My family is as multicultural as they come, which makes the winter holiday season particularly interesting. As a child with Chinese and Indian heritage, we often celebrated Christmas with curries and stir-fried noodles. My husband is Jewish, so these days, we add some Hannukah celebrations to our jam-packed holiday schedule. For my daughter, end-of-year parties are a mishmash of influences and traditions from around the world.
And yet, when we go shopping for decorations in December, stores generally present a monolithic vision of the holidays: Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and mistletoe in a color palette of green and red.
Ikea realizes that the winter holidays look and feel different for families around the world. In October, it will release VÄRMER, a new collection of holiday products designed to reflect the diverse, multicultural ways we celebrate. Swedish, Kenyan, and English designers all contributed to the line.
“We were curious to see what we have in common and what separates the way we spend the winter holiday season in Kenya and Sweden,” Mette Nissen, the creative leader at Ikea, said in a statement. “It turned out that it doesn’t matter whether you live in the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere—we do pretty much the same things. We eat, we play games, we hang out together.”
The Kenyan designers Naeem Bivji and Bethan Rayner are a married couple who co-own a design firm called Studio Propolis in Nairobi. They’ve designed a previous collection for Ikea celebrating African design. For the holiday collection, they drew on their own experiences celebrating in multicultural ways. Bivji grew up in a Muslim family in Kenya, while Rayner is English, so their holidays are a mix of traditions.
“As the world becomes more multicultural, I think we’re all celebrating our holidays in different ways,” Bivji tells CoDesign. Rayner chimes in: “At the same time, no matter what culture you’re from, there are some things about holidays that are the same,” she says. “It’s always about big gatherings, eating and drinking together. The children help the grown-ups in the kitchen. ”
Many of the items in this collection are designed for large, communal meals. Bivji and Rayner were inspired by a big Christmas feast they attended in Scotland in 2010, where they gathered with a group of 14 friends and relatives. They sketched out everything that was on the table that day, which featured food from around the world. There were casava and banana chips from Kenya, hard cheeses from the U.K., strawberries from Italy, and lychees from Mauritius. There was steamed chocolate pudding made by Aunt Sue and potatoes roasted in duck fat made by a friend called Ross. They also made a note that there was “lots and lots of booze.”
The tableware they’ve created is designed to mimic this vibe. There’s a set of nesting bowls in the shape of avocados, since the end of the year is when avocados are harvested in Kenya. The bowls are covered in hand-drawn patterns inspired by basket patterns and Indian paisley. They’ve also created a set of nested pitchers for mulled wine, which is popular in England during the holidays, along with tumblers.
When Bivji and Rayner considered how they spend the holidays as a family with their two children, ages four and six, they focused on creating communal activities that bring different generations together. Games are big in their family, so they’ve created a range of products that allow families to interact. There’s a chair and a matching multipurpose table with a board pattern on top so you can play chess or backgammon. Even the candlestick and tea light holders have a playful side: the pieces are designed to fit together in interesting ways, like a puzzle.
There are three spinning tops that look like the three wise men, as well as a set of cards that are part of a memory matching game, where all the images come from “The Nutcracker.” Bivji says that even though their family is secular, they still draw from many aspects of Christmas traditions. “We go to see ‘The Nutcracker’ every year,” he says. “It’s an important family activity for us.”
Unlike most holiday products, the items Bivji and Rayner designed are meant to live in your home all year round. This is partly because they don’t come in the traditional red and green color palette. “We wanted to create items that are more sustainable because they get a lot of use throughout the year,” Rayner says.
These items are meant to enhance the relaxation and feasting that happens during the holidays, but they also invite us carry over the spirit of gathering once the holidays are over.