One of the challenges of living abroad is combining the traditions of your home culture with the traditions of your new country. Have you ever tried to hold a traditional American Thanksgiving in Kerala or a 10-year-old’s birthday party in Osaka? Although there are ways to combine traditions, sometimes you just want your own type of celebration, like a Canadian Mother’s Day instead of a Chinese one.
Luckily, the Internet has made it possible to order birthday piñatas in St. Petersburg and send an Elf on the Shelf to Beijing. So, knowing that you have the resources to have the holiday celebrations you want, what do you need to do to make sure they are as perfect as your dreams?
Communicate your expectations
The first step is to be clear about what you want your holiday celebration to include. Your spouse won’t know you want a traditional 20th anniversary gift of china and platinum from Personal Creations unless you specifically tell him. Unless you are clear in advance that you want your holidays to include turkey and stuffing, champagne on New Year’s Eve or a Valentine’s Day reservation at a local restaurant, you can’t expect your family and friends to automatically know your needs.
Listen to your family
Part of communication is listening, so make sure every family member has an opportunity to share what he or she wants to happen during the holiday. Children in particular are often concerned that their favorite holiday traditions won’t happen now that their family is living abroad. Make sure your children know that Santa will still visit them and that Thanksgiving dinner will still include pumpkin pie and that sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows.
Don’t ignore other traditions
One of the best parts of living abroad is participating in another country’s culture and traditions. Suggest that your children leave out shoes instead of stockings for Santa to fill. Make sure they receive red envelopes on Chinese New Year, and ring bells and visit temples when celebrating New Year’s Day in Japan. Add your new country’s foods, music and activities to your holiday celebrations. This is also a great way to encourage bilingualism, as your entire family will learn new words describing holiday celebrations as well as the associated songs, toasts and greetings of the holiday.
Pay attention to the needs of your guests
If you are inviting guests to one of your holiday celebration parties, make sure you pay attention to their needs and expectations. In India, for example, it is customary for the birthday child to treat his or her friends to sweets. Some of your guests may have cultural dietary restrictions or may wish to refrain from drinking alcohol. Pay attention to cultural sensitivities; hosting a Thanksgiving or Fourth of July celebration in Afghanistan or Ghana may not be the best choice.
The best way to make your holidays run smoothly is to talk in advance about which traditions you want to include and work to make your celebrations that of a global family living abroad, not a family trying to recreate home-country traditions in a foreign setting.
Do you have any cross-cultural holiday stories to tell or tips for combining multiple holiday traditions? Let us know in the comments.
This is a guest post by Christina Moore.