Create a Holiday Tradition– Just for your Au Pair

by cv harquail on December 10, 2014

You were wondering when I’d start the holiday posts … and here’s the first one!

When new people enter our families, a great way to welcome them is to include them explicitly in our family holiday celebrations.

pugEfforts like:

  • Creating a Christmas stocking for your au pair to hang along with the kids’,
  • Getting an additional “au pair menorah” so that s/he has one of her own to light,
  • Buying that extra ticket to The Nutcracker, or
  • Hunting down another headband with reindeer antlers that she can wear while you decorate the tree–

—  all of these are important ways to include your au pair as ‘part of the family”.

There’s another opportunity, too, for your family to

Create a tradition that is just for you and your au pair.  

What’s a tradition that you wouldn’t do of you didn’t have an au pair, or maybe a tradition that your au pair can take back home at the end of the year?

“Daring To Live Fully” , by Marelisa, is a blog I stumbled upon years ago. I love to get her posts vie email because she often has great suggestions for… daring to live life fully.  Marelisa just published a great list of  25 Christmas Activities Filled with Holiday Cheer.

Several of these ideas can be modified to fit the specific holiday(s) that your family celebrates this time of year, and some of them can help you enjoy the holidays being celebrated around you.   

[see also: On celebrating each other’s religious holidays ]

Here’s an Au Pair-able Holiday Tradition that my kids would love, even now that they are older:

 Go on a Christmas Scavenger Hunt.

Piling into the car to go look at the Christmas lights is fun, but going on a Christmas Scavenger Hunt is even better. Make a list of the things that you’re going to search for before heading out.

Your list can include things such as the following:

    • A nativity scene.
    • A polar bear.
    • A reindeer.
    • A snowman with a top hat.
    • A Christmas tree in a window.
    • Three wise men.
    • Penguins.
    • Santa on his sleigh.
  • (I’d add:) a menorah with the *wrong* number of candles lit
  • A deflated Santa balloon
  • Snoopy ice skating inside a snow globe.

You might also create a photo collage for Facebook by getting everyone to pose in front of the displays you find. (That could be fun for your au pair’s family back home too).

There’s always the classic suggestion:

Ask your au pair to share one of his or her holiday traditions.

But it might also be fun to add to the exchange by creating a new tradition together.

Any crazy ideas for celebrating the season with you au pair?

Let’s hear ’em!


Christmas Tip: Make sure your Au Pair has a stocking
Christmas Tip: Tell your Au Pair what your family believes about Santa
Au Pair Gifts To Kids: Katrin’s Book-a-Day Advent Calendar
How Can You Help Your Au Pair Feel at Home over the Holidays?


WarmStateMomma December 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Christmas is my favorite time of year and it’s really fun to include our AP. Her culture doesn’t really celebrate Christmas, so everything is new and fun to her without any expectations (just like my toddler’s experience of Christmas, weirdly).

We included AP and toddler in Christmas tree shopping/decorating; my mom made matching stockings for our whole family; we’ve been playing Christmas songs at home in Chinese and English. The AP and toddler turn on the lights in the yard and walk around the neighborhood to see everyone’s lights (a lot of people in my neighborhood have beautiful, over-the-top displays). They both enjoyed their first hot cocoa and snickerdoodles last week. We are taking both to the breakfast-with-Santa toy drive this weekend. Our AP is sending Christmas cards to her family back home and she is included in our family photo Christmas card. The LCC’s monthly event is an ugly-sweater party. I also want to make gingerbread houses as a family – it will be delicious, messy and a great photo op.

My heart goes out to the APs who will miss Christmas at home, but we are having our best Christmas yet this year with our toddler, AP and a new baby arriving just a few days before Christmas.

cv harquail December 10, 2014 at 6:14 pm

This sounds so, so lovely. >^=^<

WarmStateMomma December 11, 2014 at 11:42 am

Who says Christmas is most magical for kids? :)

Taking a Computer Lunch December 10, 2014 at 11:40 pm

I always fill a stocking – I make sure it has a good cross section of fun & practical gifts (thin gloves that have the tips that work with electronics, an i-Tunes gift card, socks with wool (cheap at Target), Purell, lip balm, chocolates from home, and importantly a keepsake ornament for her trees for years to come.

