Many expat* or internationally living families spend the holiday season travelling, visiting family, packing, un-packing and re-packing constantly. When thinking about gifts our families will receive during this time, many http://iga.edu/cheapest-essay-writing-service/ of us parents start gasping… How much space do we need to leave for presents in the car trunk, suitcases etc.?
What saved our family for some years was to have our presents delivered wherever we spent Christmas. We would then assemble them at Christmas, get rid of the package and store them in smaller bags or even in our suitcases. And if the toys were too bulky, we would leave them for example at grandmas’, ready for our next visit.
How to keep it simple(r)
The more we talk about Christmas with our children, the more they understand that this season is actually about giving rather than receiving. We started donating to several charities and this kind of involvement not only gives children – and us – a great sense of contributing to the world, but it also helps to keep things into perspective. It’s not about getting anything for Christmas, it’s about thinking carefully if we really “need” this now… – Also, considering that in some places in the world people just celebrated Thanksgiving, showing thankfulness for what they have (and not focussing on what they want!), convinced our children to focus more on other values than the merely materialistic ones during this time of the year.
Of course, these values may be difficult to explain to a young child and surely to family members and friends who “just want to make our children happy” by showering them with gifts. If you travel a lot during holiday season and want to avoid a gifts overload, you can easily find plausible reasons to keep it simple. – In our family we narrowed down the amount of presents per person to one “big(ger)” one and only a few small, mostly edible ones.
“What do you wish for Christmas?”
I don’t think that expat children wish for different things than other children. Of course, they may profit more from gifts that foster multiculturalism and multilingualism – but I think that every child would benefit from those!
When thinking about how I experienced Christmas when I was a child, I remember that I always felt a bit “different” visiting my extended family and found it difficult to communicate what I had experienced abroad. Today I know what kind of items could have helped me to approach this topic in a nice and engaging way.
To make sure that this would be interesting for our children too, I asked my children and some of their friends (aged 7-12) about what they would think would be a nice Christmas gift for an expat child. This is what they said:
1 Printouts from landmarks or national costumes
Many children spend a lot of time indoors during Christmas, and families often set up tables where they can do board games or entertain themselves, while adults can have a nice chat together.
At Activityvillage you can find some snapshots from famous landmarks children can paint or copy, or even take as example for 3D constructions. They can even put them on a (imaginary) map and talk about the places they’ve visited or learned about. – Some children also enjoy the differences and similarities of national costumes (you can find them on the same page) and they can even create new ones with a bit of imagination. Any kind of activity – game, craft etc. – that involves talking about different places will help our children share their experiences about their lives abroad in a more natural way.
We usually like to offer calendars or diaries for Christmas. My sister in law composes wonderful calendars with her pictures and our children love them even more, knowing that their aunt made them.
For children who can already write, diaries can be a great gift to offer. Either about themes they like (horses, cars, some special heroes etc.) or about places they have visited or will be visiting in the new year.
Expats usually travel a lot and also tend to relocate several times. At every move, one of the most heavy and expensive items to move are books. The most viable options are e-ebooks or audible books. Downloading them from iTunes or on a kindle is a great gift. – Since we download most of our books, our luggages are so much lighter!
Children who spend most of their childhood outside of their parents’ passport countries, are commonly called Third Culture Kids. These children get to know two, three, four or more cultures by living and sometimes litterally immerging into these “other” cultures from a very young age. I have an ongoing list of books on my blog about this topic, but I really recommend two books that were published this year and that are interesting for our children because they focus on the international lifestyle:
4 Films and Music
When internationals meet, they often try to find topics they share. Aside from food, weather and the latest family news, music is a great way to connect. – Sharing music during the holiday season is part of many cultures. Aside from the classical Christmas songs, our children have all their preferred songs they would like their loved ones to listen to. – When I was a teenager I recorded my favourite songs on a cassette (yes, it was many years ago…) and offered it as a present to my friends. My son now does the same on his ipad. He even composes slow motion films that go with it.
Many families have typical Christmas movies they look forward to during holiday season. In multicultural and multilingual families, agreeing on the language and the genre is not always easy. But getting the film on DVD with the most important languages can save a movie evening…
If you are looking for films that have expat life as a topic and that our children like to relate to, there are films (and short films) like Mean Girls (2004) – the story of a young girl returning to her passport country – or The Terminal by Stephen Spielberg (with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta Jones), or Hafu – the film (2014), about the unfolding journey of discovery into the intricacies of mixed-race Japanese and their multicultural experience in modern day Japan, that we liked to watch with teenage children. – You can find more suggestions about films of this kind here.
5 Items from the places they’ve lived (and they still long for)
Several children I questioned told me that they really cherish their little keepsakes. They collect items that remind them of places, moments, friends etc. in a box; a shoe box or a box someone made for them. They fill them with postcards, pictures, little souvenirs like a miniature Eiffel tower, Big Ben, or Windmill, shells, stones, concert tickets or a circus tickets etc..
If your children don’t have such a keepsake box yet, they could make it themselves or, someone could even make one out of wood. Putting pictures by découpage technique on them transforms them into a unique item. And if they have it already: think about what small item they would like to get from Santa this year.
Several children told me that they were looking forward to the food they would share during Christmas. One longs for the delicious dish made with curry, the next one would love to have a proper cheese Fondue. We often underestimate the importance of smell and taste while living abroad. Interestingly, many expat bloggers write also about food and you can find many of them here on MKB. – Everyone associates Christmas with different smells and tastes. – What about offering a box full of tastes to our children? Cookies, spices or goodies they can even share once they’re back home?
7 Photo album
Every year I prepare a photo album for our extended family, where I assemble pictures of the most significant moments of the year. I always offered them to adults in our family until I realized that children like them too. – Children love to look and remember the time they’ve spent together with their loved ones during summer holiday or any other time of the year. They love to see how much they grow and change. They are even often the ones who took the pictures they then rediscover in the photo album. Therefore, offering our children their very own picture book would surely be a much appreciated gift.
8 Time & memories
This seems almost ridiculous and logical that every child gets to spend time with grandpa, grandma, cousins, aunts etc. during the holiday season, but do they really get to spend one-on-one time with each of them? Time is a pretty precious gift we can offer. Apart from spending hours cooking or setting up wonderful meals, we should make sure to spend enough time going ice-skating with our children, nieces or nephews. Or what about letting aunts, grandparents etc. attend a concert, a ballet, an ice-hockey match with our children or make the child decide on the activity?
Christmas gifts don’t need to be expensive. Precious moments spent with our loved ones help to build memories that we will then be able to share. – And if we don’t forget to take some pictures of these memorable moments we’ll already have something to put in the next years’ photo album!
* I use the term “expat” for “everyone living outside his or her passport country with no regard to his or her economic, social or political condition”.
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