Our First Christmas as Expats in France
Moving to a new country offers up excitement and new experiences on a silver platter, and every day can seem like an adventure. Sometimes, though, it doesn't feel so exciting, just strange and unfamiliar. This can be especially true for children around the holidays or other special occasions, when they (and you) have a picture in their minds of how a particular holiday celebration should look and feel.
It can be frustrating to go out to purchase decorations or food for your celebration, only to realize that what's on offer is not anything like what you're used to. While I'm a fan of trying new things and learning how to adapt to new customs, I also believe that it's important to retain some of one's own culture and traditions in both everyday life and when it comes to important celebrations.
This belief has been put to the test for me most recently while preparing for Christmas. Although we are heading back to Canada for a part of the holiday season, my husband and I want to have a family Christmas celebration here in Paris with our children, so they can have memories in our apartment here as well as with my family in Canada. We have decorated a tree and the chimney, and have wrapped up some gifts. Our elf is back, and we will be ready for Santa with milk and some gluten free cookies.
And yet, we have been struggling with some of the differences in how things are done here. Finding decorations was a challenge, as there is little choice in stores. We realized eventually that many flower shops are the place for wreaths and garlands, rather than large box stores. Many of the traditional Christmas specials I'm used to watching each year are not available on television here, and all of the carols are (obviously) being taught to my children in French, not English. My children are taking to most of the changes easily, which is great, but I don't want them to lose some of the traditions my husband and I have carried from our childhoods.
Rather than worrying about the changes however, my husband and I have been discussing how to take advantage of the opportunities that living in a new country offer us, while still honouring the traditions we hold dear. Essentially, we're excited to create our own unique traditions that will allow our children to experience the best of both worlds.
Tips for Creating Holiday Traditions in a New Country
1- Which traditions are a must?
Decide on which traditions from home are the ones you absolutely can't let go of, and must be incorporated into your celebrations. By the same token, decide which are negotiable and which you can leave in the past.
2- Take some time to learn about how the holiday is celebrated in your adopted country, if at all.
Talk to locals, research online, or consult with other expats. Be thorough- how do locals decorate, what do they eat, are there specific traditions that are not to be missed? The more you know, the better you can plan. Don't forget to ask about where to best purchase items.
3- Be Open Minded
Sometimes the way things have always been done aren't always the best way to continue doing them. Perhaps your adopted country may have a spin on things that you may like better, or that may at least be fun to try out one year and see how it goes. It could be anything from trying a different main dish at dinner to changing up the decorations. For my part, while I will still do some gluten free baking with my kids, I may take a cue from the French and purchase a pre-made dessert for the big meal.
4- Mix the Old with the New
You moved all the way across the world for a reason, right? If you're the type of person who is adventurous enough to start a new life elsewhere, you're adventurous enough to start some new traditions, too! One tradition we're enjoying in France is the Christmas Market. They have popped up all over Paris, and are a great place to buy gifts and decorations, to try out new foods, and have a great time with the kids. It's perfectly fine to maintain past traditions while at the same time starting up some new ones with the family.
5- Connect with Others
It's important to connect with others over the holidays, and that can be done in a variety of ways. Join an expat group who may hold communal celebrations, volunteer your time at a local charity or event, or attend a community gathering. If you can't find something that calls to you, why not organize something yourself with a small group of friends or colleagues? I can guarantee that there are many people in your community who would love to spend time with you and your family. Who knows, maybe you could start a new holiday tradition?
The most important thing is to spend time with those you love. Too often we get caught up in the expectations of what Christmas or any other celebration should look like, instead of enjoying the reality of what is. Maybe you won't be able to completely recreate celebrations of the past, but you create an incredible celebration that reflects the love and joy you have around you right now. And who wouldn't love to be a part of that?