Christmas acts as a punctuation mark in our lives: It gives us a sense of structure. Traditionally, it is a time for sharing and enjoying time spent with loved ones. But beneath the overtly festive overtone, this season tends to expose the missing pieces in our lives. Inevitably, we give more thought to how we and society have changed and where we fit into all of this. By Dr Sulette Ferreira
The bright Christmas decorations all around become an inescapable billboard, shouting at us to pause and reflect on the past year. This reminds me of something by Paulo Coelho, best-selling author of The Alchemist. He maintains that one day, we will be asked only one question: Did we love enough?
It made me think how we as a family use our traditions and rituals to show our love and commitment, especially during the festive period, to answer this significant question.
Social traditions and rituals infuse our lives with order and meaning. They connect us with each other as friends and family. In uncertain times, the traditions and festive activities help us feel safe by establishing a sense of togetherness.
But not all families have the privilege of being together. Christmas then becomes a complicated balance of gratitude and longing. This is especially apparent in the case of transnational families.
Always a family
For most transnational families, Christmas is a reminder that the world has changed. Christmas takes on a duality: there are the Christmases before the emigration, and those after. Families split across vast distances must learn to adapt.
Family members often wonder whether they’ve loved each other enough while they were still close. A family may be separated by distance, but they will always remain a family.
In a fast-paced and ever-changing world, with family that is scattered across the globe, traditions and rituals are more important than ever, as they draw us back to what is important in life.
We tend to embrace old and familiar traditions. For some families, playing old musical favourites can transport them back to safe and familiar circumstances – a familiar time and place. Some use photo albums to reconnect across vast distances.
Yet, looking at our unique life path, we now need to create opportunities to establish new traditions and rituals to match our new reality to strengthen the bond.
Still connected over continents
Creating a ritual by calling those back home, at the same time every Christmas day, renders it a special meaning. Voice and video calls on Christmas morning stir the special festive spirit as Christmas greetings are exchanged. Ordering a gift online, to be delivered to family elsewhere in the world, is a tangible way of showing that you care. It serves as a reminder that you are still connected over continents.
New traditions and rituals provide comfort that some things stay the same. They remind us that life goes on. This is a positive way to cope with inevitable change and loss. It slows things down a bit, giving us a chance to pause and reflect on the familiar and to show how much we love one another.
With these newly established rituals and traditions, we confirm that our family is still intact, even though we are separated by distance. It reminds us where we come from and that we will always belong. When the sun sets in the southern hemisphere on a warm Christmas evening, the snow may gently coat the ground in the far north, a sense of magic will once again fill the air.
May we embrace this singular moment to quiet down, to be grateful, and to use the privilege to remember all our loved ones.
And to make a promise: To love more … to love enough in 2023.
Thank you: Johan Ferreira, Cilliers Willers and Menitza Botha.
Dr Sulette Ferreira (PhD), is a social science researcher and family counselling therapist in private practice in South Africa. As a researcher she is passionate about the topic of transnationalism and the effect thereof on intergenerational relationships in families. Her research interest feeds into her practice where she specialises in the emotional effects of emigration.
As a registered health care professional, Sulette assists families (the emigrant and loved ones remaining in South Africa) through pre- and post-migration counselling. The loss experienced through emigration, also called ambiguous loss, occurs on multiple levels and is used as the therapeutic framework.
Emigration is a complex psychological and socio-cultural phenomenon that has an immense impact, not only on the emigrant, but also on those remaining. Transnational families face unique challenges in preserving this special bond with their loved ones. By sharing this knowledge through articles she attempts to create awareness among the general public about the emotional effect of this ever-increasing phenomenon.