Third Culture Christmas is a guest post I sent to Tall Blonde Tales for Blogmas! Here it is in all its glory!

I am a Third Culture Kid, which means that before I was 18, I lived in countries other than one of my parents’ nationalities. I have lived in France, Switzerland, the UK, the USA, and now I’m currently in Canada. People ask me what Christmas traditions have I picked up from my life of diverse cultural exposure? Read on to find out!

French Traditions:

I was too young to remember living in France, but my parents still taught me French culture after we moved to the USA. One of my early memories was being confused about how Santa arrived with presents. In France, when Santa brings presents on Christmas Eve, he arrives on a donkey, not a sleigh. As I got older, there are three French foods that we have had at Christmas, depending on availability and quality expected. 

Bûche de Noël or Yule log, is one of our favourites! France is one of those cultures that observes the Feast of the Kings on Twelfth Night. A common dessert is the Galette de Rois. There is no proper English translation for the galette, but you can look it up here: Galette des Rois: A Sweet French Tradition – FAYLI

I sometimes have the galette for my birthday cake because my birthday falls within the twelve days of Christmas! When I moved to Canada, I was ecstatic to find authentic Bûche de Noël and Galette de Rois at a French patisserie! Another food that my family enjoys is foie gras, but availability depends on where you live. The last time I had foie gras at Christmas was when I lived in England! 

English Traditions:

On that note, I have had some memorable food while living in London, England! My family attempted a Christmas pudding a few times. I loved lighting it and watching the alcohol burn off! I found it hard to eat though since it’s soaked in so much booze. One year, my family had a goose for Christmas. It was incredible! Goose fat adds a certain special flavour to food, and it reminded me of French food. I haven’t had a goose since leaving England, but I will never forget how incredible it is!

One story that is always told in England around Christmas is the story of the Christmas Truce of 1914. When World War I started in 1914, the soldiers were all told they would be home by Christmas. When that didn’t happen, British, French and German soldiers laid down their weapons and had fun together. This happened all along the Western Front. The saddest part was all the men who engaged in the truce were censured severely and the generals tried to cover it up. I personally think it was a beautiful act of fraternity, peace, love and cultural sensitivity.

I have seen cartoons, advertisements and other things that commemorate the Christmas Truce. One of the movies I see during the Christmas season is Joyeux Noël, which is the story of the Christmas Truce. You can read more about the movie here: Joyeux Noel (2005) – Plot Summary. Even though I don’t live in England anymore, I still have a little remembrance of the Christmas Truce.

The Christmas Pantomime:

I wanted to give an extra special shoutout to an English Christmas tradition: The Christmas Pantomime. If you are ever in the UK in December or January, see if you can go to a Christmas panto! I personally recommend the ones at the small theatres rather than the large ones. The small theatres feel more personal and there is a lot of audience participation in the Christmas panto. I was part of a community theatre and I did two Christmas pantos. I played Dick Whittington’s cat when I was 12, which was the best role I ever had! Makes me feel like Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet! 

A bit of history. The panto originated out of the Commedia dell’Arte, which was a popular theatre tradition in Europe for 200 years. It really is worth learning about, and pantos have classic scenes that are right out of the Commedia dell’Arte. For instance, there is the cooking scene and the school scene. Also, the principal boy is played by a woman and the dame is played by a man. 

One thing that my parents and I realized is that colonization of the Americas was happening at the same time as the Commedia dell’Arte. The Puritans, who were against the arts for religious reasons, were among the first settlers in what is now the USA. So, the panto tradition never crossed the Atlantic. My parents and I have had discussions about whether the panto can become an accepted theatre tradition in the USA. We have certainly found distinct cultural differences between American and English humour. I could write an entire post about the panto tradition and this particular historical significance, but I will stop right here.

American Traditions:

I moved to the USA when I was two years old. At the time, my parents didn’t know if we would ever live in another country again. But what my Mum did was collect Christmas stories from wherever we travelled and lived and put them in a binder that we would read every Christmas. We continue to read those stories, even though we have now lived in five countries. The stories include classics like The Gift of the Magi, to more current stories.

A few years after we repatriated to the USA after living in London, we decided to go to Yosemite National Park for Christmas. We arrived there at the Winter Solstice, and there happened to be a full moon then! That doesn’t happen often. Ansel Adams photographed a full moon at Yosemite at the Winter Solstice, right when it was over Half Dome (which is an iconic feature of Yosemite). We had to stay pretty late to see the full moon over Half Dome. I tried to take a photo, but I didn’t do it justice. The park was abuzz with people trying to see what Ansel Adams saw when he took his iconic photos.

photo of snow capped mountain under blue night sky

Photo by Ian Beckley on Pexels.com

Canadian Traditions:

I was in for a couple of Christmas surprises when I moved to Canada. I became a huge fan of Canadian comedy, and their holiday comedy is cathartic when dealing with holiday stress. Our political and new satire show This Hour Has 22 Minutes has some incredible holiday sketches on YouTube. Since Canada has long winters, we have to have something to keep us entertained. Canadian Christmas comedy is a great way to decompress. Here’s one of my favourite videos to laugh at Christmas stress:

Christmas Light displays are hugely popular in Canada as well. I am already getting notifications about light displays at the zoo, and malls! My city has a river walk that you can do to see all these light displays. Additionally, they have a site where they list houses that have light displays that you can walk or drive by to see. Even if it’s not Christmas, I have noticed there is a real love of light, especially in the winter.

person walks outdoor during night

Photo by David Guerrero on Pexels.com

Other Traditions:

I got to know a lot of Russians while I was living in London. I learned that Russian Christmas is generally celebrated on January 6th or 7th, depending on the Orthodox calendar. New Year is more popular in Russia than Christmas though. It used to be on a different date from January 1st, but then it changed to meet more Western standards. So, I have heard things about Old New Year, versus New New Year. Additionally, one Russian saying is that you will spend the New Year the way you meet it (Как Новый год встретишь, так его и проведешь). Yes, I speak Russian, but that’s not the point. Because of that saying, Russians have some cultural practices to help them meet the New Year ready for a fresh start. 

