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Christmas keeps migrants linked to family and culture

Christmas is often a time for families to get together and celebrate the holiday season and now new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) discovers how migrant families are able to bridge international divides to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones.

Dr Tracey Reynolds and Dr Elisabetta Zontini, of the ESRC’s Families and Social Capital research group have highlighted how Caribbean and Italian families use Christmas to reinforce cultural and family ties both at home and with family members thousands of miles away.

Historically, families have often faced long and frequently expensive journeys back ‘home’ to see parents and relatives but traditions are changing. As second and third generation migrants have established their own families in Britain, the most common way to keep in touch and celebrate the holiday season is with phone calls and emails on Christmas day or spent at home in Britain with relatives visiting them.

For those families who do chose to make a trip back ‘home’ to the Caribbean for Christmas it often coincides with a ‘family reunion’, an event organised every two to three years which brings family members spread across the world together for the holidays. Michael, a 22 year old second generation Jamaican living in England comments; “It’s a family tradition that we meet up at my parent’s house in Kingston (Jamaica) on Christmas Eve. Usually my uncle from Germany is there as well. Last Christmas, my aunt from New Zealand came. Some of my Dad’s aunties from the States were there, and three of his cousins and their kids, they all live in Canada. It keeps us emotionally close’.

Dr Reynolds explains that, “For Caribbean and Italian families, Christmas marks an intense period of ‘transnational connections’ among members in different parts of the world”.

To maintain and strengthen family ties, Caribbean families often send money back ‘home’ to parents, grandparents and less affluent relations; it is an important way of caring for their family living far away. Amongst Italian families, in contrast, the exchange of small gifts or traditional ethic foods between relations in Britain and Italy is one of the key mechanisms for keeping ties alive.

Dr Reynolds said: “Our research shows that for Caribbean and Italian migrants, and their offspring living in Britain, the value of Christmas and the transnational caring networks associated with it, strengthens family ties and reinforces ethnic identity and cultural belonging.”

Annika Howard | alfa
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