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Holiday Traditions for Expats and Global Families

Bethany Edwards

Columnist, Multicultural Education at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Bethany is an elementary teacher/reading specialist from San Diego, California and has taught internationally in Turkmenistan, Egypt, Ukraine, Latvia, and Mauritania. Read more under "Columnists."

Whether you celebrated Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa, I hope you enjoyed festive times with family and friends.

As a serial globetrotter, I want to share with you a few holiday traditions for expats and global families that have helped us stay connected to “home.”

Holiday Traditions for Expats and Global Families

As the snowstorms take over many parts of the world the past couple of weeks, I found myself on my little island of peace in San Diego to visit my family for the holidays. Day after day we wake up to sunshine.  After living through freezing cold winters in Europe, I appreciate being home more than ever. I know so many friends who can’t wait for the snow to fall, and here I am in my flip flops brainstorming ways to bring the sunshine back home with me.




Adopting Traditions from Around the World

When I think of the holidays, I do not think of snow, warm blankets, and cocoa. Instead, I think of taking homemade eggnog and cinnamon coffee cake to the beach on Christmas morning. I think of reading Pride and Prejudice for the 20th time with our windows open rather than the fireplace going. I dream of making gingerbread houses on the back patio outdoors. Not once in my childhood did we turn on the heater due to the mountains of snow covering the yard.

As I moved around the world the past 8 years, I tried to recreate these holiday traditions. I took African tea and my travel book to Lake Victoria one Christmas. Another time I had mint tea and a copy of Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina on the Nile River.

One Christmas, we came to Sicily from Northern Europe and even though it was only 50 degrees on the Mediterranean Sea, I sat on the beach with a light jacket and flip-flops determined to feel like I was “home”. We all go to great lengths to connect with our past, our family, and the things we love most.

Adopting a Travel Family

What I learned from being an ex-patriate for so many years is that I don’t necessarily NEED the beach or warm weather to feel at “home”. All I need is to have my family (whether real family or friends I have adopted as my family).  Together, we recreate traditions in simple ways.

I didn’t always have the books or ingredients I “needed” overseas. However, I learned new traditions from people all over the world. Some I adapted, or just simply added to my own traditions list because they were amazing. The end goal is the same; to pass down traditions to my children just as they were passed onto me.




One tradition that I have kept, as well as passed on, is making a list of goals for the upcoming year. It started back in 2005 when a couple of old roommates of mine got together for a girls weekend each year after college. This lasted exactly 2 years. I am sure many of you can relate to this. Unfortunately, friends come and go sometimes; even the best ones.

I now travel with a group we affectionately call our “gypsy family” as we all move around the globe and travel often. We continue the tradition of sharing our goals for the year (professional, personal, travel, physical, financial, family goals) with each other at Christmas time; then discuss our progress when we meet up in the summer, and again when the year is over. There are many goals that get crossed out, added, changed, revised because again, that is the reality.

Making Goals With Children for 2018

I am sure many of you are thinking of your goals for 2018 aka New Year’s Resolutions… but have you thought about doing the same for your kids? One of my favorite holiday traditions for expats is goal setting for the year to come.

For those who may not have begun talking about goals with your children, this is your year! The categories include things to try, places to travel, milestones to achieve, etc.

Having clear goals, even for young children, helps them reach their potential. When my daughter was 2, one of her goals was to go to the “grocery store that sells gingerbread men”. This year; to become the President of the United States).

Recording the wonderful accomplishments of the year, as well as the dreams and aspirations of kids as they grow up is priceless. (Any teachers out there, goal/dream lists make the most amazing parent gift for the holidays.)  I encourage you to download the free goal setting template for children.

Celebrate Failures Too

Kids need to be explicitly taught there will always be people who will stand in your way. Whether it is intentional or not, or whether you love that person or not, no one can stop you… not even your own family. 




Note: The links below are represent our affiliation with Amazon. Should you find our links helpful and choose to make a purchase after clicking on them, we will get a very small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase will help us keep this self-funded, volunteer-run website free to our readers. Thank you. 

Top 3 Picture Books for Teaching Resiliency

Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to save History) (Or at Least My History Grade) (An Oh No! Picture Book)

Come With Me by Holly McChee




The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken

These brilliant books show kids they CAN and WILL fail. However, to be resilient after a failure is most important.

Adults, be sure to also check out: Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carroll Tavris. When you read it, please comment below and tell me your thoughts.

This book changed who I am as a parent, an educator, and a friend.


Note to our readers: This is our columnist, Bethany Edwards’s last column for theParentVoice. We wish her the very best as she ventures on to new adventures. Thank you for having been a part of theParentVoice, and one of our strongest supporters. You will be missed. 

the author

Bethany is an elementary teacher/reading specialist from San Diego, California and has taught internationally in Turkmenistan, Egypt, Ukraine, Latvia, and Mauritania. Read more under "Columnists."

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