I have just managed to celebrate my own birthday among family and old friends :) It is something I think I had not done since I started living abroad, getting close to 18 years ago… I have always tried to celebrate this date while abroad but it always came out ‘somewhat different’. Yes, age (or maturity!) also matters: I certainly don’t want to have the same birthday parties I had when I was 12 ;) Yet the feeling was always a bit different.
This reminded me of rituals and how important they can be in any society and culture. They suggest to us what is meaningful and valued in that context, though ‘tradition’ can often sweep in as an invisible source for shared activities that no one consciously accepted to follow. Rituals can include a wide range of shared practices, from exchanging rings, certain objects or gestures (ex: greetings), songs, dances, and (yup!) special food and drink.
In any case, we all tend to celebrate major life events, such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc, as well as more specific cultural or religious events (Christmas, Holi, Bar Mitzvas and baptisms, Ramadan, Eid, New Year, etc).
Once you start moving across countries, and especially going across cultural borders, it can get quite messy to keep track of all your ‘new home’ rituals and still respect your original ones.
I’ve found expat weddings, those where the bride and groom come from different countries, to be the most challenging ones. As if it were not enough to have to appease 2 different families ;) you have to combine rituals from 2 cultures, often in a third country, which often ends up in something between 1-3 different ceremonies, parties, receptions, etc., often with the need (if not for language, at least) for cultural translations.
So, thinking about this topic of cross-cultural rituals, here are my tips for you this time. Reflect on the following and make your conscious choices:
Ultimately, the challenge is to reflect on how can you turn a ritual into a way to both express what you choose to still carry on from your original country AND a way to feel more at home in your host country?
Celebrations (tiny or big) are a very important element in our lives, whether in the creation of habits or in feeling more at home in a new place and group (city, country, company, hobby group, …). Linking our chosen rituals with celebration moments can be extremely effective in improving our well-being, but letting go of unwanted/unhelpful rituals can do that too; it opens space for redefining who you are, who you want to be now.
Borrowing and adjusting Stephen Covey’s quote:
“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my chosen rituals and celebrations.”
In short, which rituals you choose to observe or not, which ones you incorporate into your (upgraded) identity or not, is something that is in your control to a great extent.
You might not be able to convince your children to no longer celebrate Christmas ;) , but you can adjust what it means, the value it has for you and your family. You can even let go of unhelpful celebrations and rituals. Be courageous! Choose who you want to be and what rituals you wish to endorse or not!
Be happy! :)
[First published on 5 October 2023 in the Seeds for Growth and Joy Newsletter]