My husband and I were together for five years before we got married, and during this time one of the issues we struggled with the most was what to do for the holidays. He grew up in a household steeped in tradition: every major holiday from Christmas to Memorial Day was celebrated in the exact same way, at the exact same family member’s house, year after year, without fail. From gelatinous Christmas Eve lutefisk at his aunt’s house to Thanksgiving blackberry pie in his childhood home, holidays in his family were spent with a predictability you could set a clock to, and any suggestion in deviation was viewed as blasphemy.
By contrast, I grew up as a child of divorced parents with flexible holidays, ranging from huge Christmas family gatherings at my grandparents’ ranch in Colorado to a cruise in Mexico with my Dad over Thanksgiving. While both sides of my family have traditions that we observe at each holiday, such as eating “inside-out” omelets and reading “’Twas the Night before Christmas” on Christmas Eve, I grew up with less elaborate traditions that tended to be as portable as I was.
Thankfully, after a few miserable holidays spent apart and some tough conversations between us and with our families, we eventually managed to find compromise as a couple in our holiday schedules. My husband learned that being flexible in where and how we spent holidays wasn’t a rejection of family, and I began to appreciate the value of strong traditions as a glue that can bind everyone together.
This holiday harmony lasted a few years into our marriage, as we had our first child and began to set down roots in a new home. However, after kids number two and three, everything began to feel more complicated. We spent a few stressful holidays driving our three young kids all over the state to participate in my husband’s traditional family gatherings, while also attempting to keep visits with the three sides of our families equitable. It quickly became clear that something had to give.
After some soul-searching and a few long conversations, we realized that rather than creating new memories for our growing family, we were spreading ourselves too thin trying to keep up with the holiday traditions we were emotionally tied to from our own childhoods. We both agreed that a major focus for us moving forward would be to instead create the same magic and connection for our own children that we had felt as kids, but in a way that was special for them.
With this in mind, we still attend larger family holiday gatherings whenever we can, as we feel that sharing these traditions with our children is important for them to maintain a connection with our extended families, but we now only do this when it works best for our family. In addition, we’re spending some holidays at our own home with at least one side of our extended family invited over to celebrate with us. It’s been fun mixing in the annual “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” reading and blackberry pie with a few new traditions of our own, like adding a silly Christmas blow-up lawn ornament to our growing collection each year!
In this way, we hope that our children understand the significance of our enduring holiday traditions, while still relishing in the excitement of making new memories together based on the things that bring us joy as a family.
Lauren Swan is a freelance writer, wife, and mother of three