July Fourth is not an international holiday. It might be hard for some Americans to realize this, but the rest of the world doesn’t have July Fourth off work, they don’t go to barbecues or fireworks or parades, they don’t eat red, white, and blue fruit salads or cakes.
The rest of the world does those things on other days of the year, though probably not the red, white, and blue salads and cakes. Expatriate American parents raising their children outside the United States could completely miss the Fourth of July holiday. They don’t have the day off work, there are no parades.
Celebrating alone on the Fourth of July can feel like a burden, a hassle, a lonely reminder of outsider status. But it is also important. Our children are American, whether they know about 1776 and the Declaration of Independence or not. My kids learn more about French royalty than American history at school so it is my responsibility to teach them about their heritage and their nation. This is valuable in giving them a sense of their roots, of coming from someplace.
My family celebrates Djibouti’s National Day, June 27. On June 27 we wave a green, blue, red, and white Djiboutian flag and watch the parade on TV. We talk a bit about Djibouti’s history.
And we celebrate July Fourth. As my daughter once said, “We’re so lucky. We get American holidays and Djiboutian holidays and French holidays and Christian holidays and Muslim holidays.”
Here are some ideas for how expat American parents can celebrate July Fourth overseas:
- Celebrate your host nation’s independence day.
- Teach your children history. Use movies, books, games. We play memory using the American National Park, Monuments, and Memorials game. Others play American Trivia. Puzzles and songs can help too.
- Decorate, even for just a day, in red, white, and blue. I have a tablecloth we pull out once a year. These kinds of minimal-but-consistent traditions are grounding for Third Culture Kids.
- Encourage your kids to ask their local friends about the national day and to share what they’ve learned about the Fourth of July.
- Find out if the US embassy in your location hosts a special event for July Fourth.
- Prepare a special food that red, white, and blue cake or, in Djibouti we can eat rice dyed red, white, and blue.
- Invite another American family over for a barbecue, or a day at the beach. Or, invite a local family and talk about both of your national traditions.
- Don’t be obnoxious, be respectful. This is not your opportunity to parade through the neighborhood wearing an American flag and blasting Born in the USA. Remember that other nations have pride, freedom, democracy, and dignity too.
- Use the day as an opportunity to learn about that pride and dignity inherent in your host country.
Above all remember, and remind your kids, that living overseas is an incredible experience. Help them to embrace both where they have come from and where they currently live by honoring the history of both nations.
How do you celebrate the Fourth of July overseas?