The last three days have been Obon, a summer holiday dedicated to remembering one's ancestors. My husband's grandparents died two years ago, and although we never did anything for it before we do now.
In Japanese society it is sometimes hard to draw a line between religion and cultural practices. I have no problem with secular cultural practices, but as an atheist I don't want to participate in religious activities. When it comes to things in my own country I have a good idea of what is secular and what is not. For example, I love secular Christmas, from trees to decorations to cards to lights and Santa. But I don't go to church services or sing happy birthday to Jesus.
When it comes to Obon it's a little trickier. On the first night we burn joss sticks to guide the ancestors back to the altar. The altar is obviously religious but burning joss sticks? I don't know. I participate in it, anyway, but probably because I am the only one who can light a decent fire in my family. My mother-in-law doesn't have a car so I drove her to clean the grave and to the Budhhist temple where she participated in a ceremony. I did cleaning and sat in the back of the hall for the ceremony but didn't pray, just bowed my head so I wouldn't stick out (ha! I stick out no matter what!). They deliver a box with burning incense and ashes to place on it (3 times) before praying. My mother in law made my son do that part and asked him to pray to his great-grandma for something. I wanted to opt out of that part but she made a big deal about them bringing the box to me and I did the ashes thing then put my hands together as if I was praying. It was uncomfortable to say the least.
I don't mind if my kids are interested in religion and ask questions about it. I think it is important to learn about all religions before choosing one or choosing not to believe at all. However, I would prefer that it come from them. I wish that my son has had the choice to copy his grandmother's actions or not (I wish I had had a choice!). He already knows about praying because the school takes him once a year to a big Shinto shrine. That's fine, I've just explained that my view is that it is okay to wish for things but you have to work toward them instead of waiting for someone else to drop it in your lap.
It wasn't a very comfortable time for me at all, actually, when all I wanted to do was make sure my mother-in-law didn't have to ride her scooter in the rain. I was asked for my name to be put on mailing lists and to buy a newspaper subscription. It's easier to say no to strangers than to my husband's mother, however!
I'm not sure what this has to do about bicultural parenting. I guess it's just something that we have to play by ear, setting boundaries that make us comfortable. I am well aware that my kids will learn different things from each member of the family, and although I am okay with that I want them to have the choice to practice as they see fit.
Where do you draw the line between what you are comfortable with and your host country's culture?