Tag Archives: Christmas

Which tradition do you maintain around Christmas?

This time of the year many multicultural families struggle with finding a compromise: which tradition to maintain around Christmas, especially when you partner is used to other customs and you are living in a place where “things are done differently” from what you were used to when you were a child.

I must confess that it would never have crossed my mind to actually start doing anything related to Christmas already mid November before moving to the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, the most important celebration during this part of the year is Sinterklaas, not Christmas. And it starts with his arrival mid November, and goes on with his visits all over the country during the following weeks, until Pakjesavond on December the 5th.

In our family we decided to adopt this tradition as our aim is to integrate and embrace the culture of our host country. But we also wanted to maintain some of the traditions we liked from our childhood. So we ended up practically celebrating this season from mid November until the 6th of January. – It’s a long time…

So, every year we are excited upon Sinterklaas’ arrival, and our children put their shoes near the chimney, hoping that some of the (Zwarte) Pieten will fill them over night with pepernoten or other delicacies, sometimes small cadautjes. – Even though they know about this tradition, our children love to keep up the magic and celebrate it with the same enthusiasm.

English: boterletter sinterklaas dutch traditi...

As we also want to keep some of the traditions my husband and I know and cherish from our childhood, we like to put up the Adventskalender. Each child usually gets one and opens a door every day starting from December 1rst.

40px|border|Flag Deutsch: Adventszeit in Luzer...

40px|border|Flag Deutsch: Adventszeit in Luzern: Adventskalender bei der Reussbrücke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These two traditions are quite similar, both, the shoes and the advent calendar will give our children a surprise in the morning. – Will the shoe be filled? What am I going to receive or read (if it’s not a calendar filled with toys, sweets etc.) in my calendar? – If you combine them both, your children will get two “surprises” per day until Pakjesavond, and then carry on with the Advents calendar until Christmas.

We will also celebrate Christmas on the 24th (and 25th-26th December), and, of course, La Befana or Heilige Dreikönige on the 6th of January.

The historical center of Schöckingen in Baden-...

The historical center of Schöckingen in Baden-Württemberg in Germany, with christmas illuminations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Usually our children receive the bigger presents at Sinterklaas and this for very obvious reasons: we usually meet with our families at Christmas, which involves a lot of travelling, so we soon decided not to overload our car for those days and decided to offer our children the bigger presents at Sinterklaas. This give them the opportunity to already play with them before Christmas. At Christmas then, they receive books, clothes or items they “need” – which makes much more sense to me and my husband, and is more the way I celebrated Christmas as a child.

As for the celebration of Sinterklaas, whose German/Swiss/Austrian equivalent Sankt Nikolaus is celebrated on the 6th, we decided to shift the celebration to the 5th December, because this is the Pakjesavond celebrated here in the Netherlands.

Then we celebrate Christmas on the 24th and 25th with family, with a great combination of different traditional meals, depending on where and with whom we’re celebrating.

In January another celebration will close this festive season on the 6th of January. In Italy we would celebrate La Befana. When I was a child, this was the day when my fellow Italian friends would receive presents; Christmas was the day family would gather together and share festuous meals. The 6th of January was the day children would simmer with excitement – and a bit of fear as la Befana would bring choal to those children who were not so kind… This makes this celebration very similar to Sankt Nikolaus/Sinterklaas in Germany, whose partner, the Knecht Ruprecht or Schmutzli in Switzerland, would give them a rod (and sometimes “hit” them… ) if they weren’t behaving well the weeks before…

On the 6th of January we now celebrate the Heilige Drei Könige, the Three Wise Men. We share a cake, the typical Dreikönigskuchen or Gallette des Rois – like our Belgian and French neighbours, but I still have my little Befana that hovers over the table that day…

befane

What are the traditions you’re maintaining or adopting in your family?

If you want to make sure that you have a say and that your needs are met this year, take 20 minutes to watch my video on this topic (click on the picture):

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@Ute’s International Lounge 2016

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Our multicultural Christmas

Every country, every culture has it’s own ways to celebrate traditional festivities. Some families who live abroad adopt some of the local traditions and adapt them with those they know from their own childhood or from the other places they’ve lived.

