Now that Thanksgiving has passed and the days that Americans of all religions officially refer to as "The Holidays" are once again upon us, I find myself looking at how this season might feel if one were living abroad. How much of the holiday concept we embrace is a product of the society around us and how much is a more personal experience? In other words, how much is about the state we live in and how much is a state of mind?
As the host of A Place in the Sun, I explore new cultures for a living. Each week, what we air on television is a condensed overview of not just a property search, but a quick peak at the lifestyle and community that exists in foreign lands that have their own unique traditions and customs. But, I was curious how people who have relocated were feeling, if they were far from what they'd always known. So, I've been talking to friends I've met along the way to gain some insight about how celebrating the holidays translates overseas.
Nicole, and her husband Kieren are both actors who are currently living and working in New Zealand. While Nicole is an American, Kieren is a native Kiwi and this past year is the first that they have spent in New Zealand. Not only will Christmas with their four-year-old son be a new experience but it will also be taking place in summer! However, Nicole says that Santa is still an icon in New Zealand and describes the similarities, rather than the differences, leading up to the big day saying "Christmas is such a universal holiday. It would be impossible not to celebrate." And, although it may seem unconventional on the beach and there may be some differences on the menu, "family food and memories seem to be the strongholds of this country as well."
Considering how those who travel to America handle the cultural divide, I was recently informed by an American businessman, John, who spends part of his year in Florida and part in the UK of the large British population who have found one another buying vacation homes in Florida. Apparently due to the influx of Brits, Guy Fawkes Day has become a sort of unofficial holiday in the Orlando region. It seems where a holiday may not have already existed, it is possible to import it, especially if you've got someone to share it with.
Sharing native holidays with other ex-pats was also what I heard about from an attorney, Cheryl, who spent Thanksgiving away during a six month stint in the Caribbean. She got together with other Americans who she actually didn't know very well, and she found it surprisingly meaningful. At dinner, each person went around the room stating something they were thankful for that year and something they want to work to improve the next. "It's a tradition we created together that I would like to continue in the future," she said.
The commonality I found among different people in extremely different countries for different reasons was that spending time "away" for the holidays has been anything but an isolating experience. In fact, reaching out to others and sharing in the spirit of each celebration seemed more clearly a state of mind, without geographical limitations, than I even would have guessed. Combining customs and building communities can all come from the challenge of building something from the foundations of revered traditions that we take with us when travel abroad.
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