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Sharing traditions: How 14 EFers celebrate the holidays

Here at EF Education First, we’re passionate about moving around the world. Whether it’s for a short time or for good, many of our staff live away from their home countries. Exchanging cultural customs is part of our DNA, and EFers across the globe love to share their favorite traditions from home—during the holidays and every day.

So as the year comes to a close and our holiday spirit is in full swing, we’re celebrating in true EF style: by highlighting how our EF staff bring their most-cherished (and sometimes quirky!) traditions to new destinations.

Ansan, South Korea → EF Hong Kong

Soohyun, Digital Advertising Manager

I grew up southwest of Seoul in Ansan, South Korea, where I loved Korean Lunar New Year. To celebrate, many Koreans visit family, perform ancestral rites, wear hanbok (Korean traditional dress), eat traditional food and play folk games. Another perk–children often receive money from elders for performing a formal bow. Living away from home, I’ve come to appreciate how EF respects and embraces all cultures and holidays. Knowing your colleagues’ cultural backgrounds and how to celebrate with them has led to many priceless experiences for me at EF.

Barcelona → EF Denver

Alex, Tour Consultant, EF Educational Tours

I’m originally from Barcelona. In the northeast region of Spain, we celebrate Christmas with “Caga Tio,” a wooden log with a smiley face painted onto one end. The log is basically the Catalan equivalent of Santa Claus. From December 8 up to Christmas Eve, kids look after the log, covering it with a blanket to keep it warm and feeding it every evening. The more they feed it, the more presents it will produce. On Christmas Day, they sing a song and hit the log with a stick to coax out the presents. I built a Caga Tio that I bring to the Denver office every year so I can share this weird tradition with my EF colleagues.

Vietnam → Russia → EF Toronto

Kristie, Business Analyst, EF Educational Tours

I was born in Vietnam but raised in Russia. Growing up I enjoyed celebrating Lunar New Year. Last year I couldn’t make it home for the holiday, so EF gave me a chance to plan a Lunar New Year event in the office. We decorated the lobby with red envelopes stuffed with New Year wishes, gave people their zodiac stickers and respective horoscopes, served some traditional goodies, and held a dog photo contest in honor of the Year of the Dog. That day filled my heart with joy since I had a chance to share a piece of my culture with my coworkers.

Vancouver → EF Shanghai

LeAnna, International Recruiter

I grew up in a small logging town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I always do something extra special around Ukrainian Christmas. I make traditional food for my family—usually pyrohy (boiled dumplings) and borscht (sour soup)—that I learned to make from my mum and grandma. For Advent, we use local greenery to make a wreath and put four candles in it. As each Sunday passes, we increase the number of candles we light. In Shanghai, I was happy to see how slowly the Christmas decorations come up compared to back home. Just like my family slowly lights candles toward Christmas, it feels like the city is slowly building toward all the different winter holidays.

The Netherlands → EF Zurich

Louise, Recruitment Manager, EF Recruitment & Employee Development

I grew up on a farm in The Netherlands close to Amsterdam. On Sinterklaas (December 5), we spend an evening exchanging gifts with loved ones. Almost every gift contains a rhyme in which we talk about things that happened that year. We can say just about anything in those rhymes, so most of the time they’re a bit embarrassing. It’s our way of reliving memories while having fun. Now I bring little gifts with rhymes for my colleagues as well as some typical sweets from home. I also arrange an outing to the Christmas markets on December 5 with my Dutch colleagues. I think it creates a bond between the people who know the traditions.

Panama City Beach, FL → EF Shanghai

Keith, Teacher, EF Kids Online

I was raised in the U.S. and consider myself a traditional “southerner.” In my family, Christmas Eve was always the day to open gifts and Christmas morning was the time to see what Santa put in your stocking. After a huge meal with all the fixings we would enjoy football in the yard and on television. My favorite Christmas dish was always sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top. At EF, we did a holiday potluck at work, and I really enjoyed all the different dishes from Korea, England, South Africa and the United States. I even made my own sweet potato casserole which was a big hit!

Derby, England → EF Shanghai

Meggy, Online Trainer, EF English Courses

My cultural background is Cantonese, Vietnamese and British. On Christmas Day my family traditionally cooks a full roast dinner. We wear our pajamas the whole day, exchange gifts, watch movies and play games. Now that I’m in Shanghai I celebrate by eating with my Shanghainese friends who feel like family. I try to emulate my favorite Christmas experiences from home and share them with my Chinese and international friends.

