As we transport ourselves to new places, it can be easy for us to lose sight of our roots. In this story, however, Delft MaMa Maya Levi, originally from Israel, shares with us her journey of reconnecting with her Jewish cultural-religious identity as she settled in the Netherlands. In parallel, Maya describes the Jewish festival of Chanukah as a powerful festival of conscious reconnection with religious roots.
As most children in the Netherlands prepare to celebrate the period of Sinterklaas, some of us expats can be left overwhelmed with this uniquely Dutch tradition, without understanding the history behind it. Some aspects might be shocking (blackface), others might be endearing (leaving carrots in shoes for Sint’s horse). Join us as Delft MaMa Anitha Raj, hailing from India, shares a little background on Sinterklaas followed by her observations of this annual tradition.
The Origins of Halloween
Although Halloween celebrations are very popular in The United States, its origin comes far from the American continent. History dates Halloween celebrations as a Celtic festival, Samhain, commemorated with bonfires and animal costumes on the day before their new year, which used to be the 1st of November.
This celebration marked the end of the summer and the start of the cold and dark winter, a period associated with death and agricultural difficulties. The Celts believed that on October 31st, the spirits came back to Earth and the lost souls could cause trouble; therefore the bonfires, rituals and costumes helped repel the intentions of bad ghosts.
Later on, the Christians celebrated “All Saints Day/All-Hallows Day” on the 1st of November, which was the reason why the Celtic commemoration on the 31st of October became known as “All-Hallows Eve,” and later, “Halloween”.
Halloween in the United States
The Irish and English people brought the Halloween traditions with them during the mass migrations to the United States in the 19th Century, where it became a popular holiday.
It lost its religious and ghostly nature and became a celebration to bring together the community through games, food and costumes. The famous game “trick or treat” then became a fun way of sharing food. Despite the efforts of some community leaders to remove the scary tone of Halloween, this holiday still holds mystery and superstition, especially in the United States.
Halloween in Colombia
In Colombia, many efforts have been made in the last 15 years to diminish the creepy feeling of Halloween. In fact, it is now called, “Kid’s Day.” Schools and community centres promote the celebration of this day by hosting carnivals and kid-oriented shows, such as puppet theatre and magic shows. It is very common in Colombia to see kids wearing a costume to school on the 31st of October.
Funny enough, we don’t have seasons like those in the United States or UK, so pumpkins and spiders are not common at all at this time of the year. And yet, we still use those items for decoration. At the end of the day, kids go from house to house singing something that would translate as, “trick or treat Halloween, I want candy only for me, your nose will grow if you don’t give candy to me.” It might sound aggressive, but it is not taken in a bad way at all. It might refer to the Pinocchio story, were his nose grew longer because of lying. So telling a kid you don’t have candy to share might be considered a lie. My own interpretation!
Halloween in the Netherlands
Not a Dutch tradition?
In the 9 years I’ve been living in the Netherlands, no one has come to my door asking for candy on the 31st Of October. However, when my son was born, I decided I was not going to let this day pass unnoticed. At the time, I was living in Wageningen, a very international town in the east of The Netherlands. That year, I sent my son to daycare dressed as a polar bear and although moms and leaders thought it was cute, they also thought it was a bit weird.
I had also asked around among other expats and found out there was a newly built neighbourhood where many expats lived, and many had decorated their houses for Halloween. We decided to go in the evening with our kids and sing our Spanish Halloween songs, going from door to door to ask for candy. To our delight, we were very well received, even by the Dutch families! Perhaps this might be the only neighbourhood in Wageningen where kids can get candy on the 31st of October.
… how you can celebrate Halloween, Dutch style!
However, more than asking for candy, I wanted my son to enjoy Halloween in the way kids do in Colombia, and I’m sure I’m not the only one! Therefore I have been doing my research and I am very happy to share this info with you:
Halloween shopping night
(Prinses Beatrixlaan, 2284 BK Rijswijk)
Thursday 25th October, from 18:00 – 21:00: dance performances for kids and face painting in de Bogaard Shopping Centre.
