“Home” for the Holidays
For Third Culture Kids, the definition of home is a tricky one. For people who are often on the move, develop roots and then are uprooted, have family, friends and passports in and from a country in which they don’t reside, the word “home” is never easy.
So now, it’s holiday time, and we have the added warm, fuzzy, seasonal concept, complete with a sentimental Bing Crosby classic and a more upbeat Perry Como song, of being “home” for the holidays. So what, exactly, does that mean for Third Culture Kids?
Like many realities for Third Culture Kids, or at least the ones I know on an up close and personal level, “home”, in relation to holidays, is also transient. My oldest daughter was born in December, in The Netherlands. Her very first holiday “home” was Holland. We sent a faxed picture of our newborn, wrapped in swaddling H & M clothing, to her grandparents back in the U.S. They proudly displayed the grainy black and white photo on their Christmas tree, as my extended family gathered for the Christmas Eve tradition at the home of my youth.
We, however, spent three more years in Holland, often with birthday visits from grandparents, getting to know a guy named Sinterklaas. He came to our little village by ship on a canal, and was accompanied by mischievous elves called Zwarte Piet, who handed out delicious, little, ginger bread cookies known as pepernoten. My youngest daughter was born in springtime in Holland, but didn’t spend a Christmas there. Still, she knows a lot about the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas, and also learned songs and colored pictures that included Sinterklaas, Zwarte Piet and boots filled with treats.
Soon after my second daughter was born, we moved to New Jersey with our family of four, and this became our new “home” for the holidays. Our first year back in the states, we bought a live Christmas tree to plant in the yard of our newly built home. We watched it grow, like the strong friendships around us, for the three years we lived there. Like many American families, after Santa came and stockings were emptied, we packed our gear into the mini-van and headed to relatives and traditions across the country in Ohio. Snow and ice were often a part of the journey, as were sharing Christmas songs and cookies.
Then came the offer to head back to Europe, and we spent the next few years enjoying the charms of an Austrian Christmas. The Advent season is huge in Austria, with sweet-filled advent calendars a necessary purchase in grocery stores, and the beautiful town hall (Rathaus), a larger-than-life advent calendar with number-filled windows. Christmas Markets can be found throughout the city. Our family’s favorite is still the one in front of Schoenbrunn Palace, in the neighborhood of our first Austrian home.
As time went on and ski lessons accumulated, we started a new tradition of Christmas in Obertauern, a beautiful ski village. Our lodgings had a huge Christmas tree, warm fire places, and delicious, hearty meals that were likely to add some extra winter insulation. The Weihnachtsman (Christmas Man) made his way to the mountains, visiting the Christmas Eve festivities with a gift for each child. We spent wonderful seasonal holidays with dear friends and their children, and for a few years, this was our “home” for the holidays.
Then, the girls got a bit older and wanted to reconnect with extended family, and, hit the holiday sales. “Home” once again became Ohio, as we would fly in for the gatherings, a white elephant pre-Christmas party with aunts, uncles and cousins, and then Christmas with my parents, and brother’s family that involved a gift exchange, favorite hymns at church, and a visit from Santa in the morning. We were fortunate to spend time with my husband’s sister’s family who lived in the area and often made a trip north to visit my husband’s parents and brothers. On these whirlwind holiday trips to America, my girls and I got proficient at speed wrapping, and Amazon became my best friend as I shipped things to my parents’ house, awaiting our arrival. Dinners or outings with friends were added treats and marathon mall visits, in order to pick up the best after-Christmas bargains, were many.
Now, our “home” for the holidays, has shifted again. With my eldest being back in the U.S. for college, she had a strong desire to head to her Vienna “home” this year. She’s already making plans to reconnect, as many of the people in her life head back to this area. And the rest of us are pretty happy to be keeping a more relaxed pace this year. We’ll be hanging out with those overseas friends that become more like family, without the packing, gathering presents and passports, and praying for safe travels that don’t involve delays, jet-lag, air sickness, and germs…all unwelcome ghosts of Christmases past.
So happy holidays to all, and especially you Third Culture Kids, wherever this year’s “home” for the holidays may be. There is no place like “home” for the holidays. Even if – no, especially if- your “home” is a wonderful multitude of places, people, languages, foods, experiences, and warm, fond memories.