Employees and families on assignment will experience new holidays and festivals and actively participating in them can be an enjoyable, educational way to adapt and enrichen a host country experience.
Understanding and discovering new, host country holidays while celebrating your own away from home can be an excellent way to assimilate and make new friends with host country locals. In-country colleagues may also be impressed by an expat’s interest in understanding local culture / tradition.
A Sampling of Celebrations
Consider just this very small sampling of holidays or festivals that employees and families on assignment have enjoyed partaking in:
- Switzerland: The Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht) – Each year the carnival starts after Ash Wednesday at 4:00 am and runs for exactly 72 hours. The city of Basel, Switzerland lets its hair down and embraces a massive carnival, similar to the way Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans. Onlookers can’t help but partake!
- Brazil: Carnival – An annual four-day festival celebrated before Lent and Easter, Carnival is the most popular event of the year in Brazil where it becomes the “Greatest Show on Earth”.
- Japan: Respect of the Aged Day (Keirō no Hi) – This national holiday is celebrated the third Monday in September to express respect for elders in the community and thank them for their contributions to society. Many communities throw parties and offer special gifts to bring even more longevity to their lives.
- China: Chinese New Year (Nián Jié) – Also known as the Spring Festival, this is a public holiday celebrated in China and also Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, North Korea, Singapore, South Korea, and Vietnam. Fireworks, gatherings/meals with family and friends, lion and dragon dances and giving out a monetary gift during the holiday are all popular activities.
- Italy: Assumption Day (Ferragosto) – This widely celebrated national holiday in Italy occurs on August 15—the day Catholics believe Mary ascended to heaven. Many businesses close and one will find celebrations this day and the days before/after with music, food, parades and fireworks.
- India: Ganesha Chaturthi – This is a national holiday when Hindus celebrate the birthday of Lord Ganesh. It normally falls between August 19 and September 20 and varies by year.
- Mexico: Day of the Dead – This combines the ancient Aztec custom of celebrating ancestors with All Souls' Day, a holiday the Spanish brought to Mexico starting in the early 1500s. The holiday is celebrated in November and is like a family reunion—except dead ancestors are the guests of honor.
- United States & Canada: Thanksgiving – International employees/families living in the U.S. can celebrate this holiday on the fourth Thursday of November holiday as an opportunity for families and friends to get together over a nice afternoon or evening dinner and reflecting on that for which they are thankful. Canada also celebrates their version of Thanksgiving, but on the second Monday of October, although many choose to feast on the weekend.
Home Holidays Abroad
Celebrating new holidays and traditions in new countries might be a different than back home but doing so can be memorable. Often, employees on assignment will get together with other local expatriates to celebrate, use the time to travel within the region, or take a return trip home, if eligible.
If one remains open-minded and accepts that celebrating customary holidays and traditions around the world will be a bit different – but no less fun or festive – international holidays can prove a rewarding, educational, and memorable experience.