By Felicia S.
My kids say go, my husband says stay, my mom would love it if we came home and my friends all say “do what feels right”. When it comes to going home for the holidays, it can be hard to know what’s right. It is one of the greater stressors in the expat life as far as I am concerned. Do I pay overpriced holiday fares and pack up the kids in order to spend two weeks with family, undoubtedly jet-lagged and tired for much of the time? Do we really want to cram into guestrooms and live out of suitcases for a fortnight? Do we want to return home jet-lagged (again), tired (again) and spend the next ten days playing catch up?
Having lived far away from home for many years now, these are questions I have asked myself too many times to count. I have not always been able to combine my desire to be with friends and family from back home, with the desire to have a holiday on my own terms (or just a holiday where I am not perpetually tired). Part of the problem when you are trying to make everyone happy is that you tend to forget about yourself and what it is that works for you and your family.
The first few years we lived abroad we always went home for the holidays. I wanted the traditions and comfort of the known and the familiarity of my friends and family. It was also what my family back home wanted, so I guess, for a while, I managed to make everyone happy – at least sort of. It was what I wanted but not necessarily what I needed.
It was hard work to go back home with two small kids – California to Sweden is a full day of travel and the time difference is pretty brutal when you are trying to get through the days and the nights with a toddler and a baby. When we came back to California after a couple of weeks in Sweden, we were all wrecks, not to mention broke. More importantly, I felt as if we were not giving ourselves a chance to start our own holiday traditions.
Once we had our third child, the decision to not go home was more or less made for us — it was getting too expensive and it took too much out of us. With kids in school and activities, it was also getting harder to combine time off with everyday commitments. I was relieved, albeit a little sad. It was not necessarily the most popular decision with my family back home; they of course wanted to see us, but I think they understood.
Staying in our new country gave us a chance to start our own traditions and also to share our traditions from back home with new friends, who in turn would let us get a glimpse of their way of celebrating the holidays. It is a bit funny, but as an expat your home traditions become more important. There is something about the symbolic value and the connection you feel with home that intensifies the meaning of the celebratory rituals you follow, the food you eat and the songs you sing. The beauty of combining your old traditions with ones you pick up in your new country can be exhilarating and fun and will eventually become part of your own tradition.
To me, the question of staying or going is no longer a big issue. We stay and we enjoy!