As I finally finished decorating my Christmas tree and making my first batch of “schowebredele” dough (Alsatian Christmas cookies similar to the German “Zimtsterne”), I was recalling what it felt like to spend my first holiday season in the USA with my host family.
These are some of the emotions I can recall, and these are some your au pair may be going through:
Pressure and fatigue: my host family had just experienced a terrible loss before Thanksgiving and at the time of my arrival. This meant that we did not even have a chance to go through the “honey moon” phase; things had to get done and we were all working hard and not communicating as much as we should have.
Anxiety: This may be your au pair’s first holidays away from home. She/ he is probably wondering what it will be like, how much/ little they will be included in your family traditions, what friends they can spend New Year’s with, what your expectations are during that time…
Homesickness: Depending on how attached your au pair is to her family and home traditions, she/he may really feel lonely during this time. The fact that nobody in their host family may be aware of those traditions and not having anyone to share them with provides feelings of nostalgia, inadequacy, longing for their home.
Although your au pair may express little concern about being away from home for the holidays, chances are some of these feelings will rise at one time or another… That is where you come in (and where you local coordinator and her au pair friends help as well)!
As a host family, there are very simple things you can do to integrate your au pair with your family traditions and remind her/ him that they are “part of your family” (“au pair” means “in par” in French):
The Au Pair’s Traditions: make sure you find out what holiday they celebrate based on their home country and religion. Ask questions about the meaning of their traditions, how their family celebrates and what they bake/ eat/ prepare/ decorate/ organize/ do together. See if you can find some of these foods at your local World Market or ask your au pair to teach the family how to prepare ornaments and decorations from her home culture as a craft with your children, how to bake / cook her dishes and make sure to include as part of your festivities if applicable.
Your Family’s Traditions: let your au pair know ahead of time how & when you will celebrating the holidays. Some of the traditions we grow up with such as Santa on Christmas morning or decorating the tree are so obvious to us, we forget that they may/ may not be completely new to someone from another country.
In addition to explaining your traditions, share your expectations about her participation to family traditions. Discuss openly and make sure she/ he is comfortably sharing those with you, especially if their personal beliefs differ.
If your extended family is involved, make sure to let them know whether or not your au pair will be sharing the holidays with you or not so that they expect to have her/ him participate and help out!
Christmas/ New Year Tree: Offer to your au pair to come along when it is time to pick a tree. Explain what traditions you and your husband grew up with and what you like about them. Have her participate in decorating as a family activity.
Stocking: Have a stocking with her name embroidered that she can take home with her after her year or two with your family. Let her know what “Santa” usually puts in there if she wants to participate.
Place Settings: At the dinner table, have a place setting or “Gift-popper” for her with her name. We sometimes had a small candle for each guest with their name on the candle holder. It also acts as a “party favor”.
Any other ideas?