When I was growing up, the holidays were pretty simple for me. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, it was me and my parents at my grandparents’ house at their big dining table. There was no wondering whose turn it was to host. Everything was wonderfully similar every year from how we decorated the tree to what we served for the big meal. I could count on it and it was fine. When Thomas and I got married, things got complicated. We had my family, Thomas’ mother’s family and his father’s family. Three sets of families to juggle! One year, early on, we literally ate three dinners in one day in order to spend some of the holiday with everyone. We never did that again. It has never been easy, despite trying to set up a rotating schedule. There always seem to be extenuating circumstances that throw things out of whack; visitors from out of town, illness, etc.
It also hadn’t occurred to me and Thomas that our families all celebrated differently and that would mean sometimes NOT seeing our own families and instead celebrating with another family that had different traditions. It was really hard to adjust. We came up with a rotating schedule which always meant that each year two groups were left out and we were spread thin. In the midst of it all, our own little family wasn’t creating any traditions of our own.
Twenty-six years later, we are still trying to figure out how to do the holiday shuffle well. We have tried to figure out how WE, the six of us, could celebrate each holiday in our own way. We do little things like make our own scaled down version of Thanksgiving so we can have our favorites and plenty of leftovers. Christmas morning is only for us to open presents, drink orange juice out of fancy glasses and eat our favorite coffee cake which, although we make it year round, becomes “Christmas Coffee Cake” for that one morning.
Come to think of it, it’s all pretty representative of many aspects of marriage – you are taking two separate people with separate histories, likes and dislikes and mixing them together to take the best of each while making something new that’s all your own. No easy task…
Splicing our families together has been a tricky business and this has been especially clear at holidays. For me, this was hardest in our earliest years of marriage. Growing up, I enjoyed predictable holiday traditions that were very different from what Courtney had experienced… breaking out the best china and silver to set a beautiful table… having family and friends over… music and conversation filled the air… Finally, often later in the evening, the turkey would be served with a host of sides… more wine for the adults… inevitably, heated political debate and sing-alongs to Neil Diamond and English Pub songs. This is what holidays meant for me. I assumed this would continue when I married, and had children – they would all simply be folded into those traditions. Whoa!
My lovely new bride had her own set of traditions she wanted to honor and include me in. This was actually heart-breaking. Honestly, it hurt to give up what I had loved for years growing up, and the pain was felt by my family members. It angered me to have to change – and compromise. All I could see was loss. Eventually, this shifted to acceptance and then appreciation and finally thankfulness that my life had become richer by expanding my definition of family. But it was a difficult journey.
After twenty-six years, I believe being flexible, forgiving and understanding are all key to successful holidays. Now we blend the history and life experiences of both sides of the family to benefit our children. And now, since the kids are getting older and closer to being off on their own creating their own traditions, I really wonder what holiday surprises will come our way as they mature…
Here are some tips we’ve learned that might help you navigate the holidays:
Create a rotating schedule where you see one side for one holiday and the other side for the other. Keep a written log of that schedule, believe us, because memories will become confused when emotions get testy.
Sit down with your spouse and kids and envision how you want YOUR holiday to look – the foods, activities, new traditions. Then carve out your own piece of your holiday even if it’s the night before the big day, that morning or later in the evening. Make sure you do things that feel like they are all YOURS and not someone else’s.
If both sides get along, play host and invite everyone over, welcoming them into some new traditions – YOURS!