The Four Weeks of Christmas - Week 1
Max left the UK in January to travel across to Ohio, USA as an au pair. This is his story of his first Christmas in the US:
As an au pair approaching the end of my year, I get to map the year quite closely. 2013 is thus fully my year as an au pair in America and this Christmas marks the end of that year somewhat. I've never found it too difficult myself being away from my family, but of course holidays and birthdays alike leave everyone a bit homesick. My advice to other au pairs would probably be for the most part; get over it. Christmas is just another day on the calendar, another experience to be had and if you spend all your time dwelling on your family you're just going to miss out on another culture and another way to celebrate a holiday. Of course, this doesn't exclude you from Skyping or calling your family if you wish, in fact if they're anything like my family that should stop you missing them quite quickly. Just don't forget, Christmas is mainly for the kids and if you give yourself over to that, you can make this an even more special day for them.
As an Englishman, indoctrinated as I am into the commercialist season as much as any American, I was not expecting many differences in Christmas celebrations between the two countries. I was quite wrong however, as due to the multitude of different sects of Christianity, different families can have vast differences. For starters, my host mum was born Catholic and her parents celebrated with a party on Christmas Eve and then went to church on Christmas day, whereas my host dad was raised Episcopalian and had a much quieter holiday. My host family themselves usually go away over the end of the year for a holiday. They are not this year. Lucky me. To this end they aren't really sure what to do in particular, which is actually good for me because I'll be able to have some sway over the way things are run and make it more of a British Christmas intertwined with the American, a fitting analogy of my time here. This is always an option for au pairs, chances are your family is at least mildly interested in your cultural differences and making you feel at home, particularly at this difficult time of the year, so it's likely they'll let you include some aspect of your Christmas to theirs.
There's also a big geographical element. I'm extremely thankful to be living in a much smaller country where near all my family are within reach, even the Australian ones fly over often. Americans families can often be spread over much larger areas and as such getting together over Christmas can be difficult and expensive. However the large distances also mean that they can barely know their family so there isn't a feeling of something missing at Christmas. This is of course hard for me to understand, being so close to my cousins as I am, but this is again a new experience.
The local area I'm living in is extremely rural with a large Amish community and it will I think be interesting to see how they celebrate Christmas. It's very different locally from back home as the US is perhaps more invested in thanksgiving. It's been interesting learning about this holidays beginnings and traditions and the actual holiday is celebrated very similarly to Christmas, just without the presents or Christmas films and with slightly different food. I have to say, I am not a fan of pumpkin pie. As I come from a large market town I am missing the decorations and events that happen around Christmas. In the town I live in, there are few decorations aside from a local shopping complex which is covered in lights with a Father Christmas' grotto. The events are very different however, as they don't have things like pantomimes or Christmas shows, lacking a performance area. However there are things like talent shows at the local school and a midnight mass at the local churches, though the hymns and carols are very different from back home.
There will of course be things I miss about Christmas; my family, the Queen's speech and Doctor Who on the telly, my grandad falling asleep throughout both of them, my mum's Christmas dinner, opening presents with the family, rugby in the field behind my house. And there are also things I find strange here; putting up decorations a month and a half too early, the different families and their completely different traditions and how sweet everything constantly tastes. I am of course more fortunate than most in that my Christmas comes at the end of my year. I have bonded with my family and anyone facing their first month with Christmas I'm sure has a heavy load to bear. However, Christmas is a time for family and the people you work for out here will become your family if you just let them in.
Au Pair in Berlin, Ohio, USA