Being an au pair is all about cultural exchange. It’s about embracing a new way of life in America and learning how to accept different kinds of people, places and customs. But cultural exchange goes two ways! And for au pairs, that means a large part of the experience is sharing their own culture with their new friends, host parents and, of course, their host children.
Perhaps one of the greatest times of year to share your own culture is right now—the holiday season! Whether your host family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, a different holiday or perhaps nothing at all, this season is a special opportunity for you to bring a little piece of your home and yourself to your new, “second family”—and to teach them a thing or two about a different culture from a different part of the word.
Au pairs who find ways to incorporate their traditions from their home country into their new home in America report having happier, more positive experiences during their program year. This is because sharing your culture—and having it embraced by a loving, caring host family—makes you feel like you have something unique to contribute. It’s a special thing that only you can show them! What better way to teach your second family about who you are?
And keep in mind, host parents want this! Host families sign up to welcome an au pair because they look forward to hosting someone from another part of the world in their home. They are eager to experience a new language, new foods, new traditions and more.
So, what can you do this holiday season to share traditions from your home country with your host family?
Perhaps it’s food! Maybe there’s a classic dish that your family back home always eats around the holidays that you can make for your host family. In Germany and Austria, it’s common to bake vanillekipferl—small, crescent-shaped almond cookies with a dusting of powdered sugar. In France, it’s not Christmas unless you’ve had a classic “Bûche de Noël” (which translates to “Yule log”)—a traditional sponge cake covered in chocolate to resemble a miniature Yule log!
There are countless things you can cook or bake that your American host family would love to experience. Consider getting your host kids to help out with the process—they’ll love getting their hands dirty and making something they’ve never seen before.
You can also introduce your host family and new friends to some traditional holiday games! Take it from former au pair from Denmark, Helene Larsen: “I shared a few things with my host family from Denmark, and they loved it! One thing we did was a game we play called ‘Pakkeleg’—in fact, I’m getting updates that they’re keeping the Danish traditions going, which is amazing to hear!”
A lot of au pairs will get crafty around the holidays and make something for their host kids! “One thing Americans don’t really have is an advent calendar like we do in Austria,” says Austrian au pair Eva Simeonidis. “I made them for my host kids—it’s a small present (most of the time it’s treats) for every day in December until Christmas. I put rather small presents in them (chocolate, a cheap stuffed animal, art stuff) and the kids loved it!”
In many countries, there’s a tradition to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on December 6th! The story goes that St. Nicholas will come that night and fill your boots and shoes with candy if you leave them lined up outside your door. Au pairs say that host kids are a big fan of this tradition!
The tradition you share doesn’t necessarily have to be one that is celebrated by all in your home country—it could be something specific to you and your family! For instance, former au pair from the Netherlands Sharmaine Braams brought one of her favorite traditions to her host family when she was an au pair outside Boston, Massachusetts: “At home I always had a ‘casual’ Christmas. We didn’t really dress up, we stayed in our PJs or comfy clothes but spent the day together and ate dinner together as a family. On Christmas Eve last year, my host family bought onesies for everyone in the family to wear on Christmas Day. We wore them the entire day including during Christmas dinner!”
All host families across the USA have this in common: They are excited to experience traditions from their au pairs’ home countries. What will you share with them this holiday season?