7 Ways Traditions Foster a Healthy Expat Identity

Sometimes you have a tradition that, despite the complexity of the task, you do it so frequently that it becomes like second nature. There are rituals to it, set ways of doing things, recipes for just the right amount of each fraction of the experience.

It’s a bit like that with our annual Christmas Eve Potluck. Yes – I’m totally talking about Christmas on the first of October. Eeek! I know, but keep reading as I get to my point…

This year will be our 7th time to host the party (9th if you count earlier, much smaller versions). And while we’re still a few months away, this is about the time I start thinking about the process. I know by now exactly what we need so I’ve long since learned how to minimize the potential stress and plan ahead. To be honest, even though it’s usually a huge party, it’s never in the least bit stressful. It’s a celebration of love and gratitude. Come December 24th, I don’t think I’d ever want to be anywhere else. It has become one of the defining traditions of our life as a family.

We often think of the importance of traditions and rituals in the context of creating a home space or in building family unity, but for expats, there’s even more to it. When we move frequently from place to place, creating rituals, adhering to traditions and enjoying celebrations makes a globally mobile life more than just the transitions, baggage, and upheaval. It helps us define the very nature of who we are in the midst of those things.

Traditions and rituals help us express ourselves fully in new spaces and remind us who we are in familiar ones. They can help us build community, learn new things about ourselves and create a sense of home no matter where we go. They are the medium through which we learn to simply be regardless of where we’re physically planted.

In short – committing to rituals and traditions and taking time to mark important milestones with celebrations shouldn’t be an after-thought. These aspects are key for living a healthy, connected and fulfilling life as an expat.

Here are some important reminders about what cultivating a spirit of tradition, ritual and celebration can do for your expat life.

Traditions, rituals and celebrations help you:

Claim your home space. When you move a lot, it can feel like the place you’ve landed is just a house. Creating rituals – like a family photo wall, or letting your kids choose which color they want to paint their rooms – allows you to fully turn a house into a home. They foster a sense of comfort with your new space.

Get creative. Anyone who’s tried to bake a family recipe in a country where half the ingredients don’t exist knows exactly what I’m talking about here. Committing to carrying on family traditions despite being in unfamiliar territory means we find completely new and unique ways to do things we love and that’s a really good way to stretch our brains outside our comfort zones.

Become the expert. Except for perhaps your extended family, who likely live very far away, no one but you understands the rituals unique to your family. This means you’re introducing a new custom from your home country to people who may have never experienced it before. You get to teach people about new and interesting ways traditions are practiced around the world. When you live a life where you’re often in the early stages of learning completely new things, it can feel really good to be the expert at something and to share that experience with others.

Set goals. Living outside your home culture means that it takes a lot more prep-work to do the things that would be easy if you were back home. Knowing you might have a longer way to go to follow through with a tradition or celebration helps you plan ahead and strategize how to reach your goals. When you reach your goals, the feeling of having accomplished something is a really nice boost to your self-confidence.

Foster group cohesion. Having regular traditions, rituals and celebrations can help you connect with other expats who share similar customs. This is a really great way to bring people together – even if they normally wouldn’t have much in common. We get to say, “Yes! I do that too!” That can be a nice feeling when you’re far from home and, at the transition phase, is an excellent way to begin to feel a part of something.

Create built-in pauses to be in the moment. This is so very important! Milestones are worth celebrating, but it can be tempting to blow them off whenever life gets hectic (as it always does when you’re living between worlds). By acknowledging the significance of meaningful life events (like birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries) with set rituals and traditions, we remind ourselves to slow down and observe the passage of time. They remind us that the only moment we really have is the one we’re in right now.

Build community. Celebrating and sharing in traditions brings people together! Whether it’s over a favorite traditional meal, through religious or cultural celebrations or simply by taking time to create new moments to mark important milestones – people enjoy connecting as a community! The people we encounter in our journey from home to home are, without question, what really make the world go round.

So, as you transition into a new season, one that often comes with a whole new array of opportunities for tradition, ritual and celebration – what will you be doing to mark this unique and special passage of time? And – how will those special moments help you feel more like yourself, no matter where you go?

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