After a year, I’ve celebrated my share of “American” holidays abroad.
Ironically, holidays never made a huge impact on me as an American in the US. A day off meant a day to sleep in. A major holiday, like Christmas, mostly meant the inconveinence of most things being closed (and Ravi’s and my sad 7-11 Xmas Dinner one Christmas when we didn’t plan ahead). Sure, I love fireworks, and who doesn’t love holdiay-related candy and sales? But as an adult, holidays weren’t that big a deal for me. In fact, Ravi and I regularly used them as an excuse to travel, including leaving the country at least twice over major holidays.
Two things have changed…the first is that we had Elanor in 2008 and now feel compelled to create memories and assign significance to (some) holidays; the second is that we moved abroad.
It’s easy to be jaded about holidays like the 4th of July when you live at home. It’s like the American flag threw up all over everything. Christmas? I can’t tell you how irritated I am to see Xmas decorations and promotions starting before we’ve even had a chance to take Ellie trick or treating. I’m not a huge fan of football so the Superbowl is something I mostly end up doing because R likes football and there’s nothing else to watch on tv (and I like hanging out with my friends).
When you’re abroad, though…perhaps moreso if you have kids, holidays…especially the ones that aren’t celebrated (or aren’t a big deal) in your new country (St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Columbus Day, Halloween, Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day, and Thanksgiving are the ones that come immediately to mind) take on a greater importance. If your child doesn’t attend a nationality specific school, it becomes your job to not only transmit your family’s values, but the aspects of your national identity that you feel important to pass along.
It’s also an opportunity, if one like the US 4th of July event we attended on Saturday exists, to be around others who share your culture and background. Which is a nice change from being the strange foreigner.
With Ellie, we’ve been doing flag related crafts this year. She has a simple children’s book called “Happy Birthday America” (or something like that) that we’ve read to her. We went to the fourth of July event–and made a point of emphasizing it’s America’s Birthday. We’ll take the Pops Goes the 4th Concert from Boston and show it to her. She has an adorable outfit that has no useful purpose outside of today (and this past Saturday). This is far and above what we’d probably do back home…as, to some extent, being in the midst of all that does our job of transmitting culture for us. I certainly didn’t need to underline that it was a special day when we celebrated the 4th in DC (in part because she was 8 months old, but also because it was impossible not to understand that).
But today’s the 4th of July…and she’s in school and Ravi’s at work. (Much as a Singaporean wouldn’t get August 8th automatically if they worked in the US).
Sure, I could’ve kept her home and gone to a friend’s bbq. But our family’s value of “school comes first” trumps “national holiday not celebrated in our current country.” (Note, yes were are hypocrites and will suspend the “school comes first” rule for a trip home.) So I dressed her in her cute 4th of July outfit and took her to school and she’ll share with her Singaporean classmates that today is America’s Birthday.
I’m curious, other expats–how did leaving your country change how you celebrate holidays, or change the emphasis you placed on those holidays when you were abroad? Did that change when you moved home?