I write, with thanks at the invitation and honor that Eolia has extended for me, to share my thoughts on how my family celebrates the traditions of Christmas as an American family living overseas.
Probably for most of us, whatever your family tradition, whatever your religion or culture, those traditions and memories that we experienced as a child play heavily into those we later create as an adult with our own families. Like many adults and children today, the memories I have as a child of Christmas time are special ones to me. They consist of the thrill of waking up Christmas morning, having entertained for weeks, days and hours what Santa might have brought me, and I am unable to contain my suspense as the hours draw near. Opening up my Christmas stocking, going through each little present patiently wrapped, prolonging my thrill and excitement for what is within. Then sharing in the thrill of our mutual morning boon together with my brother Aaron Manahi. The fact that there was a tree in the living room, under which held yet more treasures to be discovered made the day all the more exciting!
As the morning progressed, after the stockings had been gleefully torn through, we reveled in the festive mood offered by the Christmas classics playing all afternoon as it wafted through the house, along with the wassail on the stove while my mother began the makings of what would become a delicious Christmas dinner later that afternoon. The morning festivities would culminate with our gathering around the Christmas tree, opening with a prayer and reading scripture, about the divine birth of Christ and his mission on this earth as found in the Book of Luke. Then of course, we would dive headlong into the Opening of The Presents. My brother, as the youngest, would choose a gift from under the tree, and one at a time would take a gift from the tree to hand to each of us so we could all take turns watching one another open our gifts. All very exciting, however too late for my brother, who, well into adulthood, lamented the fact that we didn’t just roll out of bed and head straight for the presents! Just as well we grow up and create our own traditions!
Christmas in our family began on Christmas Day. The weeks preceding it were all the build up to the Big Day: The shopping trips, the caroling with friends and visits to retirement homes. My mother would spend hours baking goodies beforehand, making up beautiful Christmas plates which, as was our family tradition, on Christmas Eve, we would drive around to family friends, delivering these plates, stepping into their homes for even a moment to enjoy their festive Christmas traditions. This opportunity always offered me a wonderful insight into the many ways that Christmas can be celebrated and enjoyed in the homes of our closest and dearest friends.
Since our departure from the US in 2007, our family of five has travelled and lived in 3 countries: first Ireland, then France and now currently, Singapore. Over these years, the traditions we’ve created have come about mostly by necessity as much as anything else, and often has changed depending on the country we’ve been in at the time. We’ve learned to adapt to our changing environment. Probably the greatest advantage to maintaining Christmas tradition across continents and languages has been the fact that our faith has been at the core of how we celebrate Christmas, and this has been a blessed constant.
There are no frills in our overseas life when it comes to Christmas. It has been with conscious effort that Christmas gifts, decorations and meals be simple, often hand made and are not so overdone so as to detract from the true purpose. I have considered this a gift. Probably the only imperative, including making sure the ornaments and stockings are included in each move, is the Christmas tree. In each country so far, we have A Story of Getting the Christmas Tree.
As an example, in Ireland, we lived in County Wicklow. We discovered on our daily route to school, a Christmas Tree farm. We wound up getting the most fabulous Christmas tree that was grown right on the land it was sold on. While we didn’t cut it down ourselves, we relished the fact that it was not shipped in from somewhere else and that we bought it from the guy who grew it and lived right there! We buy what gifts we can, if local then all the better. That aside, true confessions, Amazon or Shutterfly has been a life-line to getting gifts to family back home and a boon to the life of an expat. No matter where we are however, for us the focal point of the Christmas season is a celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Christ is central to our belief.
Strictly speaking, you could call Christmas a birthday party, though for us it is far more. We’ve carried on my family’s tradition of reading the same scriptures, before diving into the presents, we fill stockings with little wrapped gifts, which the children open first thing in the morning, and, ode to my brother’s childhood wish, we do go straight to the presents in the morning while the kids are still in pajamas, often not having even eaten breakfast! To emphasize the point, it’s all about maintaining the Spirit of the Season. We ebb and flow with the tradition and strive always to maintain the happiness.
In the course of writing this piece, I asked my children what have been some of their favorite Christmas traditions and memories. Interestingly, they each replied the same way: waking up and not being able to see the tree with all the presents under it until they all walk in together to share in the excitement, the tree in all it’s Christmas glory; as well as The Christmas Elf: the tradition of the youngest handing out the presents. I’ve no idea where the name The Christmas Elf came from, but it works for them and I’m happy to keep it.
As parents today living overseas, our choices with regard to the Christmas season are one of evolution. I have learned that we cannot hold on too tightly to what should be. Of primary importance, particularly to my husband, is that peace and love override any and all stress that can and easily does ensue. Beyond that, making sure that the tree will be ripe with presents on Christmas morning, and enjoying the spirit of the Christmas season - is a bonus! The simplicity of this goal, the drive to be together, to play games and celebrate our love as a family: these are the traditions that I relish and hope to renew every year.
Natasha is a mother of three (two amazing boys and a beautiful/smart girl in between),
born in Oregon, USA, who have followed her College/ MBA Teacher of husband
in his working peregrinations. Currently living in Singapore,
she tries to stay true to her heritage and her love of the wonders of the world.