Investing in Traditions That Travel Well

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Life abroad is a trade off isn’t it?  You give some things up.  You get some things back.

Some would call it a sacrifice which is perfectly accurate for so many.  I prefer the term investment for myself.  Both start with letting go of something but a sacrifice let’s go with no expectation or hope for return.

Truly and entirely selfless.  Those people are my heros.

BUT

I’m getting way too much out of this to think that I have genuinely sacrificed anything (especially in comparison to those people).  I’ve given things up but I’m an investor and frankly the returns are phenomenal.

To be clear — I’m not talking money here.

My investment has been comfort, connection and confidence.

I’ve given up things like a room full of power tools, a bathroom that doesn’t smell like raw sewage and literacy.  Those are trivial compared to the relational investments — sure would be nice to drop the kids at Grandma and Grandpa’s for the day.

I’m whining a bit but I’m not complaining.  The returns are not lost on me — I’m getting a bottomless adventure, a network of close friends from every continent (except Antarctica), kids who will never be held back by words like, “that’s too far to travel”, free language lessons with every taxi ride, fabulous family selfies, street food that would make your head spin and a chance to live out my calling every single day.

Seriously — not complaining — but I do miss my family.  Especially this time of year.  

The holiday season has me thinking about traditions.  Are they an investment or a sacrifice?

I feel like many expats buy into the idea that when you live abroad you have to check your traditions at the airport.  Just put them on pause until you get back “home”.  A total sacrifice on the altar of “that’s not an option here”.

I don’t buy it.

Traditions, for the expat (and the repat), are one of the great opportunities for something solid in a life which is otherwise incessantly marked by change.  Adaptation is required to be sure.  Adjustment is essential.  You can’t do this without some tweaks and twerks and modifications but rock solid traditions are worth the investment.

My family needs that.  I need that.

So I’m investing in a solid set of traditions (holiday and otherwise) that can remain constant here, there or anywhwere.

sidenote: Twerks are probably less essential to this process than tweaks and modifications.  Please consult a doctor before you include twerking in your family traditions.  Please also consult your family.  

When you squeeze the old, stable customs through the filter of expat realities you end up with a set of TRAVELING TRADITIONS that can go with you wherever you land.

 

I’m working on mine and here are some things that I’m considering:

 

Traveling Traditions should focus on people not places. 

We don’t have the luxury of going to Grandmother’s house every year let alone going over the same river or through the same woods.  Our stability will likely never be a place.  It is people (namely us).

 

Traveling Traditions should be focused on what “can always” instead of what “can here”.

Every true tradition must be held to the test . . . could we still do this if we lived in Dubai or Moscow or Bangkok or Atlantis?  If not then it always runs the risk of extinction with the next move . . . or the one after that.

 

Traveling Traditions should be focused on small and not large.

Ornaments travel.  Trees, not so much.  We are mobile people.  Our traditions should not be tethered to “things” that cannot move with us.

 

Traveling Traditions are more likely to need “translating” than simply “transplanting“.

Traditions probably won’t ever move seamlessly between spots on the planet but discovering how to convert the heart of the old into a new location or culture is worth some thought.  sidenote: something is always lost in translation which does not render it unworth translating.

 

Traveling Traditions should be firmly flexible. 

I am 100% dead set, unflinchingly convinced and resolved that our traditions will move forward according to our plan, absolutely . . . until they don’t.  Then I’ll be flexible.  We’re expats so we’ve already learned something about flexibility.  It keeps us from breaking.

 

Traveling Traditions should break the time-space continuum.

20 years from now I want my kids to finish the sentence, “When I was a child my parents always made us ______________”.   Then I want them to wrack their brains figuring out how they’re going to get their families to love it as much as they did.

 

We have a wonderfully challenging, beautifully transient life.  Things change regularly and rapidly even when we don’t go anywhere.  We make more friends than we ever dreamed we would, engage more cultures than we even knew existed and say more goodbyes than we ever signed on for.

Considering the fact that pretty much everything changes on a regular basis for the average expat  . . . something needs to stay the same.

 

Traditions are worth the investment but they are certainly not without return.

 

What have you learned about maintaining your traditions in a constantly changing life?  

What are your favorite Traveling Traditions?

 

 

3 Comments

  1. We do an advent calendar every Christmas with a slip of paper each day with something fun to do each day. We actually bought the calendar in China and it’s traveled with us back to the US. We all look forward to it and we can fill it with things that work in each place we live.

    Reply
  2. In our family (four children ranging from 1-10), each person gets and wraps gifts for every other person. (If the child is under 2, I buy and wrap the gifts “from” them for them to hand out.) On Christmas morning, each person gathers the gifts they are giving and we take turns giving the gifts one at a time. This focuses on giving rather than receiving. This tradition travels well. Besides the U.S., we have lived in a small village in Belize, Central America and now a city in China. One year gifts were wrapped with used printer paper decorated with markers, but the kids still loved shopping, wrapping, and giving their gifts.

    Reply
  3. I resonated with your comment that “ornaments travel well” That’s something I’ve managed to bring along on moves to, within, and back from China – a few special ones made by grandmothers or tied to other growing-up memories. (With a few left behind “at home” as well so that I could lose my luggage one day without losing them all!) There have been a few years in my life when a tree wasn’t practical (including one or two in America), but I can at least hang some string to put the ornaments up. I think caroling would also be a good tradition to take along. I’ve done it in two different Chinese cities, though it hasn’t been an every-year thing. Playing favorite Christmas albums. Hanging up strings of lights in my home, whether or not they’re actually on a tree. Making cookies or candy (perhaps fudging the ingredients a bit!). But yeah, not every tradition I love travels so well – for example, I’ve never managed to pull together a symphony, professional soloists, and large audience/chorus for a Messiah Sing-Along outside of the traditional one my hometown!

    Reply

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