“Oh, I love this time of year – it is the holiday season” another mom told me at my kids school the other day. “It sure is!” was my first response, but then I thought: “Isn’t is always holiday season?”
In September I wished my Korean and Chinese friends Happy Moon festival. The first week of October my Turkish friend brought chocolates to English class in celebration of Hijra – Islamic New Year. That same week my son brought home gifts from a friend at school now celebrating Rosh Hashana – Jewish New Year.
Saturday that week we enjoyed an Oktoberfest in our German friends’ garden. My kids are overexcited that it is finally time for Halloween. And as some friends have just celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving other friends are now getting ready to celebrate American Thanksgiving. Afterwards it’s time for my own holiday celebrations: Christmas and New Years Eve. And then comes Chinese New Year and Danish Fastelavn and again…Isn’t it always holiday Season?” It sure seems like it when you start living your life as a global nomad.
A few years back when my family moved to China on our first international assignment, I knew this experience would give me an interesting insight into Chinese traditions and holidays – and it did. What I did not expect was that it also introduced me to a whole new world of holidays from around the globe. With international assignments often come international friends, and with them come all sorts of small and big traditions and celebrations.
The perks of life abroad
Learning about other cultures and taking part in my friends’ celebrations is one of the most fun advantages of the international lifestyle, I think. I love being invited to a Canadian friend’s house to eat leftover turkey and trying cranberry sauce for the first time. And I already look forward to the delicious dumplings that I will from now on always associate with Chinese Spring festival. But as much as I love being included in other peoples celebrations, I have to say that holiday season – especially my own holiday season – can also be a difficult time.
Holidays are often associated with certain people, certain types of foods and even a certain type of weather that will not always be easy to find in your new country. Holiday season can also be homesick season. Questions might pop up in your head: Can palm trees replace Christmas trees? Can ingredients for my holiday cooking be found in reasonable driving distance? And can important holidays even be celebrated without the people that are most important to us at home?
I know that the answers to these questions are very different from person to person. But as an international nomad I find, that holiday season can also be used as great time for reflection. Celebrating a special holiday away from the place you normally call home will not be exactly like it used to be. And it’s ok if that makes you a little sad. But reflecting on your emotions can make you understanding what special holidays actually mean to you. What traditions are most important to you? And even, what traditions are not so important to you and can be left behind or maybe replaced by new ones?
So right now I am considering if my family should take up the tradition of Thanksgiving, not just because I like cranberry sauce, but because I actually like the idea of taking the time to tell your family what you are thankful for. But come December, I will properly at times question my family’s decision not to go home to celebrate Christmas this year. At the same time I do however really look forward to sharing my favorite Danish traditions with some of my new friends.
Broadening our skills base – also in the kitchen
Inviting new friends to become part of your extended family and helping each other celebrate important holidays is also what the international nomad life is all about. And you might be surprised by the amount of insight, learning and even fulfillment that comes from exploring new traditions, sharing recipes and just cooking and eating together. It can give you great insight into cultural diversity and also make you see and understand values in your own culture. And yes, it can also give you precious memories and long lasting friendships.
So I have decided I will try to recreate a fun Danish style Christmas lunch together with a few local friends, and I will make do with the ingredients I manage to find in my new country. I have promised my Egyptian neighbor that I will teach her how to make a Danish treat called ‘aebleskiver’. I will invite my German friends over to compare recipes for mulled wine with spices and I will celebrate Christmas the best I know how, with the traditions that are most important to me and my family.
So therefore, to all my international friends: Whatever celebration might be coming up soon in your part of the world: Enjoy & Happy Holiday Season!
Mette Lindgaard Seligmann is a business facilitator and strategic communication consultant currently based in Cleveland.