One of the strangest things that I didn’t expect to miss as an expat – but do – are some of the US-centric holidays. While my Dutch Caribbean adopted island does celebrate a few of the traditional holidays I’m accustomed to (Christmas, Easter, New Year’s Eve) and a host that I’ve never heard of (Ascension Day, anyone?), a few of my favorites don’t exist here. For obvious reasons. Seems those outside the United States don’t really care when we declared our independence or why it is important to take the day off to gorge on turkey and shop in honor of “discovering” our adopted homeland.
Unfortunately for me, at least one happens to be my favorite holiday of the year – the 4th of July. My love for this particular holiday has mostly to do with fond memories of long weekends with (usually) good weather, bbq’s, camping, fireworks and partying with friends. Growing up and living in the Midwest for much of my life, Independence Day was the highlight of summer, and a celebration I looked forward to every year. To me, this holiday IS summer.
When I decided to move abroad, I never really gave any thought to the small fact that this particular holiday would not likely be widely celebrated in the Caribbean – especially on a Dutch island. Between deciding what to pack and totally living in the moment of a new adventure, the thought of the little things I’d lose never crossed my mind. And, as it turns out, nobody here does celebrate the 4th, except for a few big resorts that shoot off obligatory fireworks and throw bbq dinners to placate their American clientele.
Over the years I’ve tried introducing this uniquely American holiday to my Venezuelan and Dutch friends. I’ve organized barbeques and beach parties to mark the 4th. And while any reason is a good reason to party on a Caribbean island, the gatherings never quite captured the essence of a similar get together back in the States. Of course, while the purpose of the holiday might have been lost, my international friends readily embraced the concept of patriotic jello shots in red and blue. Probably why they are my friends, actually – our shared love of fun adult-type treats.
Of course, the 4th of July holiday doesn’t go without a small bit of fanfare. Island Boy does attempt to mark the holiday for me (usually with a nice grilled dinner and wine while we watch the fireworks from our hilltop terrace). Not bad for a Brit with an obvious conflict of interest over this particular holiday. I really got lucky with this one, didn’t I?
And so to all my friends, family and readers who are knee deep in hot dogs, homemade potato salad and sparklers today back in the homeland, enjoy your celebration! I hope the weather is nice where you are, and that you are surrounded by people who make you feel happy.
Down here in the far southern Caribbean, I’ll be soaking up the endless summer weather and enjoying a nice bottle of wine while viewing the Bonaire version of American fireworks tonight. While it’s not quite the same as being back in Wisconsin for a long weekend of celebrations, it’s equally as nice. Even if it is tinged with a teeny-tiny bit of nostalgia-induced homesickness.
But those feelings are the trade-off for making the choice to get out of your comfort zone and explore the world. And they are feelings you need to accept if you want to make a big change like moving abroad. Feelings I long ago accepted as part of the deal.
Living life as an expat may not always be easy, but don’t be afraid to try it. The new experiences and broadened perspectives you gain once you shed your fears and adopt the title are totally worth it. And the benefits definitely outweigh any short bouts of missing old traditions. If you do expat life right, you’ll create new traditions along the way, anyway.
Happy Independence Day, America!
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