I am a big fan of traditions, despite the fact that nowadays they perhaps seem to carry a somewhat negative connotation: some people see them as old-fashioned and backward. I believe they are important for a sense of identity and belonging, especially when living away from home and raising children in a different culture. Most traditional holidays have now become terribly commercialized, unfortunately, but going a bit deeper, we realize that those traditions contain certain values that make them special and enriching. The good thing about living abroad is that you can choose which of the old traditions you would like to continue and you can also start new ones. Each family ends up with their own unique mix of old and new that corresponds to their values and the ones they would like to pass on their children.
Here in Switzerland, Christmas has become one of our traditional holiday experiences, although we don’t celebrate it religiously. During the holiday season, we try to focus on creating the kinds of experiences that children enjoy and remember a long time afterward, rather than stocking up on material possessions that are forgotten soon after. Giggles and Cuddles always look forward to baking and decorating Christmas cookies, which we share with close friends and neighbours. They love creating their own Christmas cards and small hand-made Christmas gifts. It teaches them to be giving, to be thoughtful and to invest time in creating something special for someone they care about. Visiting Samichlaus/St. Nicholas in the woods with their kindergarten class is always fun. And it has become a family tradition to spend the Christmas holiday with my husband’s family in London. The girls love being with their grandma, aunt and uncle, and their cousins. The fact that we do this every year teaches them about spending special times with family and gives them continuity and predictability, which is important for little children.
We are also keen on celebrating our own traditional holidays, where we cook the special meals for each occasion, we bake the customary cookies, and we make a point of celebrating with those friends here who have become family. We explain to Giggles and Cuddles what is special about each occasion, the meaning behind it, and the values it carries – such as selflessness, kindness and being thankful. We tell them stories about how we used to celebrate these holidays as children. When those occasions coincide with Swiss school holidays, we go back home, so they get a better feeling for celebrating with extended family. It is difficult, of course, to create the same atmosphere here, but we try because we believe it’s important for our daughters to know their roots and understand their culture. It has also become a family tradition to spend every summer holiday in Egypt on the Mediterranean coast with my entire family and many of my friends. The girls enjoy and always look forward to being with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and their special “summer” friends.
For me, traditions are special, because special occasions or holidays are celebrated with family and close friends. They are about human interaction and creating memories where we come together to tell stories and to laugh, which strengthens our bond with people we care about. In today’s world, the focus is too much on the individual, and interaction and communication have become mostly digital. Therefore, the need for these special occasions is greater. But it could also be that being away from family and close friends makes me value those traditions and those gatherings that much more. How about you? How do you celebrate special holidays? Do you still celebrate with your bigger family? What are your thoughts on old traditions?
Whichever way you celebrate, may your holiday experience be enriching!
By Didi in Zurich
Didi is an Egyptian mother of twin girls living in Zurich. Before having the twins she worked in the field of economic development. She is currently pursuing a degree in children’s rights and excited about where that will lead.
Illustration by BVisual.
Beth (“BVisual”) graduated from university in 2012 after studying visual communication, specialising in illustration. She has since gone on to do various creative projects including being shortlisted for the V&A Student Illustration Awards. Beth has a day job working as a teacher for a special educational needs provision for post-16 learners. She aims to inspire, engage and enable young people to learn and achieve their goals in life. To see more of Beth’s work or get in touch with her, visit her website: https://bvisual.uk/