Expat Mom: Keeping our Traditions at All Cost (well maybe not at all cost)
I had so much fun reminiscing and laughing at the preposterous things we have done in the name of tradition. But the reality is, for us traditions are more than driving around and getting lost trying to find the “perfect” Christmas tree.
Some of our traditions are simple in nature, but what they give our kids is enormous. They give them a sense of stability, unity, strengthen the family bond and a sense that they belong to something bigger than themselves. For me, a mom, who is Mexican, living in South America with my Caucasian Southern husband; traditions are definitely a whole lot of mixing and melting of cultures to say the least.
This picture here says it all, my Mexican American Ecuadorian child celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Ecuador all the while wearing his Old Navy shirt from the U.S.
With all of these cultures and traditions coming together we are able to share more of our heritage with our kids giving them a sense of identity and also an opportunity to explain our values and beliefs. For example, in Mexico we celebrate Day of the dead and though our family doesn’t hold to the beliefs of this holiday, it’s given me an opportunity to share a piece of my culture with my kids and our beliefs and values. I had fun with the holiday as I shared it with my kids here.
Fall has always been one of my favorite seasons of the year. It’s my birthday, Thanksgiving, Harvest/Halloween celebrations, pumpkin patch trips, apple cider sipping, hay rides, sweet potato casserole, bon fires, Christmas stockings or wreaths, caroling neighbors, gingerbread houses…
When we decided to move to South America I had no idea what our traditions would look like. Well, for starters there’s no fall season in this beautiful country. Seriously, of all things–NO FALL. What the heck! Now don’t get me wrong I love our spring year round weather but…
It was hard to get over this reality, as we approached October and everything was still green and lovely. Well, this is the closest we’ve come to fall–two leaves on the brink of the fall splendor.
I came to the decision that our home would entail our traditions even if the outside world and culture didn’t. Now understand that we live in a country where we are not putting our family at risk with our traditions nor do our activities offend. They may perplex people, but offend they don’t. Though I’m sure there is always going to be a person who is offended by who you are and how you live. So, you may find this difficult to do if you’re in a country where you’re not at liberty to do some of the things I share below but I still encourage you to think outside of the box and find ways to enjoy some of your family traditions inside your home.
There are no pumpkin patch trips to be had and there was a time when there were no pumpkins to carve. In fact, the pumpkins here looked like large squash–pointy and greenish with yellow. So, needless to say, pumpkin carving was not a tradition here.
One year, all I could find were pointy albino pumpkins so I became a determined, crazy mom–who was going to do the best with what I had.
I decided to pull out my orange acrylic paint and yes I’m sure you can guess what happened next. I painted that big squash into a lovely orange color and we carved it. Oh the things we do for our kids, in the name of tradition as expat moms.
Slowly as the years have gone by we’ve gotten closer to our counterpart U.S. pumpkin. As you can easy in the picture above we went from an albino pumpkin to a lumpy orange and greenish pumpkin and now we proudly have sitting in our home a beautifully shaped orange pumpkin.
Just a few days ago, we carved pumpkins as I shared the Pumpkin Prayer for our family night. It’s not the pumpkin gospel but it goes through each part of the carving and shares a short one sentence prayer. For example, Carve Out The Mouth: Lord help me always speak your words of love and kindness.
Then we followed with roasting our pumpkin seeds which I might add turned out amazing. My husband is the pumpkin seed roaster and he did good. It just has butter, salt and southwest chipotle seasoning. We ended with a dance party which I might add is year round tradition. But this dance party was to Monster Mash music. You know you’re old when you can’t handle your kids dance parties–I’m still sore.
We ran out of time but it’s on our list of things to do since both me and my husband grew up watching Charlie Brown holiday specials. I can’t wait to sit down and watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!
I’m sure we looked ridiculous to others as we walked the streets in our costumes yelling trick or treat at our friends front gate. But early on, I decided to organize homes we could trick or treat at so our kids could enjoy this fun experience. It definitely took some planning but it was worth it. Here you can see all of the fun costumes our community of expats come up with even with no Michaels, Hobby Lobby or Walmart around.
Oh, and there was that first Thanksgiving. So funny to recall. My husband was determined to have his grandmothers recipe for Thanksgiving–sweet potato casserole. Well, to our surprise they didn’t sell our orange sweet potatoes they only had purple ones. So, we thought how different can it be in taste, they pretty much look the same, but it’s purple.
Let’s just say we didn’t make it again. It was VERY different, and we were all so very disappointed. The purple potato is not at all sweet and it’s more grainy in flavor almost like beets. Thankfully, now they sell orange sweet potatoes imported from Peru so we can enjoy at Thanksgiving. Though for obvious reasons Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in Ecuador, we still have a Thanksgiving celebration and invite our Ecuadorian friends to celebrate with us. They love this tradition of taking time out to give thanks.
One of the lovely things about the culture here is that Christmas and Easter is not commercialized in any shape or form at least in comparison to the U.S. So, when we first arrived the streets are not covered in Christmas lights, Christmas parades, Santa Claus at every street corner, even Christmas ornaments were super expensive to purchase…
We sold most of our Christmas stuff before we moved thinking that we would surely be able to find Christmas stockings and ornaments. Well, I was wrong. But as you know there is more to Christmas than these little things so we got to make our own ornaments and hang up Christmas mittens instead of stockings. Well, our first Christmas in S. America, the closest thing I could find to Christmas stockings were oversized Christmas mittens so we hung those over our banister with care. My kids worried that Santa Claus was not aware that Ecuador existed and that they may not get presents.
Here’s a picture of our gingerbread making party with friends. This is something we did in the states and have been able to pull off without any major challenges.
I’m fine without the commercialized holidays, but I must admit it was hard to drive down neighborhoods with dark streets and no Christmas lights or visible Christmas cheer. To this day, Christmas light covered houses are not something people do here. We’ve put a few lights around our living room windows but for the fear of drawing attention to our home and screaming–ROB ME, WE ARE GRINGOS, we’ve kept it to a minimum. And have not turned our home into the glowing gringo house of the neighborhood.
Oh, how can I forget this. There was the year I tried making gingerbread men and scoured the stores for molasses but couldn’t find any. Then a friend gave me a jar she was able to get from a nearby farm. Apparently, here it’s used for feeding livestock. Well, it smelled like molasses and she had baked with it before so I tried it. I had no idea how strong this jar of molasses actually was, so I ended up with very bitter and non edible cookies that could’ve also been fed to the livestock. I have learned to bake with it but it took some practice.
In light of all these challenges, like no fall season or sweet potatoes, we’ve managed to laugh about most of it. Like our yearly camping tradition with unexpected guest. A pack of llamas quietly grazing outside of our tent every morning.
I can honestly say, I’m thankful for our melting pot of global traditions. We’ve been able to expand our family traditions to incorporate some of the ones here in Ecuador–guagas de pan and colada morada as a fall activity. At Winter, we ride Chiva’s and throw treats to passerby’s. In Spring, we have water fights for the Carnival holiday and enjoy Fanesca. As you can see, I can’t get out of the habit of speaking in seasons though all they have here is wet and dry season.