We’re not a religious family and we’re not Christian, but we go out of our way to find a family to take our AP to church if that’s what she wants, and several of ours have.

Christmases out of the routine are memorable (I still recall shouting “Aeroflot sucks!” at the Moscow airport on Christmas Eve in 1989 with 50 Irish engineering students with whom I had traveled to the Soviet Union to see the man who is now my DH – they had gone for the fun of it). Landing “back home” in Dublin, seeing green earth and eating vegetables with my Irish family was a blessing (and the reason my flight was delayed by 48 hours was due to defections – so a real lesson in freedom). A long way to say that no matter how little or much you do, you’re going to be making memories for your AP. Be generous – not necessarily in gift giving, but in the spirit of the holiday – it goes a long way!

SKNY December 11, 2014 at 9:08 am

Off topic TACL, I was thinking the other day that I love your “ethics”, and that back in 2003 when I finished PHysical therapy school and signed up with APIA you were already a host mom. I was thinking: man, would have been fun to be TACL’s Au pair. Hehe

Taking a Computer Lunch December 11, 2014 at 1:25 pm

You could have been. Child #2 was bilingual in Brazilian Portuguese for years ;-) – we tried really hard to keep it up, but in the end, it proved too difficult.

DCMomof3 December 11, 2014 at 12:26 am

I like the TACL post about being generous in the spirit of the holiday. This year more than ever before in my years of hosting, I am trying to be as generous as possible because I think I have an AP who has very ingrained ideas about how Christmas should be and I personally just need to get over it. Its kind of a long story, but bear with me…..

Each year at Christmas, we travel from the Northeast to my parents’ house in south Florida for 2 weeks. My parents are both old and difficult. That’s just how it is. My mother greets the AP at the door with her own personal pair of slippers to wear for the stay because nobody is allowed to wear shoes in the beautiful, immaculate house. There are tons of rules like that and we all just deal with it. Its always an adjustment for the APs from being at our house where they feel very comfortable and at home and can pretty much do whatever they want. That said, its still 2 weeks in South Florida with lots of beach and pool time. Each day we do an excursion with the kids and the au pair without my parents. We also do a side trip to Orlando or Miami for part of the time. I usually encourage the APs to take time to go on a trip for themselves while we are there. And, all fly home for New Years because they want to party with their friends and not sit in Florida with us. Because they leave early, they generally end up with an extra week off that does not count against their vacation.

This year, we took our AP with us when we went to visit friends in another state for Thanksgiving. They are close friends whom we try to see once per year or every other year – usually for either a holiday or a vacation together. They live in a very close knit community, are deeply religious and are surrounded by extended family. They are pretty much the opposite of me and my family.

They live in a rural community where many people had never met a foreigner before. Thus, the AP was like a celebrity. The entire week everyone was asking her all about her home country and all of the differences between her home country and the US. (Ok, to be honest, I never really listen to all of these stories because she is from Europe and really, a lot of the differences she thinks she sees have more to do with her family’s economics versus ours, rather than American culture). So, our friends and their neighbors and extended family went out of their way to buy her whatever she wanted, take her shopping on black friday, do her hair and makeup for Thanksgiving, etc. They are truly wonderful people and I appreciated everything that they did for her. They even told her that she could come back for Christmas. So, she took them up on it.

I cannot help but feel kind of slighted, since we are her host family. I know that going to Florida and sitting with old people and wearing the special slippers is probably not her idea of a warm, traditional Christmas. In fact, it is not a traditional Christmas. We go to the beach after we open presents and only come back to the house when its time to eat. However, its part of what my family does each holiday – the family that she chose to be a part of. I find it strange that we took her with us to visit our friends whom we’ve known for 20+ years and now she is going to fly back to see them for Christmas.

So, I am trying to just look at this with an open mind – to try to see that maybe she has certain ideas about how Christmas should be and about the type of American host family she wants (them, not us). I will try keep repeating the “generous in spirit” mantra as we all get ready for the holidays. Thanks as always for the advice on this blog!!

