One of the hardest aspects being an expat is being away from home during important family holiday traditions. Christmas can be extremely stressful, especially if you are single.
The other day my sister and mother asked me how I was going to celebrate Christmas here in Thailand.
I don’t celebrate Christmas, unless I’m with my family in the US. It’s not because I’m a scrooge, but because it’s a tradition that’s not really relevant in my life these days.
I’m not Christian. I’ve lived in Buddhist countries for the past 10 years and have been a card-carrying Buddhist myself for over 18. Maybe if I had kids I would celebrate Christmas here in Thailand. But I don’t.
And, I have a holiday tradition every day when I get on my yoga mat. I practice a spiritual path, and not a religious tradition.
What is the difference between spiritual practice and religious tradition?
For me, following a spiritual path means developing a close and personal relationship to the present moment, acknowledging the presence of something beyond the small “s” self. A religious tradition may be rooted in history and dogma, and miss this element entirely. Religion without spirituality could be called ritual. Spirituality without religion is called path.
Whether it’s because you live as an expat outside of your own culture, or because you follow a spiritual path other than Christianity, establishing your own tradition empowers you to live according to your own belief system. You may not even have a belief system. You don’t need one. When you experience something, you don’t need to believe it. You know it.
What I know is that maintaining a daily connection to a spiritual path through practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation brings me more joy than Santa ever did. And that joy lasts every day of the year.
I was able to overcome a lifetime of negative habitual patterns through the discipline of maintaining a daily practice. This internally imposed tradition allows me to relax into the rest of the day, knowing that I have the backbone of an awareness practice to absorb the waves of challenging emotions — like the ones that tend to make themselves known during stressful life phases, like Christmas holidays.
So instead of fretting about the holidays, I’m continuing my own spiritual tradition, and also adding a new tradition this year. This Christmas I proposed to my family that we practice the original meaning of the Christian rite, and offer our love and charity to those who need it most. We’re each choosing a charity and giving on each others’ behalf.
If you struggle to find a way to fit into a tradition that no longer reflects your values, perhaps you could take a moment to reflect on what is important to you. When you discover your true values, then you can create your own traditions.