Halloween at the Delft Botanical Gardens
(Poortlandplein 6, 2628 BM Delft)
Friday 26th October, from 17:00 – 21:00: Ghost greenhouse, face painting, colouring, pumpkin carving, scary photo booth (DIY), marshmallows roasting at the bonfire, ghostly treasure hunt. You must pay for the entrance and for €2, kids get a stampcard for the various activities.
Halloween at the Stadsboerderij BuytenDelft
(Korftlaan 3a, 2616 LJ Delft)
Saturday 27th October, from 13:00 – 20:00: for kids between 3 and 6 years there are several activities throughout the day, such as pumpkin carving, decorating Halloween cupcakes, making popcorn in the fire pit, face painting, storytelling and a ghost tour through the water playground. See here for more information about the timetable of activities and costs.
Halloween in the Wippolder
(Wippolder, 2628 GC Delft)
Saturday 27th October, from 18:00 – 20:00: this has been a big and succesful Trick or Treat walk to the houses along a planned map route. Kids and parents wearing a costume are welcome to join this fun walk. The route to follow can be found on their Facebook page.
Delft MaMa Halloween Party
(Speeltuin Geerweg, Kleine Boogerd 16, 2611 WC Delft)
Sunday 28th October, from 14:00: Hosted by Delft MaMa, there are costume contests for both the kids and the adults. There’s a Pot Luck (bring a dish!) for food, but drinks will be available at the venue. The fee is €12,50 per family, Pay online via Tikkie. Follow the Facebook event here.
Halloween in de Trees!
(Laan van NOI 104, 2593 BX Den Haag)
Wednesday 31st October, from 13:00 – 17:00: Face painting, treasure hunt, trick or treat, surprise activities at the Zorg voor Party Feestwinkel.
Halloween in de Reinkenstraat
(Reinkenstraat, 2517 CS Den Haag)
Wednesday 31st October, from 16:00 – 18:00: This is a very cosy shopping street in the Hague. Children are invited to go dressed with costumes to sing Trick or Treat. There will also be several children’s activities in the street, such as a spooky ghost tunnel, a candy festival and face painting.
Halloween at Duivenvoorde Castle
(Laan van Duivenvoorde 4, 2252 AK Voorschoten)
Wednesday 31st October, from 16:00 – 17:30 for kids from 4 to 8 years old; from 17:30 to 19:00 for kids from 8 to 12 years old. Activities for both age groups include walking through the ancient castle rooms, a super-scary ghost tour, short storytelling in the attic, face painting, Halloween crafts and roasting marshmallows over the campfire.
Have a spooktacular time!
Blackberries and Memories
Yesterday, I took my daughters blackberry picking. To someone else this may sound like just another day out, but for me it was special. It was special because it enabled me to re-live one of my favourite childhood memories and to share it with my own children.
When I think of it now, it seems a little strange, a teenage girl voluntarily taking her little brother out to pick blackberries. Remember though that this was in the time before iPads, and we had two months of summer holidays to fill!
This particular memory takes place towards the end of the summer break when we had already spent days at the beach, in the park, hung out with friends, set out crab traps, wandered around the house doing nothing in particular and were feeling rested, relaxed, and superbly content. Suddenly it was the end of August, and what had started as an endless vacation was *gasp* almost over. The race was on to make the most of those last sun filled days. I grabbed a few buckets and shouted to my little brother, “come on! We are going blackberry picking.”
Vancouver Island, where we lived, is a magical island of spectacular natural beauty (but that’s another story). It is also covered with wild blackberry bushes that ripen in late summer. Out we walked into the hot sun carrying our buckets like little soldiers on a mission to the nearest patch. After sizing up the bushes to find the juiciest specimens we dropped our buckets and started picking. We worked in companionable silence broken only by the occasional “ouch!” as one of us scratched ourselves or ‘mmmm’ when we were unable to resist a taste. Occasionally, disaster would strike in the form of accidentally kicking over a nearly full bucket or, particularly painful, falling into the bushes. Much to the hilarity of the other sibling.