UKAu Pair December 11, 2014 at 5:16 am

It’s possible that she just didn’t realise that she was upsetting you. Maybe she didn’t know that you wanted her there, or wants to give you family time together so took the opportunity to make herself scarce?

Last year, I really upset my host family when I made plans for Easter. In my family, Easter is a day we all spend together, and I didn’t want my lovely host family to think that they had to entertain me when they wanted to be having fun. Turns out they’d been really looking forward to showing me what Easter is like in Italy (and it was my fault for not asking them, really. They really are the kindest family I’ve ever met and if I was thinking straight I would have known that they wouldn’t want me out of the way), so as soon as I realised I changed my plans and had a fantastic time with them.

Obviously, you know your au pair better than I do, but is it possible that she was being unthinking rather than deliberately hurtful?

DCMomof3 December 11, 2014 at 9:49 pm

UK au pair – yes, maybe you are right! I hadn’t thought of it that way. To be honest, as my kids get bigger, bringing the au pair with us on trips is less about having the help and more about the fact that we feel badly leaving her home. Maybe she sensed that? In any event, she has already bought her plane ticket for Christmas so no turning back now, but I’ve been busy shopping and buying nice things for her to take with her so she has some things to open on Christmas morning so she can feel part of the excitement at our friends’ house.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 11, 2014 at 10:19 pm

For a real surprise (and because she can’t transport them wrapped) – mail them to your friend’s house. She will appreciate the gesture.

SKNY December 11, 2014 at 8:45 am

Honestly, I’d try hard not to take personally and let it go. It really is not personal. It is *not* about not wanting you as a host family.

11 years ago I was an Au pair. My first Christmas in US was the worst Christmas of my life. I was not the type if person who cares for Christmas that much, but it is hard. You are away from your family, living with a host family with different traditions… And you get homesick. I remember being in a nice location at grandma’s house (hm’s mom), hiding in a spot, crying. For 6 hrs. And the next day. And there were younger people, I could use my own shoes, there were no rules…

The year after I spent Christmas with some Au pairs in Atlantic city, in a cheap motel, eating pizza… And even though now seems lame, I did much better (no tears).
Does that mean I wanted rematch, or hated my family? No. But recognize that holidays are sensitive times, and everyone’s needs are differents.

If you agreed on let her go (or felt bad about saying no, so let her) you have to let it go. She probably thought you wouldn’t mind. She will be back happy and refreshed (happy Au pairs are great Au pairs)…
Just don’t let that hurt the relationship

DCMomof3 December 11, 2014 at 9:53 pm

SKNY – I agree that the holidays are hard for au pairs. In 8 years of hosting, I’ve had all kinds of holiday experiences with au pairs – from girls who had their family at home sit the laptop on the dining table so that AP could be there via skype as part of the family holiday (for hours and hours) to those who made a quick call to their parents in the morning (at my urging) and then headed out to the beach with us without giving it a second thought. I do want everybody to have a good Christmas and I am definitely hoping for a refreshed AP afterwards!

SeuteDeern December 12, 2014 at 5:37 am

While I didn’t cry for six hours… I also still remember my Christmas in the US, 15 years ago! What I really enjoyed were the weeks leading up to Christmas. We went to pick out and cut down the tree as a family, we drove around and looked at the Christmas lights. And then over Christmas, my three oldest host children were with their mom, hundreds of miles away, it was warm enough (in OH) to walk around in a t-shirt, the tree had tipped over days before and flooded all the presents (smashing half), the baby was cranky, we had crab cakes out of the plastic container and watched Saving Private Ryan (I still call it a Christmas movie when it’s on tv) on Christmas eve. I had been so excited to experience Christmas in the US and have to admit that it was a bit of a let down. I only cried for half an hour when I couldn’t get hold of my mom but it definitely was a hard time.

As soon as the kids were back and winter arrived with ice and snow it did get much better though. I think that for me that year the biggest problem was not having the kids there. An “adult only” Christmas just does not hold the same magic. What should have been the peak of the season… was just really subdued. Christmas in my home had always been a family thing, just to spend time together and talk, decorate, bake, cook and eat together and I missed that warm and fuzzy feeling. It was definitely not the worst Christmas of my life but not what I had expected.

