December is coming, and for many of us, it means the approaching of the Christmas season. The Christmas, in most cultures, is a holiday that is strongly associated with the family. No wonder that when living abroad and being far away from your home and family, one might feel homesick or nostalgic.
Bringing a piece of your home with its traditions to the celebration of Christmas abroad can help you to keep the blue mood at bay.
Some countries and religions do not celebrate Christmas at all, for the obvious reasons. What is surprising, however, is that how different could be the traditions even inside the same religion (Christianity) when it comes to the celebration of Christmas.
In this article, we decided to share with you our own experience with the Christmas celebration as Slovak and as Russian living abroad, as well as give you some practical ideas on how to transmit your culture when celebrating Christmas.
Martina’s experience and her Slovak Christmas:
Making your own “tradition” that follows your family everywhere you move is important for your kids, especially if you live abroad. In this way, despite the changing environment, kids will have something that is repeated every year and that helps them to build their identity. For example, for me when I was growing up in Slovakia, those traditions included: to have honey and chopped garlic on the table (plus some typical wafers, here in NY I can find them in the store SlovCzechVar) and eat those in the beginning of the Christmas Eve dinner. This should represent being healthy. Likewise, putting some money bills under the tablecloth would represent a rich year ahead.
Living in New York, these symbols are still part of our Christmas Eve celebration. Our menu is always composed out of East-Slovak traditional dishes “Kapustnica” – cabbage soup, fried fish with potatoes salad and “Bobaľky” – homemade buns soaked in the warm milk, mixed with poppy seeds and sugar and poured by melt butter. While, on the next day, we usually bring at least one element from my spouse’s culture, Mauritian crab soup. And we may start with Foie Gras, that we carried from the previous holidays in France.
If you grew up like me in the ex-socialist country, you may remember that on every single year during the morning of Christmas Eve, we used to watch Mrazik, which is an old Soviet film about the adventures of Nastya in the woods. Try to watch it with your kids now.
Mrazik or its Russian spelling “Morozko” brings us to the testimony of Maria and the Christmas in Russia.
Maria’s experience and her Russian Christmas
The Christmas in Russia has its own particularities and differences. Even though the Orthodoxy is the prevailing religion in Russia, we don’t celebrate Christmas on 24th December, but rather on 6th January. This is due to the fact, that Russian Orthodox Church continues using the old Julian calendar for religious holidays, so the 24th December in Julian calendar corresponds to the 6th January in the Gregorian one.
The Christmas celebration was essentially banned during the USSR period – back when it was an atheistic state. Instead, we got a replacement of the celebration in the form of the New Year (in the night from 31st December to 1st January). Hence, we have a “New Year’s” Tree instead of Christmas tree, and we give presents in the New Year’s Eve and not on the Christmas’ Eve.
In the last years, the Christmas slowly start to recover its importance in Russia, people are looking back at the old traditions and want to re-implement it. One of the most extraordinary features of the Russian Christmas is the tradition of the fortune-telling during the Christmas period. Basically, is a weird mix of the paganism (magic, divination) and the religious holiday – something that is pretty common in Russia.
As a kid (or rather as an early teen), I remember myself playing those fortune-telling games with my friends before the Christmas. It was a very exciting, scarring and magic activity with very ancient roots. The goal is to predict your future, and more particularly to guess your future boyfriend/husband.
There are plenty of ways to play it. Some involve a lot of preparations and tools like nutshells, threads, candles, coffee or tea grounds, mirrors, brushes, rings etc. The divination is always performed at night, using a candle as a light source.
If you don’t take the fortune-telling games serious but rather as another fun activity to spend time with friends or kids on Christmas, this could be another manner to share the part of your culture when living abroad.
So what are our tips to make you feel like home during the Christmas when living abroad?
1) Make your own decorations
Making your own decorations with kids is a wonderful way to build family memories. Kids love to be involved in such activities, as it makes them feel that Christmas is “closer” and they are always excited about this time of the year:
- Advent Wreath: make your own using the evergreens, if possible, so your house will smell good (you’ll find some ideas on Pinterest)
- Christmas Tree decoration: bake some gingerbread that you can decorate and hang on the Christmas tree, or make some Snowflake Ornaments cut out of a paper. Check again on Pinterest how you can use various materials and ornaments.
- Postcards to send to your family and friends
2) Re-create your traditional Christmas meal
Cooking the traditional Christmas meal is always a good idea, that will immediately make you feel like home but also will be another possibility to transmit your culture to the guests or children.
If you are looking for some inspiration in Czecho-Slovak culture and you live in the US, here are some tips: Slovak Homemade Cakes, Czech cookbook, or what about finding some traditional recipe modernized and sublimated by Florian from his blog Food Perestroika. If you want to prepare some Christmas cookies you can purchase Baking Moulds and Shape Cutters online.
3) Send gifts to your loved ones
Small gestures of affection towards the loved ones will not only make them happy but also will make you feel better when celebrating the Christmas abroad.
Here is the example of gifts “Made in Slovakia” from SASHE – some designers agree to send to worldwide. Otherwise, these could be good to offer to your family living in Slovakia or Czech Republic.
Then, there is ETSY – platform, that gathers numerous designers and producers from the whole world. Some ideas from the Russian ETSY shops:
4) Organize a Skype call for a Christmas dinner
We’ve all been there. Sometimes is not possible to travel to your homeland for the holidays but the Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without family. No worries. Why not organize a skype call/conference with your family during the dinner? Even if it doesn’t feel exactly the same as staying together in one house, but it is pretty close to it.
Set up a camera/iPad/notebook and enjoy the dinner while sharing the jokes and warm chit-chat with your family.
And what about you? Share with us your tips on how to celebrate the Christmas abroad and to stay connected to your roots.
Written by Martina Hornakova & Maria Migalina