The Uniqueness of Expat Celebrations
In early 2021, Lisa Finn Powell, an American expat who has spent 25 years discovering other cultures, presented a webinar, hosted by Families in Global Tradition (FIGT), called “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed: Enhancing the Expat Experience by Reshaping Old Customs and Traditions and Embracing the New”. With the holiday season approaching, we felt inspired by Lisa to talk about more ways to combine the old and the new and make your celebrations extra special.
Traditional celebrations are some of the most important aspects of every culture. Whether we’re gathering with food and our loved ones to express our gratitude; sharing stories to remember and honour those who have passed away; preparing a cleansing ritual for our homes and adorning them with a thousand different colours; or running after our favourite cheese, celebrations are a big part of our cultural identity, part of who we are. As expats, we also create our own “new” cultures by combining traditions and rituals from all the places we explore along our journeys.
When we move to a completely different culture, we hold on to our identity through our beliefs, rituals and celebrations. Similarly, we embrace, learn and sometimes adapt any beliefs, rituals and celebrations that we are exposed to. This process of connecting and disconnecting leads to rediscovering your identity, and often in a more nuanced and very creative way.
As important dates approach, you might start missing that favourite dish at family reunions; the smell of the ocean so reminiscent of holidays at the coast; or seeing your home city dressed in different shades of red and green. Or perhaps it’s your first time in your host country and you’re feeling overwhelmed or unprepared for all the strong emotions associated with the holidays. To soothe any homesickness, be sure to bring in the old. To stay connected to the aspects of your culture that are meaningful to you, be sure to cook that dish (if you struggle to find specific ingredients in your host country, take a look at An Expats’ Guide to Survive Grocery Shopping), say that prayer, play that song that carries so many memories, or bring that special touch to your house.
Finding your sense of ‘home’ can feel especially challenging during the holiday season – and even more so if it’s your first time away during this period. As an antidote to nostalgia, make a commitment to celebrate the new. Whether it’s the joy of visiting new markets; the spices you’re encountering for the first time, tuning your ear to the beautiful languages of your host country; observing the dynamics and strategies of locals haggling… the international life is full of the new and unexpected. It’s a process of discovery – and self-discovery! Following your curiosity, reading about other expat experiences can help you feel that you’re not alone, and encourage you to take the first steps into your adopted home.
Part of the magic of the expat experience is that we can adapt and transform some of the traditions and rituals that we encounter abroad, and create unique and memorable moments. For instance, many expats who have experienced Mexican culture adapt some elements of El Día De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead – a Mexican tradition that brings families together to welcome back the souls of their loved ones who have passed away) into their own rituals. Other expats who have experienced Indian culture may choose to dress up, light up their homes with bright colours and candles, and cook delicious meals seeped in spices to celebrate Diwali, the five-day festival of lights that is celebrated by many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains (and some Buddhists).
Bringing It All Together
Missing the food, the traditions and celebrations of home can be one of the most difficult aspects of living abroad. By combining the old and the new into the now, we can consciously acknowledge, integrate and celebrate the many facets of our expatriate identity – and feel stronger and more alive during the often emotional traditional holiday periods.
We hope this article helps you find creative ways to celebrate these holidays in a meaningful and unique way. Let the good times roll!!
What old traditions have you kept during your expat experience? And what rituals have you borrowed or would you like to give a try? Leave a comment below!
PHOTO: Valiant Made/UNSPLASH