If I let my mind travel back there now I can still smell the warm, ripe berry smell, part fermented fruit and part earthy leaves that would soon be turning brown. The hot sun burning the back of my neck, the scratches on my hands and the relaxing monotony of picking. Concentrated as we were on our efforts to find the biggest, juiciest berries, we lost all track of time.
Buckets finally full we trudged home with the fruits of our labour. Tired and hot we competed to see who had the most scratches or whose fingers were the purplest, stained from the dark juice.
Back in the kitchen, I made the pastry and, together with my little brother, we rolled it out to fit the pie tins. Then we cooked the berries, adding lots and lots of sugar. By the time we’d assembled the pies and baked them in the oven, the kitchen was a disaster of flour and squashed berries. At about this time, my Mum arrived home from work to find two children who had made a disaster of her kitchen proudly displaying fresh blackberry pies.
The childhood experiences that my daughters have in Holland are very different from my own back in rural Canada. Sometimes this is part of the fun. We get to experience things for the first time together. But other times it can make it hard to relate to each other. Memories that friends back home hold on to because they are triggered by their familiar surroundings have faded into the recesses of my memory. It’s amazing how a simple activity like this can bring those memories rushing back, filling my heart with a warm glow.
Vancouver Island is too far and too expensive to travel back to regularly. However, I am doing my best to bring a little bit of my life in Canada here to share with my family. When I do and when it works, the distance between here and home closes just a little and the effort is so very worth it.
I would love to hear about traditions from home that you are sharing here with your children?
And of course about any good spots for blackberry picking!
Note: this is me navigating clumsily in the realms of bilingual parenting. Not an advice whatsoever. If I’d like big words, I’d say don’t try this at home, but you’ll might have to. So let me know in the comments, theories, practice, shoot away!
I’ve been struggling with the languages lately.
Well, with my mother language. My children do understand both, Dutch and Hungarian well, but since we live in The Netherlands, they don’t speak nearly as much Hungarian as Dutch. They don’t sound like other 5-6 year old Hungarian kids. It’s all very understandable and “no wonder” – to me – but I do have a hard time explaining it to grandparents, my parents.
A hard time.
And I’m sure a lot of us had the firm belief – before actually getting children – that we would take advantage of the bilingual parenting, and the thousand and one positive effects of it as well – when it came to that. Living in a different country than our own expands our minds to other cultures and solutions, so it’s highly recommended (if at least for a while). Then you get kids, and you are still positive and enthusiastic – all the while you have a hard time keeping your eyes open. As those little feet start to run, not so subtle comments and advises might start to flow from “back home”. About remembering your roots, history of your nation, and gifting your beautiful mother language to the next generation.
Well, I for one, agree with them.
But why leave everything to one person? Let’s delegate here. I’d certainly would like to do all of the above, with the involvement of my parents and extended family – even friends with kids. It’s a big responsibility to be the sole language provider.
I say that, all the while I feel like I have been doing it all by the books (and will continue to do so):
- Talking in the second language at all times with the children.
- Reading in the second language every day.
- Playing a round of Q&A in the second language every now and then.
- Only watching TV-shows, movies in the second language.
- Having other children around can who only communicate with the second language (that’s a tough one).
- Taking trips and meeting with others who enjoy speaking that other language.
- Sending letters with snail mail to other Hungarian children who live abroad, in other countries.
But all this is not enough, as they are not forced to speak Hungarian with everyone. I’m not making them answer me only in Hungarian, because I want to communicate with whatever means we have. I want to teach the LOVE of this, the feeling of being understood, without the pressure “you have to say it right”. Am I nuts? Most probably.
Creating is always way out there beyond understanding
But I also don’t like the idea being left alone in this quest, all by myself, while it’s apparent that in mixed families it’s harder to keep the minority language alive. So family “back home” needs to step up.
