Christmas for Bilingual Children with Family abroad
Christmas can be a difficult time of year for bilingual children who have family in different parts of the world. It can also be particularly difficult for the parent who is living abroad, away from their family. Many bilingual families are in the same situation as we are, dealing with a long distance relationship. There is always one side of the family missing out on spending Christmas with the kids, and getting to give Christmas presents in person.
I am an Australian and live in Italy with my Italian husband and our two bilingual children. We are very lucky to be surrounded by such a loving family here. However, every year when Christmas is approaching, I can’t help but feel sad for my kids who miss out on the “Typical Family Christmas” time spending time with ALL members of their family.
I have been living abroad over ten years now, and it doesn’t get any easier each year that passes. If anything it gets harder. Since having children it has become particularly difficult, for both my family, and for my children. Hearing my four year old ask to go visit “Nanny” in Australia breaks my heart. He thinks it really is so easy, and doesn’t understand that we can’t just jump on an aeroplane “just for today” to go visit. My family send Christmas presents over every year, and the kids get to open them on Christmas morning. But it’s not the same as being there in person, and being able to see the excitement in their eyes as they unwrap their gifts.
My kids will always miss out on one of the most important Christmas Gifts of all
The thing is though, no matter how much I wish we were home with my family for Christmas, and how happy I know I would be, my kids will always feel this way, no matter where we are. Raising our children to be bilingual is definitely one of the greatest gifts we can possibly give them, but they will always be missing out on one of the other greatest gifts. FAMILY.
Living in Italy means my children miss out on spending time with their Australian family. But, if we were living in Australia, they would be missing out on being with their Italian family. It is a no win situation, someone always misses out. Our children always lose.
With the Christmas holidays approaching, I, like other parents of bilingual children living away from family, am starting to feel a little sad hearing about the plans my family have for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. I find myself wishing we were going to be there. But, for my children’s sake, I try to make Christmas magical in any case, adding in some of the Australian Christmas traditions, along with the Italian ones. I know they will enjoy Christmas with their Italian family.
Though every year is a struggle, here are some of the things that help us with being far away from family at Christmas:
Traditional Food and Gifts
My family often send over a care package of traditional Australian food and gifts. Normal things to Australians, like a certain food or sweet, or a piece of clothing. There are always a few kangaroos and koalas which the kids love to give out to their friends. Just a few small things, but items that cannot be found in Italy, so they always make me feel like a piece of home is with me. It also gives my children a little taste of something different.
Making sure my children can communicate with my family in their language
I put a high importance on my children’s language skills, and maybe stress about it more than I should. This is to make sure that when we speak with my family, they can communicate with them well. I don’t want them to be able to “just get by”. I am doing my best to make sure they can speak English to a native level. It takes a fair amount of work, as I speak the minority language, but it is worth it to see them chatting away with everyone so well.
Live video calls throughout Christmas day
We use Skype and Facetime a LOT. Not just to have conversations. Sometimes I just set up the computer while we are eating breakfast, or when the kids are playing, so that my family can see my kids living real life. On Christmas morning, we make a video call while the kids open their presents, so my family can see their reactions and the kids can speak with them and say thank you. This way they really know who the Christmas present is from, and it will help them to remember it. My kids are still young, and do forget who gives them what sometimes!
Sending Christmas Video Messages
Another thing we use a lot are video messages, usually via whatsapp. If we are unable to Skype someone for some reason, I make a video of the kids opening their Christmas gifts. I also often send videos of my kids singing Christmas carols in English, or recorded messages, which my family love.
Visiting Family at Christmas when we can
We try to visit my family in Australia when possible, but it isn’t as easy as just popping over for the weekend. From Italy to Australia, it is a 24hr flight, and when we go, we stay for a long period to make it worth it. Of course, we cannot go every Christmas otherwise their Italian family would miss out, but we try to when we can.
I am envious of family and friends who have everyone they love in one place. I know that will never be the case for my children. But, I try to think on the bright side, and I think of the advantages they have as they get older.
My children will grow up with the benefits of being bilingual, speaking two languages to a native level. They will always have the excuse to travel, to spend time in different countries with both sides of their family, no matter where we are living. They will be able to experience more than one culture throughout their lives. And finally, they will get to experience two sets of Christmas traditions every year.
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Recommended Reading: Christmas Gifts for Bilingual Kids
Reading this is like reading my own story! My family lives in Indonesia and as Christmas approaching, the sadness grows stronger. Been living here for 14 years and it’s not getting better.
Luckily I have some good Indonesian friends who are like family here. With them we create our own tradition. My daughter always celebrates birthday and Christmas with her Dutch side with my husband’s family and Indonesian side with my friends.
Despite the sadness, I wish you a good Christmas.
Olivia latimer sayer
It seems to me your worries and stress are totally unjustified as you have done everything possible to give your kids the best of both families and they are in contact often enough with both worlds so as not to lose contact with either. The future possibilities for your kids to spend summer holidays (with or without their parents) in Australia and in Italy with their grandparents and other members of the family will enrich and extend their experience infinitely and I don’t think they are missing out on anything.
Congratulations on your efforts to enrich their world but please TAKE IT MORE PHILOSOPHICALLY. No need to feel guilty about anything! I had the same problem but we didn’t have Skype or videos or even mobiles and my children’s contact with their English family and their father’s Spanish family was very reduced , but even so they were influenced by both and enriched by both.
Living away from family is very difficult. But, I guess we are very lucky living in a time where technology helps out a lot. The fact that we are able to video call whenever we want helps keep us all connected, and we are fortunate enough to be able to travel, even if not as often as I would like. I am happy to hear that even without all of this, that your children were able to grow up with influence from both cultures 🙂
Interesting and true post! We are lucky in that my parents live quite close so we take it in turns, one year with my husband´s family(and my parents usually come to spend it with us too) and the next year at my parents.
Sounds like a great plan you have, I would LOVE that. We may need to stick to alternating each year in different countries.