With holidays abroad, time with grandparents, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles becomes limited. Relationships can become distant. We have to work harder to keep the connection and make the effort to keep in touch.
But on the flip side? When holidays roll around, we’re somewhat on our own, choosing if we want to celebrate with friends or teammates, church members or other people from our community.
We decide how we want to celebrate our holidays abroad. And my family’s found we like this option.
Of course we love spending holidays with family! We miss our families very much every holiday–and wish we could be in both places at once. When we do get to spend a holiday with our parents or extended family, we’re thankful.
A pleasant surprise: finding we like being able to create our own family traditions around Easter and Christmas, July 4th, and Thanksgiving.
We decide what’s important to us about these holidays and how we want to spend the day.
Since holidays are not as commercial over here, the day usually comes quietly, allowing for as much or as little fanfare as we want.
Our Out-of-the-box holidays
For several years we invited a young Muslim friend over for Christmas dinner. We have pictures of her with our Christmas tree and our kids over the years. One or two of the years we extended the invitation to other friends as well, making it quite a diverse table.
Christmas morning is usually just our family, with our special readings, our special foods, our time together. We attend the Christmas Eve church service, so Christmas day is usually quiet.
Easter has similar traditions. We attend the sunrise church service in a lovely garden, and invite certain friends to enjoy a meal with us. We have fun traditions we try to do each year (with varying levels of success). And we don’t feel obligated to do more than we want.
Sometimes July 4th is spent with other Americans, grilling burgers and roasting marshmallows. Sometimes we invite friends of different nationalities over and we have a potluck meal. We wear red, white, and blue and talk about American trivia. Sometimes we’re traveling and just acknowledge the day among our family.
Thanksgiving is usually a holiday when we gather with our office. The Egyptian staff really like taking part in this holiday and preparing foods. It reminds of how thankful we are for each person in the office and for what God’s done so far.
Both/And about Holidays Abroad
So much about life abroad can be “both/and.” In this case, I both love seeing my family for holidays and I really like the way we do our family’s holidays abroad.
I love the quiet Christmas morning with my kids and I miss my parents every time.
I love much of my life in Egypt and some things drive me absolutely crazy.
Our reinvented routines and traditions enjoyed as a family help us reflect on what’s important. Some things from our previous family traditions we’ve stopped doing. Some, we’ve added.
Holidays Abroad or At Home, Reinvented
Though neither my husband nor I grew up with much Advent tradition, since living here we have grown more in our understanding. Advent’s become important to our children.
In fact, last December we were in the US on a home assignment and had to go buy advent candles and set up an advent candle tray to continue our traditional advent time.
Our holidays end up reflecting what is important to us, what we value, what we want to celebrate. We decide who we want to open our home to, who we want to sit around our table.
We’re not obligated to any events nor guilty for not being able to attend a particular gathering.
What I love: We’ve been able to separate these holidays from much of the secular commercial culture pervading the celebration of these holidays in Western countries. Actually, we just realized our 8-year-old son doesn’t know any of the words to “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer,” past the first line and the older children aren’t sure of all the words, either.
Poor third culture kids. We’ll work on it this year.
There’s a beauty to simple celebrations. There is joy in celebrating in a meaningful way. And there’s peace in choosing what is best for your family.
Holidays abroad are yet another gift of living overseas that I did not expect. God gives us good gifts.
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