Expat Christmas Traditions - Live Work Travel USA|Live Work Travel USA

Expat Christmas Traditions


Life as an expat gives you the chance to either experience and adapt to a new culture as is, or you carry over some of your own traditions and blend it all together. The best of both worlds so to speak.

Christmas is a great example and is generally celebrated the same, but with some slight traditional variations. It starts with the time to get a Christmas tree. In Germany my parents used to get it at the local Christkindl market on the 23rd and put it up on December 24th right on time for Christmas. In the US, people usually start to get a tree after Thanksgiving, so that they can enjoy it up until Christmas. You also have the choice between a real tree and a huge variety of plastic trees in all colors. You’re into pink? No problem, Home Depot will have an all pink tree for you. Snow white with lights in all colors? You got it!  I actually prefer the American way and we always get our (real) tree early December. It gets thrown out shortly after Christmas anyways, so why not enjoy it a little longer. And I really like the smell of it.

Another tradition that we picked up from the USA is the Elf on the Shelf*. My daughter loves it when “Elfie” sits at a new place in our house every morning and it also helps to remind her of being nice not naughty, because Elfie is going to tell Santa every night what he observed. Not sure if the Elf on the Shelf is popular in Germany or the rest of Europe, my parents however never had his help, neither does my brother today with his kids.

car_w_rudolphAmerica is the land of the extreme and so it’s only natural that they go all out with their Christmas decoration. Watch Christmas Vacation* with Chevy Chase and you get a pretty good idea of how some people go crazy with decorating their house inside and out. Even cars have little Rudolf antlers and the red nose on the grille. I’ve seen pick up trucks with full Christmas tree and lighting in the back including ornaments.

What I also like to keep up is drinking Glühwein (hot sweet wine beverage with lots of spices) and eating Christstollen (cake with lots of raisins and almond paste) to get into the right Christmas mood.  The Glühwein is a little hard to find in the U.S., but ALDI usually has the Christstollen and sometimes even Glühwein. Spekulatius and Lebkuchen (gingerbread cookies) are also treats, that I like to eat during Christmas time. Spekulatius is a type of spiced shortcrust biscuit with very rich flavor. Again, ALDI usually has it in stock same as Lebkuchen leading up to Christmas.

Kids all over the world are looking forward to the Christmas presents, but the question of who brings them is answered very differently.  In most parts of Europe, the from Martin Luther promulgated “Christkind” brings the presents while in other countries the gift bringer is traditionally Santa Clause.  The day of the gift giving is also different. In Germany kids get to unwrap the presents on Christmas Eve, while in the U.S. it’s the morning of Christmas Day.

Being between both worlds, my wife and I pick and choose the best Christmas traditions from both our homeland and our country of choice. So, we buy our tree early and unwrap the presents on Christmas Eve. But it’s kinda difficult to explain the difference of Christkind and Santa Clause to our 6 year old daughter.  We ended up saying that the Christkind is helping out Santa in Germany and that Santa brings her presents a day early in the States. The best of both worlds 🙂

I reached out to Simona from Italy and Katariina from Finland to see what Christmas traditions they carried over to the USA. Here’s what they told me:

From Simona (Italy)

downloadThe one Holiday tradition from my Italian childhood that I carried with me to California is the Christmas tree. When I was a child the Holidays for me started when we drove to the place just outside my hometown (Perugia) where our fir tree spent the months between Holidays. We drove back home with the fir tree in its large pot in the trunk. It wasn’t a tall tree, so it didn’t stick out too much over the car roof. Once it was placed in its corner of the living room, I touched the short needles and inhaled the balsam smell and was transported in a land of woods and snow far away from where I lived.

Christmas, the Winter solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other seasonal holidays celebrate light and life so for me it is important that the symbol I use to celebrate this time of the year is alive. In the past, I have had troubles keeping a small tree in pot from one Holiday season to the next, but last year I tried again: I bought a small fir from a local nursery. After the Holidays, I put it in a larger pot, made sure it was in a suitable location in our garden and gave it a bit of water when needed. On Thanksgiving Day, I brought it inside and set it up with the same excitement I felt as a child. I have a small number of decorations handmade by local artists: my American Christmas tree is simple, rustic and much loved.

Buone Feste!

Visit Simona’s blog at www.Pulcetta.com

From Katariina (Finland)

Glogg_ingredientsIn Finland our dinners consisted of all the traditional Finnish Christmas foods including mustard coated ham, rutabaga-, carrot- and sweetened potato casseroles, gravlax, gingerbread cookies, grandmother’s fruit salad and prune tarts. Christmas morning tradition was rice porridge with cinnamon, sugar and milk.

I’ve never made Finnish Christmas foods since moving to the US, but one tradition I’ve hold onto is warm glogg that instantly transports me to Finland. Glogg is a type of mulled wine that can be made from mixing dark red juices (cranberry, lingonberry, black currant or red grape) with red wine or other liquor, and spices. It’s super easy to make and there’s tons of variations. Here’s my favorite recipe:

½ l juice of your choice (or mixture of juices)
½ l red wine (optional)
2-4 cinnamon sticks
8 cardamon seeds
clove, nutmeg, allspice, orange peel to your taste

Heat the ingredients in a pot on a very low temperature. Do not let boil. Spices should be infused to the liquid slowly. Serve with cinnamon stick or a candy cane. Drop a few blanched almonds and raisins in serving mugs with spoon in them and pour the hot glogg over.

Visit Katariina’s blog at www.LifeisSweetinNYC.com

Merry Christmas everybody and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, enjoy the time off and spend it with your family.

See you in 2015!

Photo credit: V Smoothe / Decor Love / CC BY

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2 Responses to “Expat Christmas Traditions”

  1. Simona says:

    I wish I could stop by Katariina’s place for some gravlax and then by your place for some Stollen tomorrow. I like to read about other countries’ traditions. Happy Holidays to you and your family.

    • Dan says:

      And then we both stop by your place for some “Christbaum loben” , that’s a Bavarian tradition, where you go to other people’s houses and admire their Christmas trees, just to get booze 🙂

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