This time of year is oozing with nostalgia, with childhood memories and traditions. However, I am an expat and recreating my childhood Christmases is easier said than done when you no longer live in the same country as the one you grew up in. Passing on the traditions that made up my festive days as a small girl to my three little Dutch boys needs a little more thought than it would if we were all living in England.
Take nativity plays for example. The annual battle over who would get to play Mary and Joseph. The work behind the scenes to create the perfect outfit to be one of the many angels or shepherds on stage. All engraved in my memory. There are lovely little photos of my brother and me in our nativity plays. But there are no nativity plays here in the Netherlands. At least not at any of the schools I know about. On the one hand, thank goodness – I cannot even begin to imagine getting three costumes sorted in a period that is already the very definition of madness, however, how sweet it would be to see my three sons on stage being a part of a nativity play.
Aside from nativity plays, Christmas carol concerts are also missing from our Dutch Christmases. As a child the whole school headed over to the church to sing Christmas carols. Some parents attended and it was the sign that Christmas was nearly here. Don’t get me wrong, there are carol concerts (certainly not extremely common) but they are not related to my children’s school.
Instead my two eldest boys have a Christmas dinner in school. They put on a shirt and tie and do their hair (Dutch style with gel….). Their classrooms are turned into magical twinkling spaces with candles and Christmas lights and desks become tables decked with colour and self made placemats. We parents provide a menu of hapjes that has been put together by the children themselves. At the end of their meal they sing a song for us. They have a lovely evening, and it has become a custom of their Christmas. My youngest has a Christmas breakfast at the peuterspeelzaal – his first one this year.
However, the food, putting a stocking out on Christmas Eve for Father Christmas to fill, the delivery of presents under the tree to be found on Christmas morning – that’s all the traditions of my childhood, being passed on to my children.
Over the years I have been in the Netherlands, putting together a traditional British Christmas dinner has got easier. In years gone by the only way to recreate the Christmas meals of my youth was by visiting expat shops. These days Albert Heijn sells large turkeys, special to order at this time of year, parsnips have become more readily available and even cranberries are an accepted part of the festive period. However, I still need my beloved expat shop for Christmas pudding, brandy butter, mincemeat to make mince pies and proper, full size Christmas crackers, crap joke, paper hat and all.
There are compromises, and adaptations when it comes to Christmas and our mixed culture home. Our Christmas Day looks different to what is going on behind closed doors in the Dutch streets around us. And that is exactly what makes our Christmas so special – we have taken what is important to us and made it our own. It’s our very own British Dutch Christmas.
Do you try to recreate the Christmases from your childhood? Are you passing on Christmas traditions to your children? Or does your Christmas look completely different these days because of where you are living?