I had a fairly typical childhood. I rode my bike, climbed trees, played Nintendo, obsessed over Lisa Frank, and painted my nails with my little sister. Like many kids, there was a day that I looked forward to the very most each year. This day was Christmas.

I relished the beautiful shopping mall decorations for an entire month, wholeheartedly practiced Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer for school performances, and drank hot chocolate with the mini marshmallows. My parents put up Christmas lights in our yard. My sister and I proudly displayed our stockings above the fireplace.

My dad would dress up as the cutest Indian Santa Clause you ever saw. He’d come into our room with his “Ho-Ho-Ho” on Christmas morning wearing a Santa hat and grinning face. My sister and I would run downstairs to find my mom baking cinnamon rolls. It wasn’t Christmas unless there were cinnamon rolls and this was a highly anticipated event. Sugar for breakfast? My dad was a health nut, so eating white flour rolled up in confection was a cherished rarity.

We had a mini Christmas tree- nothing fancy. But the presents would be piled all around it and we enjoyed ripping open every, single one. We had a system of taking turns around the circle so we could witness each other’s reactions. They were usually good, except for that one time my dad bought my mom a fancy mop. Oh Papa…

We would watch movies. We’d talk. We’d take a walk around the neighborhood. We’d jump in the car to admire Christmas lights. It was a day devoted to simply spending time together. It was the season of giving and we thoroughly enjoyed gifting each other presents and more importantly- timeless memories.

The thing is, we enjoyed all of our Hindu holidays too.  We are Hindu and we were proud to celebrate our beautiful heritage, culture and religion.

I stayed up past my bedtime to go to the temple at midnight on Janmashtami, Lord Krishna’s birthday. I put on my best chaniya cholis during Navratri. I decorated our porch with rangolis on Diwali.

My dad would ask me to recite Sanskrit shlokas before heading off to school every morning, each one providing an important life lesson. He taught me how to read and write in Gujarati, our native language. I wrote letters to my grandmother that lived half way across the world in India that didn’t know English. It felt good to stay connected.

He divulged the message of the Bhagvad Gita– The Song of God- the most revered scripture to Hindus, in a way that I could understand and could apply to modern day life. My mom and I engrossed ourselves in Bollywood blockbusters and sang classic Hindi tunes as long as I can remember. She would take me to Bharat Natyam class every week, so that I could work towards my arangetram– a formal graduation after completing years of Indian classical dance.

My parents worked tirelessly to give us the best of two worlds.

I thank my parents for integrating two cultures so beautifully and bringing the excitement of Christmas into our Hindu home. I was firmly rooted while feeling open to welcoming diversity. This only opened up my heart to experiencing even more joys without feeling like I needed to sacrifice my own beliefs.

Celebrating Christmas didn’t change that I am Hindu. It simply meant I was privileged with the opportunity to integrate both eastern and western cultures into my life. We are all made differently, and I was given the chance to enjoy those differences. In fact, we celebrated them.

We as Americans are fortunate to be living in a melting pot of different religions, ethnicities and cultures. In a country where it’s built on pillars of multi-religious backgrounds and cultural variety, we have the opportunity to understand each other better- learn from each other. In a world, where religious differences are often times a catalyst to violence, those gaps only inch together through education and awareness. That education starts at home. Celebrating Christmas, is only one example of how my family has embraced diversity. We welcomed a holiday into our home that was not a part of our own religion but we wholeheartedly celebrated the positive message that came along with it.

And I invite you to do the same.

I welcome you to create beautiful, intricate designs called rangolis outside your homes during Diwali. I invite you to crackle sparklers and light lamps to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Come celebrate the colorful holiday of Holi to welcome Spring- the season of hope and joy. I ask you to join us in dancing until you’re dizzy during the nine days of Navratri.

Let’s share our diversity. Let’s enjoy each other’s strengths. Let everyday be a celebration of love and light.

My husband and I and our two little boys plan to do just that this Christmas.

Our stockings are hanging beautifully over our mantle and our Christmas tree displays a special ornament from every year we became a family- a cherished tradition. Red and green lights beam down on our house while the Elf on the Shelf finds new mischief each morning. Nothing has felt more humbling than to anonymously cover the check for a military couple dining just a few tables away. ‘Tis the season of giving after all and we hope that our example will teach our children the value of appreciating what we have by paying it forward.

In a few short days, my family and I will wake up excitedly on Christmas morning. We will rip open our presents and take delight in each other’s reactions. With no exceptions, there will be the sweet aroma of cinnamon rolls coming from my kitchen. We will watch movies, walk around the neighborhood and admire Christmas lights. And the thing is, later that night, we will still jam to Bollywood music, eat desi khaana, and thank God through parathana for the blessings we receive on Christmas and every other day of this beautiful life.