JourneyEC Aupair December 11, 2014 at 9:09 am

At my home in Canada, Christmas is a big big deal. It’s not about the presents but all about the getting ready for christmas, baking cookies, putting up lights, decorating the tree. My favourite part of christmas is the magic, the moment just before everyone else has fully woken up. When the tree is lit in the room with presents underneath. The magic of Santa.

So all that being said, Christmas in Australia didn’t match what I was used to. I was included but I just felt like something was missing that something was off. I brought some of my own traditions like christmas baking, making a recipe with the children that I grew up making.

I think that including an au pair and some of her traditions is the best way to go. Also recognizing that the Christmas traditions you enjoy and want to share might not mean Christmas to her. Such as that trip to Florida, be happy that she made such good friends in your friends that share and want to know more about her Christmas. It sounds like she really enjoyed sharing her life back home and it isn’t going to be “work”.

While aupairs are there to be part of your family and have a job, remember that she is always there. The work/life balance isn’t completely true.

This last year I learned that Christmas is really important to me and decided to take my two weeks over Christmas to go home and be with my family.

DCMomof3 December 11, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Journey EC – Thanks for your perspective! I’m actually thinking that if I host again after this year, I may just say in matching that the AP will get an extra 2 weeks off at Christmas. We don’t need the AP for our 2 weeks in Florida – we just bring them because we feel like its the right thing to do. It may be easier all around if I don’t have to explain the crazy slipper rules and maybe I will find an AP who just wants the extra travel time.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 11, 2014 at 10:30 pm

In my opinion, if you host again, offer it as an option. “While we would love for you to join us for two weeks in Florida over the holidays, to be quite honest my parents have some crazy rules that can make times a little tense. We won’t feel slighted if you choose to go somewhere else and we won’t charge it as holiday time. On the other hand, if you choose to join us, there will be a lot of warm sand, as well as side trips to….

Only once did we have an AP throw over our all-expense paid Christmas trip – and we went into rematch before the holidays. Her successor scored, not only is she getting the all-expense paid trip, but she’s found another AP heading to the same city with her HF, so they can both escape and have some HF-free fun!

Should be working December 12, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I like this formulation! We have an extended-family, expenses-paid trip hosted by my parents every New Year’s. But because it’s such a popular destination and time, my parents need to know 6-8 months in advance whether AP will be with us (and they very generously pay for her trip, which is a “working” trip, but very easy).

My kids are getting old enough that I’m starting to realize that we pretty much don’t “need” the AP there, but I don’t know if I want to decide–sometimes just as we are matching–that we are leaving an AP alone at our house over New Year’s. And in matching I really can’t ask her to make that call. Any ideas?

TexasHM December 12, 2014 at 5:33 pm

We had kind of a similar scenario and asked the AP if she thought she might want to go and then used AA miles to get her ticket (that way it was cancellable). As it turns out, we just had our first real rematch, called AA and the refunded the miles so no harm done! I dont know how you would tackle if they get their own room (hotel) on this trip but if its airfare you are debating that might be an option.

WarmStateMomma December 13, 2014 at 12:15 am

AP#1 bailed on our Christmas trip to Orlando last year at the last minute. Luckily we’d used Southwest miles for her ticket, so it was easy to cancel and we had enough time to cancel her hotel room. We took a gamble booking vacation airfare for AP#2 before she arrived (United miles – can’t just cancel) and it worked out. I asked her to decide whether to join us before she arrived, but after we’d matched.

NoVA Twin Mom December 13, 2014 at 4:17 pm

We had a similar situation but we’re going to an au pair “dream” location and it wasn’t over a holiday. I think we asked her before she got here figuring she’d agree, then bought her ticket with cash and got “cancel for any reason” trip insurance for all of us.

SKNY December 11, 2014 at 9:14 am

Now… Adding to the topic: my third family was Jewish and they bought me a giant real Christmas tree with tons of decorations. It was placed on my room and took 1/4 of the room, but we all had a blast decorating it (kids loved it) and they slept under the tree for the first time ever (on the day we decorated it). I have great memories of it, and really loved that they gave me a piece of Christmas :) (even though by the end of my stay there I had already memorized all the Friday’ Shabbat prayers, as well as Hanukkah ones :)

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