Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Traditions That Work for Overseas Families

“I was born in El Salvador, but I don’t speak Spanish.  I’m supposed to be both American and Salvadoran, but I didn’t grow up in either place. I grew up in Turkey, where I’m a foreigner.” My daughter said this just the other night when we were discussing Christmas.

December can be a bittersweet month for cross-cultural workers and their children.  Back home we know people are decorating their homes, listening to carols, going Christmas shopping, and rehearsing for Christmas choirs and pageants, but here in Izmir-on-the-Aegean, it’s business as usual.  In fact, the weather begins to gray, and early sunsets, combined with spiritual darkness, can make for a dim and gloomy month.

If you’re overseas, maybe you don’t feel much like celebrating. 

You may be experiencing the heart ache of missing home and loved ones. You may be busy and stressed with seasonal ministry activities. However, even when we don’t much feel like it, observing a few simple family traditions that can lessen our homesickness and help us focus on enjoying our lives here and now. They give our children a sense of family and belonging, and can even bring a renewed sense of Christ’s light in our homes.

One secret to enjoying Christmas traditions is to keep them simple.  Instead of killing yourself to get it all done, it’s better to chose a few simple things that work for your family.  If you have toddlers, fancy and expensive decorations may not work for you. I don’t making oodles of Christmas cookies any more.  I found I ate half of them myself and gained 5 pounds every December.  The other half would go stale by Christmas. So I let go of a tradition that wasn’t working for me!

Here are some of my favorite Christmas traditions:

Advent Wreath

Jesse Tree
For the first time this year, I printed Ann Voskamp’sJesse tree ornaments, and we’re reading through God’s story of redemption, from the Creation to Christ. 

Secret Pals
We’re just a family of four, but we draw names and spend a week leaving little treats for each other.

Decorate your Home
If you’re preparing to go overseas, make room in your luggage for a few special holiday momentos. (Or do as I did and take a whole suitcase full!)

Give your family the gift of time.
Make family dinner together a priority during busy December, or have a movie night or games night once a week.

Contact loved ones back home more frequently
My brothers and I e-mailed several times last week sharing and laughing over our Christmas memories.

Make Christmas Cookies

Sing Christmas Carols

Make and send cards

Plan a special Christmas dinner

Share with the less fortunate

Slow down to enjoy God and enjoy life

Of course I don’t do all of these. I pick and choose a few each year.

So, how about you? Which of these traditions are your favorites? Which ones work for you and your family?


Missional Mama said...

I was just talking about this last night! It is hard to get into the spirit here. We do have our Christmas decorations up and I brought a few more ornaments from home PLUS some Christmas Yankee Candles which is fun!
Merry Christmas,
Amy @ Missional Mama

us5 said...

i know the key for our family is that we choose to be thankful and content with how things are, enjoying whatever aspects of Christmas that are possible that year! maybe being far from home actually helps to strip away all the help us identify with Mary so far from her loved ones at her first birth; with Jesus as He left His culture of perfection in Heaven to be here with us - Emmanuel! i love your advent traditions, Olive Tree. nothing matters more: HE CAME!!

Choate Family said...

I agree with Barbara that being far from home "actually helps to strip away the distractions".

As bibliophiles, our many Christmas pictures books help us celebrate and count down to Christmas Day. My favorite part of Advent is the quiet, candlelit time we spend together each evening reading from our Advent/Christmas/Epiphany devotional and singing Christmas carols together as a family to focus our hearts on the gift of a Savior.

OliveTree said...

That is my favorite too, quiet candlelit time. Books are a great idea. We've been reading Christmas poems in the mornings before home school starts, and my teenagers are enjoying them.

Columba Lisa said...

Hi there, Olive! Your blog is one I've picked to pass the Blog of the Year 2012 Award on to. I'd love for my readers to be encouraged and strengthened through your honest and uplifting words. If you'd like to participate, you can do so at

Annmarie Pipa said...

this is good advise and good information!!
I am happy to be here in my country for Christmas...although someday we plan on traveling again...