Only 4.5 weeks till Hanukkah, 8 weeks until Christmas, 9 until New Years… Time to think about weaving your Au Pair into your family’s celebrations.
You should think ahead, and talk with your au pair, because holidays can be important times to feel in or out of a family, acknowledged or overlooked, celebrated or taken for granted.
Here’s a question we received from an au pair’s point of view:
I’m a Christian Au Pair for a Muslin Family, with a question about celebrating holidays.
My birthday occurred in my first month with my family and so I didn’t expect a gift or celebration.
Recently, my host family celebrated their holiday Eid. I bought something for the kids, and I expected something from them on Eid, but they didn’t give me a gift on that holiday. Now Christmas is coming, a holiday that I celebrate as a Christian. In December, I’ll have been with my host family for 9 months.
Should I expect something for Christmas?
Dear AP –
At the very least, we should each other’s religious holidays.
Acknowledging a holiday means that we know the holiday is coming, talk about what it means to the person who celebrates it, and plan ahead so that the person who celebrates the holiday has time off to go to church, temple, the mosque, or elsewhere.
In contrast, celebrating the holiday means to get more involved. To me, that means to participate in the holiday, to decorate for it, cook the special foods, and participate in religious and non-religious rituals — like at Christmas, giving gifts. It might be too much to ask that we ‘celebrate’ other people’s religious holidays, since often the holidays don’t co-exist comfortably. (For example, celebrating Christmas is sometimes experienced by non-Christians as a kind of cultural imperialism.)
Gift-giving, oddly enough, seems to fall between the space of acknowledging and celebrating. Being given a gift recognizes the importance of the holiday to you, but also might feel like participating in it to them. Personally, I think that it would have been nice of them to include you in the celebration of their holiday — indeed, since you made an effort to celebrate with them, leaving you out was not very thoughtful. (But it happens, mostly because people don’t think ahead and/or pay attention). But I would not expect your host family to give you a gift– that might be too much ‘celebrating’ for them.
Instead, have a conversation with your host family about how you might want to celebrate Christmas.
- Ask in advance for the time off that you want. I think it is appropriate to have a religious holiday as an off duty day, doing your 45 hrs of on-duty time on other days.
- Be clear about if you want to go to church, and when, so that you have have transportation.
- Talk with your host parents about whether or not they would like you to share some of your Christmas traditions with them… for example, if they are a religious family, they might like to have you talk about what Christmas means to you spiritually. Or, they might prefer a more secular cultural exchange.
See this as an opportunity to clarify what you need and talk with your host family about what they might like. Plan in advance so you can accommodate each other.
Finally, consider that you might need to make plans to join with another au pair or two to do some celebrating in your off duty time…. you don’t want to miss out on the holiday (that could even get you homesick).
Host parents, what do you think? Au pairs? Please share….
Islamic Christmas Ornament by Kyle Design (only $14.95)