Celebrating a holiday abroad

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?

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6 Responses to Celebrating a holiday abroad

  1. Flora says:

    Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, but we don’t really make a big deal about the American and/or Hallmark holidays that don’t get much attention here in SIngapore. The only one I miss is Halloween because it’s usually when we celebrate our anniversary. Nothing says till death do us part like skull decorations all over the house! 😉

    Even holidays that were a huge deal back home because of all the family functions related to them, like Easter or Thanksgiving, have fallen to the wayside here. No family to celebrate and no store displays reminding me of the coming family get-togethers means less reason to celebrate. We take advantage of the Singaporean holiday weekends to go on trips, and so we don’t really celebrate these, either.

    I guess you can say it’s an “out of sight, out of mind” type of attitude. I’m not bombarded with holiday decorations and greeting cards months before the holiday’s date and so I just don’t really think about it.

    • Crystal says:

      When I read your blog, I’m so envious of all the travel you guys do. I love seeing your pictures! I often think that if we didn’t have E, we’d travel more. Enjoy it!

      I do think you’re right that having kids is the bigger change. We might still be into the fireworks on the 4th, but would likely care much less about things like Halloween and Thanksgiving.

      When do you find out if you won the Bloggy award?

  2. bookjunkie says:

    What a pretty 4th of July outift 🙂

    • Crystal says:


      Shopping for Elanor is addictive. Her poor little sister is coming into the world with a complete wardrobe!

  3. Laura says:

    I find I do miss them but only because, and I never realised it before, but they serve as landmarks over the year. Particularly when you know the weather should be a certain way i.e. cold!! Here I suddenly realise it is such and such a date and then I get a little whimsical although the irony is we probably would not be doing anything that special if I were in the UK!

    However the only time I’ve felt truly homesick for more than just a fleeting moment was last Christmas. Despite there being Christmas stuff everywhere being in a hot climate felt wrong and my family and everything familiar suddenly seemed a very long way away. We were away over Christmas and that actually was the best thing we could have done doing something completely different from the norm dstracted me and the homesickness was gone.

    • Crystal says:

      I think you’re hitting the nail on the head. My first Xmas abroad was in India, and I was so distracted by the traveling we were doing that it was all a novelty. But last year was a little tougher. We went home for American Thanksgiving, which is in late November, and spent all of December here in Singapore. To someone who conflates Christmas with cold and snow, it was disorienting and often made me homesick.

      I’m only just finding new markers for the turn of the year here–we’re looking forward to the lantern festival in September and Chinese New Year (which I think is in January in 2012).

      With Ellie, though, it’s tough because we’re balancing the cool new experiences she’s having that we never had with the ones we had as kids and are worried that she’s “missing out” on.

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