By Emilie & Christopher Fan
Eleanor Chih-En Docter Fan is quite a mouthful of a name for a six month old. And just imagine when she has to sign her name on standardized tests, for her driver’s license, or on her first mortgage. Right now, she is known by most just as “Ella.”
Eleanor means bright, shining one and she certainly brings that light to our lives each and every day.
Chih-En means to cultivate grace and harmony and is a name handed down by Ella’s paternal ancestors, collected and researched by her paternal great-grandfather.
Docter is the maiden name of Ella’s mother, carrying on the family name for one more generation.
Fan is the last name shared by Ella’s mother and father, a family name of Taiwanese origin.
Now what, you may ask, is her Hebrew name? Well, in our multicultural, interfaith and biracial family, we have a whole lot of traditions to squeeze in. Instead of overwhelming ourselves with each and every tradition in the first few months of her little life, we have elected to combine our family traditions and will celebrate her baby naming at her first birthday, when family and friends join us from across the country.
What does it mean to raise an interfaith and multicultural child? The answer to this question is going to be different for every family, and to be honest, it is one we haven’t completely figured out yet. We are fortunate to be surrounded by a community of family and friends that will be with us along the way as we muddle through traditions and determine what will work best for our family.
Christopher was raised in a Chinese church, with grandparents who followed Buddhist and Confucian values. Ella’s paternal grandparents emigrated from Taiwan, choosing to help acculturate into the US by having their family attend a Chinese Christian church; however, while most church-going families celebrated traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, Christopher celebrated Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year, and practiced ancestral reverence. It was quite the learning curve when Ella’s dad finally celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with Ella’s mom!
Emilie was raised by a Jewish father and a Presbyterian mother. December involved latkes and fruitcake, stockings and menorahs. April was filled with chocolate eggs and searching for the afikomen, roasted lamb and brisket. Holidays and traditions, Jewish or not, focused around family and togetherness, prioritizing values like kindness and helping others. When Emilie approached 13 years of age, and was given the opportunity to “choose” a religion, the prospect of a trip to New York City and a Christopher, Emilie, and Ella Fan and Alicia & David Docter (Emilie’s parents) Bat Mitzvah after-party were enticing. All joking aside, Judaism offered those same strong values that were a focus in Emilie’s life, close friendships, and a connection to something more.
When it becomes Ella’s turn to “choose,” we hope that we will have shown her a diverse, exciting and a wide-variety of how she can weave religions, spirituality, and cultures together.
Do we celebrate Hanukah, Passover, Christmas or Chinese New Year’s? With Ella’s first round of holidays taking place when she was under three months, we spent time together lighting Hanukah candles and reading the story of Passover. We were sent beautiful Christmas stockings from Ella’s grandparents and celebrated the beautiful winter weather. Chinese New Year and Passover involved amazing food with family and friends, celebrating the stories of our ancestors.
Do we hang a mezuzah or the Chinese symbol of good luck in our home? Again, the answer is both. One can’t have too much faith or good fortune and we hope that each is a conversation starter for guests who enter our home and for Ella as she grows older.
What other traditions to we have to look forward to? After celebrating Ella’s 100 Days, a Chinese tradition that recognizes infants have made it through the most fragile of days, we are quickly beginning to plan for her baby naming ceremony and first birthday, a trip to Taiwan to see her roots when Ella is 14 months old, and future trips to Israel and Denmark to visit the birthplace of other ancestors. We can’t wait for Ella to begin Sunday School at Temple Israel, and I’m sure the years will fly by and soon, we will be thinking about a Bat Mitzvah.
Being in a multicultural, biracial, and interfaith family opens a world of possibilities for our child. Exposing Ella to the beauty and excitement of the new and the unknown will give her the thirst to explore and learn everything she can. The world is beautiful and diverse, and we hope that she embraces that every single day.
Also published in the June 2018 Dateline bulletin. Read the full June Dateline at: www.ti-stl.org/Dateline