Multicultural families need to agree not only on which festivities they want to celebrate but also on how to celebrate them. It’s a decision that involves extended family and friends too. This time of the year many internationally living families are getting inreasingly worried because they know that this topic will cause  friction with their loved ones.

I’ve experienced many changes in the way we celebrate Christmas in my family. My parents tried to maintain the German traditions while we were living in Italy. We had a Christmas wreath and an Adventskalender where we would open a “little door” every morning, starting from December 1rst until Christmas Eve, the 24th December, finding either little chocolates or some nice pictures (that would be illuminated when hold against a window or put in front of a candle or lamp), with the same effect of lighted windows you can find in Switzerland and Germany where houses are sometimes decorated like Advent calendars:

40px|border|Flag Deutsch: Adventszeit in Luzer...

Over the years we adopted more and more elements of the Italian way of celebrating Christmas: panettone and torrone became as standard as Lebkuchen and Weihnachtsplätzchen and we would also prefer having fish instead of meat for Christmas dinner. We would have a presepe set up in our living room, but also an Adventskranz (Christmas wreath). – In the last 20 years our family traditions became more and more multicultural, mixing mainly Italian, German and Swiss and, for my family here in the Netherlands, also Dutch habits. These don’t only imply food and decorations, but also celebrations throughout this Christmas season.

A month full of celebrations…

In many European countries Christmas is not the only festivity this time of the year. On December the 5th or 6th we celebrate Sankt Nikolaus in Germany, Switzerland etc., and on January the 6th we celebrate la Befana in Italy and Dreikönige in Switzerland, Germany, France etc. On the 6th December children receive tangerines, nuts and small presents for Sankt Nikolaus and usually a little Sankt Nikolaus Lebkuchen (gingerbread) in Germany and Switzerland, whereas in the Netherlands this is the most importan celebration (see below). On the 6th January kids get candy if they were “good”, and “coal” if they were “bad”.

My husband grew up in Switzerland, and he recalls that Christmas season started (more or less) when they had a Grittibänz at Saint Martin (November 11th). Then Saint Nicholas followed, Christmas cookies were baked and the first Christmas Markets were set up.

Deutsch: Hefeteigmann (Grittibänz), ungebacken...

Bildschirmfoto 2012-12-18 um 20.16.10

Weihnachtsmarkt(1)

What to eat at Christmas…

Christmas is a time to celebrate thankfulness and togetherness and traditionally this is made by sharing meals. In Italy, Christmas is the most important celebration. Families would have a festive dinner on the vigilia di Natale (also called cenone di Natale) on Christmas Eve, December the 24th, where traditionally fish is served (after antipasti and primi). The birth of Jesus is celebrated on the 25th December by cooking festive meals that are followed by panettone (wich is similar to the German Weihnachtsstollen!), pandoro and torrone.

Bildschirmfoto 2012-12-18 um 20.16.10

In Germany, the traditional Christmas meal in my extended family was the Weihnachtsgans (goose; some prefer duck). My grandma served it with red cabbage and potatoe dumplings (find more recipes – in German! – here) after a soup, and Christmas cookies and Christstollen afterwards. – In our family in Italy, we used to have trout for lunch (after antipasti and primi) on the 25th, and some panettone, pandoro, torrone, Weihnachstplätzchen and Lebkuchen… Not all together, of course, but nicely devided over the Christmas holidays… Our Swiss family likes to celebrate with a raclette made with cheese, but meat is also a great alternative and this is very similar to the Dutch gourmetten.

When to open the presents…

In Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany, the presents are handed out on Christmas eve (24th December). The family gathers around or in front of the Christmas tree and sing songs. Children play the piano, the flute or other instruments, and only after having sung Christmas carols all together, everyone opens their presents. – In Italy, like in the US, it is custom to receive the presents on the 25th. – In many multicultural families it is very difficult to agree on the way to celebrate Christmas, on how and when to hand presents. Is Father Christmas bringing the presents or are they offered by family members? My husband and I agreed that as long as our children believe in Father Christmas (Weihnachtsmann), he would be the one bringing the presents – like Sinterklaas a few weeks earlier. In order to have a smooth transition to the “reality” and less magical Christmas, once they’ll know the truth about Father Christmas, we let extended family offer personal presents, so that our children can thank them for their gifts. This combination of traditions is an important aspect of these celebrations which really needs to be agreed with the whole extended family in order to avoid misunderstandings and frictions.