But how, right? Distance is at play here, grandparents (at least my parents) find more than enough reasons not to travel, and with school being mandatory from age 5, we are also bound to dates.
Well, I’m not slowing down just because of some rocks on the road. Lately I’ve been asking around a number of Hungarian mothers living abroad as I felt the time has come for us to focus and try something new. They were big help – everyone had theories 🙂 We just throw ourselves in deep water, and we see how this will turn out – because so far there was only talk. Now comes action.
The first step is as follows:
- My parents do come to visit, and on a couple of days they take our daughters with them
- The kids and grandparents will be immersed into their little Hungarian bubble for a couple of days, and…
- A very good friend of mine and her own daughter will come to our house – and we all spend a couple of days together.
This is how it’s going to go down in the spring holiday, and we are all psyched. It’s really exciting for me, my parents, my friend. The kids of course (!) are more than okay with this, it’s actually funny, we talked about it like it was the most normal thing in the world. Of course they know everyone well now, do fly like birds, and have been practicing sleepovers for two-three nights with oma and opa. So, it’s all good.
When this first tryout works, we’ll go for the longer immersions:
- a week in the summer holidays, later two,
- an exchange later on with my friends and their kids,
- the focus here is on kids with whom the only mutual language is Hungarian. Those pen pals are in for a treat – they can be exchange students at our house, without all the usual bureaucracy.
All in the name of the second language.
Past experiences and the bright future
Myself, I remember I had relatives relatively far from home as a kid, so once (!) we’ve spent a week there with my sister without “papa-mama”. That was fun, although we were also older, maybe 8-10 years. And there were no language barriers, but it’s always exciting being without parents, isn’t it? It must have been fun for my parents too 😉
Being Hungarian means being restless and impatient for life, so (along with my parents) we can’t wait that long. My girls are now 5 and 6,5 years – and although they are super verbal (the older is speaking since she grew lips), and they do understand just about everything you throw at them in Hungarian, speaking is a different matter.
What are your practices, dear fellow mothers of the bilingual realm? Let me know in the comments! Talk about theories, your practices, experiences – I’d love to read your wisdom.
Tis the season to be jolly…and for those that celebrate Christmas it is also the season of over-abundance, over-indulgence and rosy-cheeked children whining to the merry tune of ‘it’s not fair, all my friends have got one.’
I love Christmas. I may even go as far as to say it was the main reason why I had children – that and having the perfect excuse to watch Disney films at the ripe old age of thirty-eight. Yet unlike my friends who at this time of year are tasked with the never ending battle of trying to manage their children’s’ expectations, when I asked my seven and five year old girls what they wanted from Santa they answered – “ We don’t know, what is there?”
To understand how I got so lucky you need to know where I live. I live in a bubble, a shiny happy ex-pat bubble of my own making.
Originally from London, I have been living an international lifestyle for eight years. I met my husband in Australia, we had our first child in the UK, our second daughter was born two years later in the south of Spain then just four months ago (following a job offer) our happy little family moved to Delft . We’ve gone from the big smoke to margaritas on the beach to cutesy canals and bicycles – and we love it. We enjoy our nomadic lifestyle, and never more so than at Christmas.
“How are you all adapting?” my overly concerned family and friends ask. “Is it hard settling in to a new country with the children?” To which I answer, “No, contrary to popular belief it’s actually easier to be a parent when you don’t know what’s going on all the time. We’re free to be who we want to be.”
As mothers I’m sure you understand when I talk about expectations. Anxiety, fear of judgement, societal pressures and guilt are never far away. Doing what is expected of you as parents is something that never occurred to me as I picked out newborn clothes and pondered on baby names eight years ago. I didn’t once worry about whether my parenting methods would be questioned, or that I wouldn’t have control over what influenced my children…then they were born and the world of motherhood was cracked open in all its ugly technicolor glory. Without realising it, we parents are bombarded daily with what we should and must and need to do. Each country has a list of unwritten rules when it comes to children and how to raise them. Magazines, websites, mothering groups and family all influence our own parenting methods – until you move abroad. Then you are untouchable. Your rules from back home don’t apply and you are not worried about/able to understand/told about the rules in your new country of residence.
