What to bring
If you’re wondering if you should bring a hostess gift for your first meeting with the potential new in-laws, the answer is ‘yes – swell idea’. Bringing a gift is a nice touch and most Muslims bring a token gift when invited for a meal or first visit. If your first visit is tea or dinner, then consider bringing a dessert. Rule of thumb on all food is to make sure they are not made with alcohol, lard, gelatin or any other pork product. Flowers are always a great idea as well. Bringing a bottle of alcohol is a bad idea.


Greeting your hosts

A standard Muslim greeting is “Salaam Alaikum” however, if you think this is going to tie your tongue and have it come out awkwardly, stick to the tried, tested and true, “Hello” or “Good Evening”. Works every time.

Hugs and body contact are not acceptable in Islam for unmarried men and women. Men will embrace men and women will embrace women but a mixed gender embrace is a no-no.


If you do end up in an embrace, this involves a partial hug and kiss on both cheeks. Which cheek do you start with? This one always confuses me and I get it wrong every time I greet my sister in law and her family who are Muslim. This almost always results in an awkward type of head butt. Rule of thumb – start with the right cheek!


What to wear

When you enter the home, just like any home you remove your shoes at the door – regardless of the season. Floors are kept clean for daily prayers. Dress modestly in long sleeves or a sweater on top of a shirt and a long skirt. Leave the LBD at home.


So when you’re preparing your checklist for the holidays, a little advanced research will ensure that you can navigate almost any new introduction with grace and score yourself some points while you’re doing it.