Moving to a new place, we have been exposed to a vast new culture that we have the privilege of experiencing firsthand. We also want to make sure our small children are growing up grounded solidly in an understanding of what it means to be an American. That means a lot of reading up on history to update and refresh our knowledge. It also means remaining steeped in current events and pop culture. Investigating the purposes of various holidays, examining the changes in how they are observed, and seeing the contrast in how events are enjoyed by people in my two worlds has become a fascination. It is also beautiful to learn alongside the children about this distinct culture we’re witnessing.

For our children at this age, it was more about making sure they experienced quintessential activities they would be part of if we were in the U.S., like participating in an Easter egg hunt or trick or treating. I have the flexibility to really craft their holiday experiences now without stressing myself out with activities or practices that have become commonplace back home, like the elf on the shelf. I intend to create opportunities for them to learn about American holidays and observances in the midst of the culture they happen to be immersed in.

In our first year in Thailand, we have defaulted to local observances of Mother’s and Father’s Day, and we would have taken part in Songkran festivities were we not in the U.S. at the time. In the next year, we’ll celebrate Independence Day in addition to what they have come to expect from Halloween. Funny enough, this year big holidays in the U.S. and Thailand happened to fall on the same day: Thanksgiving and Loy Krathong.

After attempting to organize a gathering of Americans for a Thanksgiving dinner, we instead allowed our girls to experience Loy Krathong for the first time. It might have been sad to think about missing out but, away from family, football, and turkey, persisting in having a Thanksgiving didn’t seem appealing (It was easy to pass up on imported, expensive turkey and inauthentic replacements for unavailable ingredients when there’s a promise of an even better event).

The girls wore traditional Thai dress to school. Then we made boats out of banana leaves – topped with candles – and set the lit boats out onto the water during a party at our building in the evening to commemorate the end of rainy season, let go of negativity from the past year, and heap on blessings for the coming year. Just about every khlong, lake, pool (and maybe even a bathtub or two) had krathongs floating – and it was beautiful to see the collective joy on display.

We’ll make our own customs and memories as our kids grow up, and they begin to have their own expectations of holidays. As your family lives and grows abroad, consider these three tips for cultivating your own unique family traditions.

  1. Be open to doing things differently or making your own traditions.
  2. Evaluate the holidays you’re accustomed to and rethink why it matters.
  3. Embrace the cultural traditions of your adopted country – it may be a new family tradition to bring back home.

With Christmas upon us we’re starting a new tradition of traveling as a family until the new year. Stay tuned for my write up on our time in Vietnam visiting Ho Chi Minh and Phu Quoc. What holidays or customs has your family adopted while living abroad?

9 Responses

  1. rioribaya – A former journalist based in Manila for 8 years, this freelance writer and editor moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2015. From politics to lifestyle, she can weave words suitable for any of your content management needs. For collaborations or editorial concerns, you may contact her at
    rioribaya says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I’m also from another country living in another one and about to be a parent. And I know I want to expose my baby to both culture, especially the traditions where I come from. Reading this gave me concrete ideas on how to actually do it. Great post!

  2. What great experiences you and your children are having. I have never lived anywhere but the US so I don’t have first hand knowledge of customs in a foreign land but I’m envious of the new customs you are getting to experience. Wonderful for your kids to have a bigger view of world customs than most get to see.

  3. I have been researching teaching jobs in Korea and planning how to prepare my son for a possible move. I loved your three tips. I am part Korean so it makes things a bit easier in teaching him about Korean culture but I’ve been nervous about it. Your post gave me hope to take the plunge; it will benefit my son to experience new places and cultures.

  4. This is a fantastic post. I have been considering a move to Korea to teach English and to fulfill my dream of living there. I’ve been nervous to actually move because of my son but seeing how your daughters have taken to living in Thailand, I’m really thinking about taking the plunge. Thank you for the inspiration:)

    1. Thank you! It’s such a great opportunity for everyone, especially your son. Depending on how old he is, I’m sure you’ll see him adjust really quickly. Keep me posted if you make the move!

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