Sunday, December 23, 2012

Culture, Christmas & Adoption

Somehow, in all the years I've watched Miracle on 34th Street, I've managed to miss this scene until this year, where a Dutch girl comes to see Macy's Santa.  The mother explains that she's newly adopted, having spent time at an orphanage in Rotterdam.  The point of the scene is that Santa can converse with her in her native language, thus proving to doubting Susan that he is the real Santa.

But what I see is the importance of language and culture in transcultural adoption.  Look at how somber the little girl is while waiting to talk to Santa, and then look how her face lights up when he can actually talk to her in the language she knows! This isn't about the miracle of Santa Clause to me, it's about the importance of culture. . . .

According to the trivia section of IMDB, "In the untranslated dialogue with the Dutch girl, Santa Claus asks the child what she wants for Christmas the girl says she wants nothing, telling Santa she got her gift by being adopted by her new mother." Sweet, yes.  But it doesn't change the optics about how important culture is, nor is the importance of culture inconsistent with  the girl's happiness with being adopted.  It's possible to both mourn the loss of culture and love one's adopted family. 

So this 1947 movie got right something we sometimes forget today -- international adoption involves both loss and gain.  And adoptive parents do the right thing when they try to keep their kids connected -- even in imperfect, incomplete ways -- with their birth cultures (No, I don't believe there's anything I can do to ensure that my children will truly experience their birth cultures living with me in America, but I also think I can do things that recognize and honor their birth cultures). 

Holidays, including Christmas, can be a great time to bring a touch of your child's birth culture into your home.  Consider these past posts:

 Christmas and Adoption
A Touch of China Christmas Tree
A Touch of China Christmas Tree II


Mahmee said...

My daughter's favorite Christmas tree ornaments are a set of cloisonne ornaments and a holiday stocking we bought in China (she came home with us XMas Eve morning 6 years ago). Although, I've purchased other ornaments over the years celebrating her heritage (and we make Chinese lanterns for the tree each year), those ornaments we brought home from China are more important to her because they were purchased in China. I just wish I'd been smart enough to bring more home.
Happy Holidays to your family!

jen said...

That has always, always been my favorite scene in Miracle on 34th Street. It brings tears to my eyes every time.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I always missed that she was adopted. My kids are from the US, so there aren't any big cultural issues. But as far as Christmas ornaments go, I did buy them "first Christmas" ornaments, even though they weren't with us as babies.

Unknown said...

This is a very touching movie, I can't help but cry when watching this. It is really important to also recognize the child's birth culture, it is one thing that we can't take away from him/her. It's already part of their life, the moment they were born.


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LifewithKatie said...

It's interesting. In the remake of this film (which I watch every year) the little girl is no longer an adopted girl but is deaf. Someone, somewhere, when rewriting the film for remake decided to change that part. I wonder why? You're right though, it does highlight both the loss and gain of adoption, both overseas and domestic. Even within the same country the adoptive family may be so different from the birth family that it is almost a different culture and language. Thanks for sharing this.

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Annon said...

I love your postings, especially this one, and the one on not discussing race. I was adopted by a white family, and I am african american and Indian. Thank you for writing what some are afraid to dicuss. I think you might like this book, that speaks on what you wrote. Its called "Adopting with Biological Children" The name of the author is Brenda Lee Strong, its an ebook on kindle, fairly new. It's ten pages, but the tips worth it. Sorry, I don't have the link to share. Keep on writing!!

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