Christmas Traditions and Growing Families

How we feel about the holidays is often linked to our experiences as we were growing up. Real tree or fake? Colored Christmas lights or white? These decisions are influenced by our past. Christmas is the season where nostalgia is often at its strongest. If we have positive memories, we want to recreate them. A bad holiday as a child could make us dislike the holidays (bah humbug), or inspire us to make the season brighter for the people in our lives.

When you leave the family nest and start out on your own, you are often left to negotiate feelings of nostalgia with the real-time demands of today. As you meet someone special, get married and have kids, traditions often get blended and compromise is needed. Eventually, you may find that you want to create some new customs of your own. I experienced these trials. With time, patience, and a little compromise, we were able to work through them.

As a single woman, Christmas was fairly easy, albeit lonely. First I would visit the folks, then perhaps venture out to meet some friends or other relatives. As my siblings (I’m the youngest of five) started having their own kids, things got a little more complicated. After a few years of trying to have a traditional Christmas with the entire family, we realized that we had all outgrown our family home. At this point, we started having a big family party at a function hall on a weekend before Christmas. This allowed each new family to have time alone and then come together with the extended family as time allowed on Christmas day.

As the family grew, so did the expense of buying gifts. Again, we came together to come up with a solution. Instead of buying a gift for every member of the family, we decided to have a Yankee Swap at the big family Christmas party. Each person just brought one wrapped gift and we played a game to make the exchange fun. For the kids, we created special activities and decided to add a Secret Santa. In this way, each child received one special gift. By making some small changes, we were able to relieve the burden of buying extra gifts and shift the focus to spending quality time together as a family.

Once I met my husband, things got even more complicated. We had to reconcile two individual families, each with their own traditions. His family had Christmas breakfast, so we found ourselves getting up at the break of dawn to spend time with them, then traveling the remainder of the day to try to visit the people we cared about. After having our own kids, we realized that was a tradition we could not keep up!

One year, we tried to spend Christmas night at his family home so we could be there for breakfast, the next we tried to get our children, who were only babies, ready early to make it on time. Eventually, we realized that this was one tradition we would have to give up. As our kids grew, we wanted to enjoy Christmas morning with them in our own home. As a compromise, we all agreed to have Christmas brunch instead of an earlier breakfast. I’ve seen others compromise by spending time with one side of the family on Christmas Eve, and another on Christmas day.

I’ve always been partial to colored Christmas tree lights because that is what I grew up with. I remember a colorful tree with lots of tinsel and a tattered angel on top. One year, my husband brought home a shiny new artificial tree with LED lights. The only problem was that the lights were primarily red, blue, yellow and green. I was used to the old fashioned lights that came in a kaleidoscope of colors including purple and pink. On top of that, my husband put his foot down. No tinsel was allowed in our house! I tried to get used to the new tree but couldn’t get past my own feelings of nostalgia. After a few years, we traded it out for a more colorful version (with no tinsel). Another compromise that allowed us to mingle old with new.

As my kids grew, I wanted to create some traditions of our own. Some ideas stuck, while others faded away with time. A few years ago, I decided that I would buy new Christmas pajamas for the kids to wear on Christmas Eve. This is one tradition that has stayed with us. Another time we tried putting together a gingerbread village. Although it was fun, I don’t foresee it becoming an annual event! One year, I made Christmas ornaments for everyone in the family. Every year, my husband makes Christmas cookies for family and coworkers. Now, my kids want to get in on the action and help out with the baking. Visits to see Santa. Holiday wish lists. Christmas stockings. Through trial and error, we have started to carve out our own unique holiday traditions.

No matter what our Christmas looks like, I want to instill in my children the true spirit of the season. That is why I’ve always made it a point to give back. We always donate new toys to a local non-profit. Lately, I’ve made it a point to go shopping with my kids so they can pick out a toy to give away. At first, the concept was strange to them. They wanted to keep the toys for themselves. Over time, I think the tradition will help them to understand the concept of good will for all. As they grow, we hope to incorporate more ways to give back.

Changing lives, dictate changing traditions. We have managed to hold on to some of the old, while incorporating something new. In this way, we are creating our own holiday legacy. What works for you? What are your holiday traditions? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!


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