Moscow → EF Zurich

Lisa, Senior Project Director, EF International Language Campuses

In Russia, we celebrate many of the same holidays we do in Zurich, but sometimes on different days because of the calendar shift that happened after the Revolution of 1917. For example, our Christmas is January 7 and we have a holiday called Old New Year on January 13. Since moving to Zurich, I’ve started celebrating with an adventskranz (wreath with four candles inside), which I learned how to create myself and have proudly displayed on my dining table the past two years. I also love visiting the local Christmas markets, where you can have hot glühwein (mulled wine) and lots of raclette (a type of melted cheese).

Budapest → EF Zurich

Gabor, System Support Manager, EF Language Technology

My home country and my new home country share mostly the same religious holidays. I have not learned everything about the Swiss traditions yet so I like to mix in the ways we celebrate in Hungary. For example, I love to prepare traditional Hungarian dishes, and on Christmas Eve my brothers and I spend the afternoon decorating the tree together with ornaments we created as children. In Budapest, there’s a New Year’s Eve horse race I’ve been attending for years now. It’s a great way to kick off the evening and get together with friends.

Moultonborough, NH → EF Shanghai

Hannah-Rose, Global Operations Director, EF English Courses

Every year, my extended family holds a “Yankee Swap” gift exchange and some of my favorite holiday memories relate to funny gifts that were passed around and stolen (a Bloomin’ Onion machine and a jar of pickles come to mind). This year, my friends in Shanghai and I are planning a Yankee Swap for January. Many people are traveling to their home countries or for vacation in December, so we decided to bring back gifts from our holiday travels to share. I’ve actually been surprised to see how much my own holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) are celebrated here in Shanghai. Of course, there are also fun new holidays to celebrate, like Chinese New Year. I’m excited to celebrate the tradition of making hundreds of dumplings for Chinese New Year this year.

Annecy, France → EF Hong Kong

Laurent, Sales Manager, EF International Language Campuses

Living abroad forces you to create a new family: your friends. Taking time with the people who matter most and eating good food that reminds me of home is how I like to celebrate. One French tradition I like to share with my friends is called the “Epiphany.” It happens on the first Sunday of January and consists of eating a galette des rois (a flat cake filled with frangipane). Following tradition, we hide a small figurine in the cake and whoever gets it in their slice is crowned “king.”

New York City → EF Hong Kong

William, Multimedia Marketing Manager, EF Creative Studio

For me, it wouldn’t be the holidays without some salsa music, dancing and coquito–a Puerto Rican holiday drink some people call Puerto Rican eggnog (but trust me, it is SO much better). It’s a cinnamon- and coconut-flavored drink with rum. I love sharing it with others during the holidays and watching their faces when they try it. They almost always love it! I was already proud to be Puerto Rican, but living abroad has taught me to share my culture with even more pride. I might not always have family around, but having a glass (or three) of coquito and blasting some salsa reminds me that “home” can be anywhere.

Manchester, England → EF Zurich

Danny, Copywriter & Content Manager, EF International Language Campuses

The best holiday tradition we uphold in our family is hanging stockings on our bedroom doors which we fill with small gifts on Christmas Day. Even as an adult I still get incredibly excited by this little sock. Last year, I received a Lego keyring, a pair of Happy Socks (socks in a sock!) and a bottle of beard oil. Now that I’m in Switzerland where everyone goes skiing I want to incorporate that into my celebrations, too.

Johannesburg, South Africa → EF Shanghai

Kylie, Marketing Associate, EF English First

Christmas was the most celebrated holiday in our household. Even though December is summertime in Johannesburg and most of our holiday season was spent by the beach, we still had a very traditional European-style Christmas. Turkey, Christmas pudding, brandy custard and roasted cinnamon pumpkin were served for Christmas lunch or dinner, followed by a trip to the beach or a swim in the pool. Barbecuing the turkey instead of roasting it in the oven is very South African. Now my traditions include swapping the Christmas tree with a poinsettia, lighting lots of candles to brighten up my apartment and walking up city streets decorated with bright Christmas lights.

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