Passing On Family Legacies As an Expat
Most of my family traditions from my grandparents — from recipes for Christmas dinner to bedtime stories. These little things become a natural continuation of what I grew up with as a child. But when I decided to live abroad, I inadvertently cut the bridge between generations, meaning that my parents now have a limited number of occasions to pass on their cultural and family legacy to my children.
Connecting the dots is difficult, especially since my kids are immersed in a different culture that inevitably influences how they do things. I want to make sure that they don’t miss out on any opportunities to learn about my native culture. But, at the same time, I’m aware that they are growing up in a different environment and they don’t want to be different from their friends and colleagues.
In the past seven years, I’ve tried to bring the best of both worlds to our house. The three most significant elements that have helped me keep up are food, holiday traditions, and faith (church).
Food Brings Us Together
I cook traditional food, not just for my kids, but also for my neighbors and friends. In a country that’s known for its unique cuisine, I try to tell my story and communicate my family’s legacy with food, too. Everybody loves a good meal, after all.
Sometimes I have to cut out ingredients to ensure everyone enjoys their meal, but I’m still happy to share my childhood tastes and flavors with my new family and friends.
At the same time, I enjoy all the traditional dishes that other people share with me. Food is one of the best ways to get to know different cultures, and I like experimenting with flavors and finding connections between cultures and cuisines.
More Holiday Traditions Bring More Happiness
Another thing that helps me pass on my cultural legacy is observing as many holidays as possible. For example, we celebrate Easter twice most years and cook traditional foods accordingly. During winter holidays, we bring together traditions from both cultures. Hence, our kids get to learn more about their mother’s culture and understand why their cousins do certain things around the holidays.
While we can’t observe all national holidays, I make sure I tell my family why each of these special days is important back in my country of origin. I might also tell them a few words in my native language and explain their meaning in the proper context to facilitate understanding and to make sure they’re familiar with my mother tongue. I try to keep the history lessons short and entertaining so they don’t feel overwhelmed with information.
I’m trying to be flexible and not force my kids to adopt any holiday or tradition that doesn’t work for them. The ultimate purpose is to make this fun, so they see living in a multicultural family as a blessing and an opportunity.
I Connect With My Past at Church
At this time, taking the kids to church has been the less appealing way of learning about our legacy, and I can understand why. Orthodox Sunday service lasts for more than three hours, you need to stand a lot and sometimes kneel, and the priest uses words that only a native speaker would understand.
However, I try to take them with me, at least for the major Christian celebrations. On the other hand, the church connects me with my past and gathers people I share similar memories with. It’s a way to remind myself of who I used to be and who I am now. It brings me peace, highlights the things that matter most to me, and inspires me to do better in communicating my traditions.
Family legacies matter, and passing down traditions and stories can make us better people. Legacies help us know ourselves better, so I’ll try to make sure I pass down as much as I can from my grandparents while also building communication channels between my parents and my kids, so they can at least be aware of the past. It’s also a way to consolidate a child’s education — kids need to know where they come from to make the right decisions regarding where they want to go.