The Foreign Service Journal, June 2003

S CHOOLS S UPPLEMENT “I think this event turned us into true believers in Santa Claus! My sister and I visited a Moroccan department store and had our picture taken with a Moroccan Santa, and we left milk and vanilla Kipferl (vanilla- nut crescent-shaped cookies) for Santa’s hungry reindeer. Our Christmas holiday and dinner were always held on Dec. 24, for my mother the most holy of days in the Austrian liturgical calendar. “In Lebanon, my mother, who probably missed a snowy Christ- mas season and her days on skis, shopped with my father on Hamra Street to buy us skis and boots. We learned to ski in Faraya, a ski resort an hour from Beirut.” Like Alexandra, my own strongest memories are of Christmas. Even today, in my family, with an FSO father and a Danish mother, we have an almost ritualistic evening. We celebrate a Danish “yule” on Christmas Eve. I remain stubborn in my traditions, so although the schools, friends, houses and countries change, the same Danish cardboard Christmas elves decorate the book- shelves and we feast on the same menu each year. Roast duck, pork roast with crackling, red cabbage, potatoes, boiled and caramelized, brown gravy and rice pudding are still all I want to eat on Christmas Eve. After dinner, we dance around the Christmas tree singing carols and then, one by one, we open our presents while everyone else watches and adds their oohs and aaahs. Understandably, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are of less interest outside the U.S., so many FS children do not celebrate these holidays when overseas. The exception is when events are arranged at the embassy — such as a Halloween parade with other embassy kids. Still, I recall spending one Thanksgiving at an American school in London. And we had a great time. Some of the British students even joined us for pumpkin pie! But really it was just an excuse to party on a school night. And as the world becomes more global, many holidays have been exported. For example, although it seems mostly market-driven, the Swedes appear to be taking Halloween to heart. Many FS children participate in local cultural celebra- tions. In Paraguay, one child volunteered at the festival of “Our Lady of the Cacupe” or “Virgin of Cacupe,” a cel- ebration on Dec. 8 in honor of the Catholic saint of the town of Cacupe. Although it’s a Catholic holiday, even non-Catholic chil- dren join in by giving medicine to the homeless Guarani Indians. The FS child also recalled teach- ing the Guarani children to play with Legos. In Japan, another FS child attended Obon, held Aug. 13-15, which is the Japanese festival for showing respect to the dead. When we lived in Finland, the St. Lucia celebration was fun, and we fol- lowed the St. Lucia contestants’ pictures in the paper every day. St. Lucia was a Christian saint who is symbolized wearing a white gown and a wreath of candles in her hair. In the dark cold month of December, the St. Lucia parade was a fairyland spectacle of light. Conversely, Midsummer is a huge celebration in the Nordic countries, and we enjoyed many a bonfire and skinny dip there in June. Summer holidays can mean a change in schools and countries for FS kids. But summer vacation can be a source of normalcy and tradition, too. FS kids may return to the same house, their grandparent’s house, or summer camp. I attended the same summer camp in New Hampshire for seven years and despite my having roamed far-away continents in the intervening years, my cabin mates were always more interested in what life was like in the “south” (i.e., northern Virginia)! Once back in the U.S., FS children quickly readjust to the local American traditions. They now integrate Halloween and trick-or-treating as well as the traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner into their celebrations. Still, holidays spent in the U.S. can seem at first, to an FS child, just as foreign as a holiday on Pluto. I vividly recall my horror when, as a 10-year-old in Virginia, I went over to my friend’s house on the morning of Dec. 25 and watched her ravage her way through her Christmas pre- sents — while her parents slept upstairs. It was so differ- ent from the Christmas I knew. “Occasionally, we have had Christmas dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in Arlington,” Alexandra says. “Our whole family likes this twist on the traditional feast at home.” But for some FS kids, coming back to the U.S. is no holiday at all. One FS child, returning from Zimbabwe, recalls his culture shock as he was bombarded with what 64 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J U N E 2 0 0 3 Continued from page 62 Continued on page 66 I remain stubborn in my traditions, so although the schools, friends, houses and countries change, the same cardboard Christmas elves decorate the bookshelves and we feast on the same menu each year.