Rituals and Traditions: Not Just for Christmas!

Expat Corner: Christmas Traditions

Around October it starts: “Are you staying in Switzerland for Christmas? Are you heading back home? Is the family flying over?”

The answer to these questions is easy: one big, fat, jolly, Father-Christmas-shaped “No!” I am expected to look sad, grumpy or at least a little peeved; however, I confuse people with a grin (a common occurrence).

So we do not have the Christmas I grew up with: I think that’s amazing! Total freedom! We, as a family, have the opportunity to create any type of Christmas that we want. We could have a pink glitter jelly Christmas if we really desired it! We have the freedom to adopt new ways and bin the old (including being forced to watch the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day – sorry, Granny!).

We have developed new traditions and rituals, such as the annual Stuffing of a Christmas Pudding Into Easy Jet Carry-On Luggage; the Father-Daughter Hunting Expedition for The Christmas Tree which is then hauled back on the local bus (yup, a six-foot tree!); and of course The Finding of The Turkey in Coop at a price that always reduces me to giggles. We can bring the rituals from our lands into our homes (but please, never at the price of stress and grief) and we can adopt the rituals of our new land. I recommend the ritual concerning the drinking of Glühwein for an easy start. Be guided by what makes you smile, not by what makes you feel like a slave to tradition.

We have this one, sweet, crazy life and we can make of it what we will. Rituals are not simply for Christmas. They can be scattered throughout the year to mark those occasions and events where time needs to be slowed down and savoured.

The human soul can always use a new tradition. Sometimes we require them.
– Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

On Facebook we have been having the most wonderful discussion about the rituals expat mums have developed to cope with lone parenting whilst their partners travel. These rituals help turn this challenging and exhausting time into something special. A common ritual is the watching of movies that would make our partners roll their eyes, often in PJ’s with chocolate, wine, or both. My daughter and I have a ritual of hiring a movie, snuggling down together on beanbags and scoffing popcorn. It’s how we turn our sadness about Daddy being away into a time where we appreciate each other.

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet. – Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love

My rituals are an insight into how my family totters along: a reflection of our crazy little world. They create a sense of who we are. Rituals can be as big as a six-foot Christmas tree or as small as a bath-time puppet that blows bubbles. A review of 50 years’ of research* published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that routines and rituals may contribute to the health and well-being of families. More importantly, family rituals and traditions give structure to what it means to knock along together – no matter where you are in the world. This creates a feeling of love and safety for our children (and us!) when we relocate, and it creates crazy stories for our children to tell their children: “Remember when Grandma used to sing Mary Poppins songs when setting off on holiday…?”

Your family is completely unique; what rituals do you have? What rituals would you like to develop to celebrate life and the passage of time? What would you like to borrow from Switzerland and what would you like to keep with you?

*Fiese B, Tomcho T, Douglas M, et al. “A Review of 50 Years of Research on Naturally-Occurring Family Routines and Rituals: Cause for Celebration?”  Journal of Family Psychology. 2000;16:381-390.

By Tammy Furey

Tammy is a coach, writer and blogger who lives in St. Gallen with her husband and daughter whilst attempting (badly) to speak German and fold her paper recycling in the correct manner.  www.fureycoaching.com   She also runs a free expat Facebook support group for mums: https://www.facebook.com/groups/whiteknuckleparenting/

Illustration by Susana Gutierrez

Susana is the mother of two little girls and a freelance illustrator. She can be reached at s.escapa@gmail.com

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