How to celebrate Christmas in a multicultural expat family?

If you are a multicultural expat family, deciding which tradition to follow can become a huge issue. What are the traditions you want to maintain? Will your parents, inlaws or extended family be involved in this decision?


©expatsincebirth; Christmas decorations

In our family we opted for a colorful mixture of traditions from Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. I’m not going to reveal all the details about how we celebrate Christmas. Let’s say that I like the “Advendskranz” (advent wreath) – a very simple form of it – and the children love their Christmas tree. But we don’t decorate it on December the 24th, like in Germany, we already set it up on the first week of December (usually after Sinterklaas/Nikolaus celebrated on the 5th or 6th of December). And as we don’t want to watch how a tree dies in our living room, we opted for a fake tree several years ago. “Our” tree travels with us: wherever we celebrate Christmas, our tree comes with us. Our children decorate it with baubles they’ve made and decorations we collected over the years. We also have an italian presepe (manger) that our children set up every year at the beginning of December and each child has its own advent calendar.


© expatsincebirth; Cheese Fondue

Italiano: Panettone milanese

The same happens with food. At Christmas we often visit family in Switzerland or Germany and there we just adapt to the traditions of the host. Sometimes we have cheese-fondue, raclette etc.; we dropped the traditional German “Weihnachtsgans” (Christmas goose) because many members of our family are vegetarians. After the festive meal that changes every year – yes, we don’t have a traditional Christmas menu – we have German home baked Christmas cookies, Lebkuchen, the Dutch amandelstaaf, Italian panettone and pandoro.

But now it’s your turn: What are the things you consider important at Christmas? Which are the traditions you (managed to) maintain?

10 replies »

  1. We celebrate Christmas in Poland, but in my family is not very traditional in this regard (I might write a post on this), but they do cook some traditional Polish Christmas recipes- Christmas in Poland is a very unique holiday because of the symbolism (Christmas Eve- 12 meals for the 12 apostles, no meat as this is a day for expecting the birth of Christ, etc. We don’t do it because we are a small family. Also, my family has already been influenced by other traditions, so we get the “Adventskalender”, and we used to do the “Adventskranz”. Also, my mother makes fruitcake (an American or British tradition) and we have blini (Russian and Ukrainian) on the 26th. We usually go to my parents-in-laws place but they don’t really have any special traditions other than visiting family graves, and having dinner together. This time they come to our place so it might be even different.

    • With R. we did try out several Christmas traditions from the cultures we know. Through the years we did drop some things and did adopt others. I think the way we celebrate it now is all right for us as a family. But our families in Switzerland and Germany celebrate it in other ways that we try to cheer when we’re there. – Is this the first time that your in-laws celebrate Christmas with you in NL?

      • Yes, but luckily we will be less this year, without my husband’s grandmother and his other family members and they are only coming for 4 days. And they will come after Christmas so it doesn’t really count.

  2. We celebrate Christmas in Brazil and seem to have the best of both worlds. We have a Brazilian Christmas Eve with a big meal, Father Christmas, arguments and all that stuff with my father-in-law’s family.

    Then we have a more British style Christmas Day with my mother-in-law’s family. Some of the food is different, mainly due to the heat here (it still seems wrong to celebrate Christmas when it’s 40 degrees outside), and I can’t get hold of any crackers for love nor money, but the everyone seems to be happy with what we do.

    • Thank you very much for stopping by and telling how you celebrate Christmas at 40 degrees. It seem unusual to those of the northern hemisphere, but for those of the southern hemisphere it’s normal. I’ve never spent a Christmas in a really warm climate and would love to know more about this. Brazilian-British Christmas, that sounds really interesting! Thanks for sharing 😉

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