Each March 7, Stephanie and her husband John will invite immediate family members to the house to celebrate their son, Alexander, now 3. And every year, she’ll ask people not to bring gifts, but she knows the grandparents will not listen. She will serve cake. Friends will send cards and messages of congratulations. Pictures will be taken and loaded into photo albums.
It’s not Alexander’s birthday, that was this month and was celebrated in grand tradition. March 7 is Gotcha Day for this family and marks the day they met, when Alexander was an infant. The couple traveled to Ethiopia to adopt their son.
Gotcha Day is an acknowledgement that some adoptive families use to mark the day they were brought together. And it celebrates the journey to becoming a family. Teachers interested in staying connected with children’s home lives and acknowledging important family days will want to know about this day that varies from family to family.
“We hadn’t really heard of the term until going through the [international adoption] process,” Stephanie explained. “It’s the way you would celebrate the birth of a child. This is the way our child came to us.”
Many people—especially educators—may not be aware of this tradition, but they may hear about it in passing and wonder what it is. It’s important to note that there are many ways to become a family and to help other students understand other family traditions.
The beauty of family is that they come in many shapes and sizes. And each family has many traditions. For some it may be extended family meals once a week. For others, it’s a favorite vacation spot. And for still others, it might be an annual family reunion. These traditions can be shared and honored.
Not all adoptive families mark Gotcha Day. Some don’t call it by that name. And it can vary from the day the adoption was finalized to when the family arrived home with their child. There may never be a celebration at school, but a child might mention that it is their Gotcha Day.
There are as many ways to celebrate Gotcha Day as there are families. Some set the day aside to have a special family meal. Others might recount the story of how they came to be a family and open gifts. And others might have a special ceremony.
Alexander and his parents featured a slide show of their trip to Ethiopia.
“We talk about the process and reflect on all the milestones that have happened to date,” Stephanie said. “We were not there for his birth. On March 7 we were there. I want him as he grows up to know how important it is that he joined our family. It’s also a day for me I often think of his birth parents. We thank them for giving us this gift.”
One day, Alexander may be interested in sharing his story with friends. He will have a rich tradition of celebrations to share. And his friends will learn of ways families come together.
Williamson is associate editor at Teaching Tolerance.