What we celebrate now

Since we live in the Netherlands, our festive time of the year starts when Sinterklaas arrives to the Netherlands in his stoomboot end of November, and ends the 6th of January with the Heilige Dreikönige and the Befana. – Our children follow the whole story about Sinterklaas and his Zwarte Pieten and zetten de schoenen almost every evening. When Sinterklaas returns to Spain on the 6th December, we start decorating our home for Christmas with symbols.

It is common practice to celebrate the Advent (from Lat. adventus “coming”) by lighting one candle every Sunday before Christmas, to symbolize the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

The readings for the first Sunday in Advent relate to the old testament patriarchs who were Christ’s ancestors, so some call the first advent candle that of hope. The readings for the second Sunday concern Christ’s birth in a manger and other prophecies, so the candle may be called of Bethlehem, the way or of the prophets. The third Sunday, Gaudete Sunday after the first word of the introit (Philippians 4:4), is celebrated with rose-colored vestments similar to Laetare Sunday at the middle point of Lent. The readings relate to St. John the Baptist, and the rose candle may be called of joy or of the shepherds.(…) The readings for the fourth Sunday relate to the annunciation of Christ’s birth, so the candle may be known as the Angel’s candle. (cfr. Wikipedia)

 Advent(1)

Once the advent wreath is in its place, we slowly add a few decorations like candles, the winter scenery our children decided to set up some years ago (and we add some details every year) and a presepe.

NLChristmas Presepe

How we are going to celebrate Christmas this year

This year we’ll celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands. The past we’ve mainly been travelling during this time and this year I really wanted to stay put.

This year, my parents will come to visit and we’re all very excited to have them! We have made plans about what we want to do  with them. Christmas, for me, means to spend time together, to focus on one another and enjoy the festive atmosphere. I like the smell of Christmas: the mix of cinnamon, candles, hot chocolate, sometimes Glühwein, Lebkuchen, roasted almonds and marroni. We’ll have a cenone di Natale with antipasti and fish, and on the 25th we’ll do like the locals and opt for gourmetten: similar to the Swiss raclette, fish, meat and vegetables are cooked on small stoves directly at the table and everyone can serve himself. Or we’ll make a fondue… Our children will open their presents on Christmas Eve and we’ll enjoy the erste Weihnachtsfeiertag by having a great festive lunch and going for a long walk maybe at the beach.

©expatsinebirth2014

©expatsinebirth2014

This year my children will get to decorate the Christmas tree with their grandpa. We’re all not getting any younger and I want this Christmas to be a time to build memories. Christmas is the time of the year where we not only are aware of the beginning of an era – a new year! – but also of the ending of one… For me Christmas is a mix of feelings: some sadness about the year that passed, friends who left, but also the excitement about the new. In German there is a nice word for it: Besinnlichkeit. In some countries people have just celebrated Thanksgiving and this spirit of being grateful and thankful for me is the spirit of Christmas that I want my children to associate with this time of the year. I think this is the heritage I want them to have. No matter how and where they’ll celebrate their future Christmases: I would love them to focus on this Christmas feeling.

Candle and decoration on a German Christmas tree

Candle and decoration on a German Christmas tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know it’s still a few more days until Christmas, but I’d like to wish you all a besinnliche Weihnachtszeit (“reflective Holiday Season”), un buon Natale, un joyeux Noël, en gueti Wienachtsziit, Merry Christmas, Feliz Navidad, Boas Festas and een vrolijk Kerstfeest!

This post is part of the Multicultural Kid Blogs ‘Christmas In Different Lands’ series. Each day of December up until the 25th a different blogger around the world shares a part of their family Christmas.

Bildschirmfoto 2014-12-14 um 11.26.16

Sick at Christmas…

Everything was ready for Christmas. Cards were sent, presents wrapped, house cleaned and everything packed, ready to go to meet family for Christmas.

But then everything changed within a few hours. First this silly wind that made my eyes cry, my nose tickle and then this nasty caught. Suddenly my temperature reached 39°C and I knew that I just had to surrender. The following day I texted family about us not coming on the expected date and just stayed in bed. Two days later I realized that we would probably have to cancel the whole trip as I had a bad flu and I wasn’t probably going to be better before the end of the week.