You know what that is called? Freedom. And never more so than at this time of year.
When it comes to Christmas I love living in a country that is not my own, and this year I’m especially excited about experiencing a cold Dutch Christmas for the first time. While others in their own home towns are feeling the festive season pressure of spending, attending and being in twenty million places at once – us expats are happily gawping in wonder around us, without any idea as to what is going on, completely oblivious to anyone’s expectations of us, simply floating about in our magical la la bubble. There are so many reasons why this time of year is especially magical (and easier) for my family.
No expectations, no dissapointment
We have our own family traditions when we go back to the UK, but being new in The Netherlands we are still busy learning about what the locals do; the tiny round cinnamon biscuits, chocolate initials, Sinterklass instead of Santa and learning about when to put shoes out to be filled with presents. My children don’t know ‘the Christmas rules’ and neither do I…they have no expectations, so whatever happens is going to be magical and exciting because it’s all new.
No media influence
We don’t watch Dutch TV, so my girls don’t watch adverts (Netflix all the way). I don’t have magazines lying around the house full of glossy Must-Have Christmas Buys or Argos catalogues landing with a thump through the letterbox. My kids don’t know what is out there, except for the odd glance through the toy shop window, so when they ask for presents they simply ask for more of what they have. When you don’t have an abundance of choice, you don’t have stress.
No peer pressure
Like many ex-pat families, my kids go to an International school. They play with children of many races, from various countries that practice a mix of religions and customs. Every child looks different, sounds different and dresses differently. These kids don’t care about ‘in’ toys or who has more or who’s wearing what. There are no fads, no designer gadget talk or one-upmanship when it comes to what presents they are going to receive this year. Half of them don’t even celebrate Christmas! So my girls are not whipped up into a ‘I want what she has’ frenzy.
Well-meaning relatives don’t get involved
We live far away from the ones we love. Sometimes that’s difficult, but sometimes that’s nice. I am not under any pressure to buy my mum’s neighbour a present because she has bought me bath salts every year since I was ten. I don’t have to attend the carol concerts of my friend’s children or my niece’s nativity play or send ten thousand Christmas cards. I’m out the loop. I have Facebook, I can say ‘hi’ and the rest of the time I can…
…concentrate on my own family
Because that is what Christmas is truly about. Living in our ex-pat bubble forces my children, husband and I to stick together. We may be a little closed off from life around us, a little more selfish and a little bit insular – but it also makes us widen our horizons and pick and choose what is important to us. Our children are protected from Christmas expectations because they are living in a land that is not their own. Because the traditions of ‘back home’ no longer apply to them, instead they are getting the freedom to explore, respect and soak up new experiences.
We are not adhering to the kind of Christmas that advertisers on TV want us to have, that John Lewis ads are selling or what our parents before us are saying we must do.
We are all (even us grown-ups) getting to see Christmas in a new and wondrous light again and appreciating the importance of being part of someone else’s celebrations while still adhering to our own. We are choosing our own traditions and making our own memories, but most importantly we are doing this together as a family.
We’re in our own little Christmas bubble of happiness… you can’t get more magical that that!
Citizens of the Kingdom of the Netherlands*, vassals of the King Willem Alexander “the first”, let your hair down, dress up in orange from top to toe and celebrate that His Royal Highness is turning 49 this coming Wednesday the 27th of April, on Koningsdag it is all allowed.
(*that includes Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten)
World traditions: in the series “world traditions” we will discover what countries celebrate and how do they celebrate it. At the end of the post, you will find an “embrace the tradition” kit, for those who want to celebrate like a local.
To inaugurate the series, a post about Lovers’ day in Catalonia and World Book Day.