Traditions and Holidays: Celebrating While Abroad

Traditions, whether cultural, religious, or familial are passed from generation to generation. They connect us to the people around us and help us to define who we are. So, when we move to a place with new traditions, a different culture or a different majority religion, we can find things difficult. But being in a new place does not have to mean we lose anything, it might just mean we need to change our traditions slightly. We might work to celebrate in the same way we would at home, making special trips and purchases, or we might adapt our traditions based on our new home, or take on entirely new traditions.

Here some of our writers tell us how they have adapted, or how they celebrate different holidays and traditions since arriving in the Bay Area:

Gita – Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner was one of the new American traditions that really struck a chord with me. We had just moved to the Bay Area and we didn’t know that many people. The idea of getting together with family (and in our case with friends) was something that really touched our hearts. Since then we always felt that Thanksgiving was special. We cherish the time of having a great laugh and sharing warmth with friends, who have since become family in a place so far away from home.

New Traditions: Thanksgiving

Keeping Traditions Alive

If you’re looking for my take on Christmas here, my experience, then it might sound a bit British…but we try and cultivate a mixture of old and new holiday memories. We still manage to read ’Twas the Night Before Christmas’ with our family on Christmas Eve using FaceTime, we buy Christmas Crackers from World Market and spend too much money in Draeger’s buying British Christmas Puddings. We invest time in our church community, feeding the homeless on Christmas Eve and attending a family church service in the evening – even though most of the carols are not ones we are familiar with. Using a British VPN address we access the BBC iPlayer to listen to the Queen’s Speech and watch the Christmas TV programs. I think I always operate on my European time zone for Christmas Day. We scroll through our children’s friends on Facebook going to bed with their stockings whilst we’re eating our lunch, and I wake in the night and think about my family getting together for the 10am Bucks Fizz. It’s always a sad moment when our UK family goes to bed around 2pm our time, our day gets quieter and in some sense, it feels like Christmas day is over. It’s not easy being a Christian in California at Christmas. We’re not allowed to send Christmas cards at school, and having been invited to talk about our family Holiday Traditions I was not allowed to mention Jesus or the Nativity. I have no interest in trying to convince 6 year olds about my faith, but it’s hard to talk about my meaning of Christmas without the baby part of the story! There are no school nativities, we’re not even allowed to use the word ‘Christmas’ in public areas. It’s why we plug into our church more at this time of year. And of course, there is no Boxing Day – it’s back to work we go! There’s also something wrong when you’re swimming in a warm apartment complex pool listening to Frosty the Snowman on repeat!

Archana – Combining Tradtions

My mother grew up in Mumbai. India has so many different religions and holidays that many families like to celebrate them all. At Christmas, even though we are a Hindu family, my grandfather would get a small tree and a gift for my mother and her sister. Now we are all living in the Bay Area, and we have managed to celebrate Christmas with our Indian influences. We eat lamb, but with a tandoori rub, not with mint jelly. We get a tree, and I always get the kids different personalized ornaments of whatever they are into that year. Last year, I got them Yoda and Chewbacca ornaments, and this year I got them Golden State Warriors ornaments. I was happy to buy them ornaments that had some local flair! This Christmas Eve, we are doing a Puja (Hindu religious ceremony) in our home, and then making cookies in the evening. We will be leaving some cookies for Santa at night, along with some prasad (which is a religious offering of food in Hinduism).

Traditions: Golden State Baubles

Sarah – Embracing the new

For me, it is mostly about making an occasion of things. There is only my husband and I, at home in the UK I am one of 4 siblings, so I am used to holidays being big and loud, with only the two of us this is not the case (unless you ask my husband who will tell you anything is loud with me around!). Because there are only two of us, we make sure to put in a lot of effort, so that it doesn’t just feel like any other day. This means dressing up, cooking a fancy meal, and sharing a toast to the occasion. Having lived in the UK, Denmark and USA in a few short years, we’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what you eat, or drink (we’ve always gone with adapting to what our host culture eats or drinks) but about being together. We also make an effort to join in with the traditions of places and people around us, this means heading to a chili cook off for 4th July, attempting to cook a Turkey (and then eating it for the rest of the week as it is way too much food for two) with the British addition of Yorkshire puddings, having my first ever Ice Cream cake at the age of 30, or joining new friends in their traditions such as the Brazilian Festa Junina. Or inventing a new tradition entirely, croissant bread and butter pudding anyone? Do I look forward to the day when I get to celebrate the big occasions with family again? Of course, but until that time we will continue to enjoy everything we can about our life abroad.

New Traditions: Croissant Bread and Butter Pudding

Even within a culture, holidays and traditions grow and change over time, so we say embrace the differences in your new life, keep the traditions alive where you can, but don’t worry if you can’t find the exact food or drink you would normally have. Embrace the change and make your own traditions.

About Sarah Jennings

Less than five years ago, I got my first passport and went on my first short holiday outside of the UK to the absolutely stunning Croatia. And it feels like I have never looked back! Since then I have spent 2 years living in beautiful Copenhagen, before arriving in the Bay Area in early 2016. It has been quite the whirlwind adventure. I have used my expat adventure to reignite my lifelong dream to become a writer and editor, returning to my studies and slowly building experience through work and voluntary roles to make this a reality. I have recently left the Bay Area and returned to the UK, to live in London, another place I haven't lived. You can follow my journey at my website -

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