Being sick at Christmas isn’t really the best timing. But as I always try to find the good side in the bad things that happen to me, I found several reasons why being sick at Christmas wasn’t so bad after all. I had been very busy during the past few months and I was pushing myself very hard. My children had been sick several times, I had helped a few friends who’ve been sick themselves, I had worked a lot and then there were all these Christmas events that I didn’t want to miss this year. The last years I often had to cancel several of these get togethers before Christmas, but this year I managed to go to all of them. – But this made me weaker than I thought. My start into the Holiday Season wasn’t the best.

Now I was forced to rest. In the past 9 years I never stayed sick in bed for longer than 2 days. This time I stood 4 and it felt good! I ate healthy food. And lots of it! I was spoiled by my family. My girls did bring me fresh fruit and fresh fruit juice, my hubby prepared good meals for me, took great care of the children and the household and my son did provide an interesting entertaining programm, distracting me with board games etc. – I’m very grateful.

I didn’t have a “merry” Christmas but a very joyful one. I watched my children getting the best out of this situation. Even if they were sad not being able to celebrate like planned, they were grateful that we were together. I couldn’t be of any help for almost 5 days, so they all had to take care of everything and they did a brilliant job! Obviously, the dinner was everything but christmassy, but the candles on the table and the music in the background created the perfect atmosphere.

I spent most of the time thinking about my friends who are seriously sick during these days, those who are awaiting a diagnosis or have lost precious ones they most love. Then there are all those who spend Christmas alone, hungry, traumatized, grief-stricken. And those who don’t feel the mood to celebrate Christmas because it doesn’t feel right for them right now.

This is why my thoughts and prayers go to all those who didn’t celebrate Christmas this year in the way they were used to or the way they wanted to. Christmas is not about expectations, presents or about how grand the feast will be. It’s about the people we love and the gift that was given to us two thousand years ago: He was the gift to everyone.

Therefore I send a big hug to all those who share my same Christmas experience this year. I’m sure that if you try, you’ll find at least a little something in this Christmas that makes it special, unique.

Christmas…: how to keep it simple

Maybe you spend your holiday season travelling from one family to the other or stay in one place or even at home. Here are some tips on how to reduce stress during these days and to keep everything simple(r):

1 Divide the tasks

If you have guests at Christmas you probably tend to feel responsible that everything is perfect and end up doing everything by yourself? And you get exhausted after a few days? Plan the busiest days in advance by dividing the tasks. Involve your guests, keep them busy.  One can help in the kitchen, the next one can fix the drawer, others can play with the kids or go for a walk… And if you are the guest: offer your help to the host.

2 Don’t bother about what others (could) expect from you

This is in addition to point one. If you have the impression that others might expect „more“ from you, take one step back and let them explain what they mean before getting anxious. It’s often a matter of perception. – And even if others do expect more than we want or can do: it’s their problem, not ours, right?

3 Relax

There is nothing more annoying than a host running around all the time, tidying up and not being able to sit down and relax. If you are the host, plan quiet moments and enjoy your visits. And if you are visiting, give the host the opportunity to rest, sit down and have a chat. By helping with the tasks, like mentioned in 1, you can contribute to a more relaxed and festive atmosphere.

4 Get some me-time

Every family has her own routines and habits. If a few families gather together, after a few days – sometimes even after a few hours – there can be some tensions… It is very important to take one step back every now and then and get some me-time. Twenty minutes can be enough, maybe you need an hour. Long walks or other kind of outings for small groups of like-minded persons in the group can be very beneficial.

5 Keep it simple

You don’t have to be better than last year, the year before or someone else in the family. It’s not a competition and perfection is an illusion. You don’t have to prove to anybody that you’re a good cook, mother, wife, daughter, friend etc. If you’re the host, you’re entitled to set the rules. Lower down the expectations and instead of getting stressed beforehand, organize some help, keep the menues simple(r) and don’t feel responsible for everything. And if you are the guest: try to be proactive and try to help the host. In the end, what we all want is to spend a peaceful and relaxing Christmas.