You can find this movie called The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath! on YouTube. It’s a Russian New Year comedy made in 1975, and it showcases traditions for Russian New Year. It has English subtitles, so don’t worry about not understanding it. Although to be fair, I started watching it when I was first learning Russian, and I was still able to pick up the story by watching what the actors were doing. Whenever I remember watching the comedy for New Year, I do so. Plus, I still believe that you do spend the New Year the way you meet it, although some things you have to take with a grain of salt.

No matter where I am in the world, nothing makes me happier than a white Christmas! I have always loved snow as a kid and that has never gone away! That’s a Christmas tradition that is universal for me!

Merry Christmas/Joyeux Noël/с Рождеством! Happy New Year/Bonne Année/с Новым Годом!

35 thoughts on “Third Culture Christmas”

  1. I love this post! I grew up in the USA until we moved to Germany, and experienced Christmas there (only white lights, and a very holy Christmas Eve) and in France (Revillion) and later in Qatar and Kuwait – yes! They even have live Christmas trees, and love the opportunity to give generously. My Chinese friend told me the same as your Russian friends – how you enter the year is how your year will go, so make sure all your bills are paid and your house is clean and trespasses are forgiven. Even though I am not Chinese, I trust the wisdom of this approach 🙂 We can learn so much listening to those of other cultures. TCKs are a special breed.

  2. What a fabulously interesting post!
    I agree with you about goose fat – our English Christmas this year incorporated the best roasted potatoes I have ever eaten and goose fat was the secret ingredient!
    Happy New Year xx

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      1. That’s pretty neat that you’ve been able to experience Christmas in a few different countries and that you still carry some of those traditions with you today. Christmas at Yosemite National Park sounds amazing and I bet the scenery was simply stunning. I’d love to visit someday. And yah, it seems like every year we come up with more and more Christmas light displays!

          1. Speaking of light displays, I just put up my holiday lights outside yesterday. It was a bit of a mess and involved multiple trips to Canadian Tire to get some extension cords and more lights. But I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. All we need is some snow for it to feel more festive!!

          2. Fascinating! All those dishes sound incredibly. I’m surprised you enjoyed the Christmas treat in England. There’s a stereotype that English food is terrible lol. That’s however, just a stereotype.
            It’s an amazing thing to find your favourite savouries from childhood after you move to a different country.
            French food is definitely nommilicious, but sadly, there’s not much options for vegetarians 😢 Even salads contain meat!

            And on that note, SEASON’S GREETINGS, MY FRIEND!!! 🥳

            1. Well, there is some truth to English food being terrible. It’s so hard to get fresh produce there. They say the English are kind to their animals but cruel to their vegetables, and that is true. Goose is amazing though! I actually know how to do French vegetarian cuisine, and the French eat more vegetables than meets the eye. Thank you for your lovely comment and season’s greetings to you too!! 🎉🎉

          3. It’s true that home decorations in Canada are often impressive. I had seen the same thing in Ireland, but not that much! This year I am rediscovering the lights of Paris, some beautiful and photogenic achievements.

            1. Yeah, I like how Christmas lights in Canada are tasteful and not cheesy. I can just picture the Paris lights! There is actually a vlog on the Christmas lights of London this year, which I am going to see. Thanks for commenting 😊

          4. A good varied summer. Christmas in France would be interesting and I love the thought of Christmas in Yosemite. It is a beautiful spot. We have spent many Christmases in Jasper when the kids were younger, even skiing a half day one Christmas Day. We have also spent Christmas on a Christmas tree farm in New Zealand, where the temperature was +28C. Coffee out on the patio was unusual as was a an outdoor walk in summer clothes after dinner. Wherever you spend it, it is always good when you are with family or friends. Thanks for sharing and Merry Christmas. Allan 🎅❄️🎄

            1. Christmas in Yosemite was quite the experience. Jasper sounds like a great place to spend Christmas too, as does Banff. I remember yout post about Christmas in New Zealand. One thing I want to start doing is travelling during the Christmas season. I have had a string of Christmases where me and/or my family have been going through a hard time, and I want to make some different memories of Christmas. Thanks for commenting and Merry Christmas to you too! 😊🎅🥂🎄🎉

              1. Christmas is so much richer when, like you, we are able to share Christmas traditions of several countries 🙂 Hope your Mom is much better now to enjoy this year’s festivities in Canada.

                1. That’s so true! I wouldn’t trade my cultural Christmas experiences for anything. Right now, we are taking things one day at a time and if Mum is up for something, we do it. The theme this year is “improvise”! Thanks for your lovely wishes and for commenting 🙂

                1. Merry Christmas! I haven’t done it in the evening, no. I was there just a few days ago during the day, but now I have to go back at night! I also want to check out Olympic Plaza at night. Thanks for commenting 😊

                  1. Enjoy your post of all these different traditions. They are wonderful and the French food really makes my mouth watering, even though I have never tasted food like that. Still, knowing French food’s reputation, I think they are delicious.

                    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I read this comment that the term “foodie” will never be popular in France because there, EVERYONE is into food! Having trained in French cuisine and the fact I am very French when it comes to food, I completely understand

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