When you think of family traditions, what categories come to mind?
As parents raising our children in a foreign country, we want them to maintain a part of their home culture, and one way we do that is through traditions. Like on Christmas morning, Tawni and I still do some of the same things our parents taught us. My favorite tradition is covering the presents until after the breakfast. No peeking allowed! Usually a sheet is hanging over the entry way, but sometimes overseas we've had to get creative. The point is, it's a part of my home culture. It teaches kids to keep their cool and enjoy delayed gratification.
But we also want them to embrace the positive things about their new culture in Thailand that can help them do life there. One of the first Thai songs we learned was the familiar tune, "This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it," but with the Thai lyrics. There was no conscious effort to memorialize this tune. It simply stuck in our memory until it was needed. And boy was it needed.
Six months into our Sabbatical back in the US in 2020, our family embarked on a family road trip and camped a lot. We started singing this Thai song together around the campfire to keep our mind on God, our hearts thankful, and to remind our kids that our family still had a special calling and connection to Thailand.
One day, I took my five-year-old daughter out hiking. She was afraid there might be snakes in the tall grass. So I told her we ought to bang our walking sticks on the ground and sing a loud song to let all the snakes know we were coming, and they better get out of the way if they don't want to get stepped on. "Wan nee ben wan tee pra jao jat wai" could be heard echoing over the tall mountains, skipping across the Missouri river, and meandering throughout the Louis and Clark trail. We sang the song many times, whenever we feared there might be danger. It is stuck in our memory, as if the echoing in the mountains never quite stopped ringing in our hearts.
Now when people ask her to say something in Thai, she can at least sing them that song. Not only does it make her feel brave and strong, it helps her share her special connection to Thailand. And that's often what good parenting is: helping our kids find the right words to express their feelings.
So, what song can you take from your new culture and start making it a part of your everyday life? I'll tell you, anytime my kids go hiking with us, it's not long before one of us starts singing this song. It's a tradition. It's a practical way to make ourselves safer, hear where everyone is (and that's important because we're a big family), and it's just a fun tune to sing on the trail. We can switch back and forth between languages if it starts to get boring. It's easy, fun, helps us when we're feeling scared or tired, and all our kids can learn it and do it.
What is your song? What is your family doing together that keeps one another strong? Try learning a simple Sunday School tune. It might just help you feel safe when things get scary? We pray, we read Bible stories, we do a lot of things. But a simple tradition helps everyone feel like they have some stability when things get sideways.
Grace to all,
A place to share reflections from Thailand.