All of us have family traditions that we value and treasure. When I was growing up the magic of Christmas was candlight church services, traditional German meals and opening presents on Christmas Eve. When my children were growing up, Christmas was the wonderful feeling I had as I watched my children’s faces light up as they opened their presents and found their longed for gift. Later as our family grew, we created some new traditions while keeping some of the old.
Traditions. It is a continuation of practices and beliefs we want to keep because they symbolize what is important in our life. When we grow up and leave our family of origin, continuing to celebrate and honor those childhood traditions hold special meaning.
When we get married however, family traditions can create a lot of contention. Whose traditions do we follow? If the traditions brought to the marriage are drastically different, how you celebrate Christmas can create a lot of tension, hurt feelings and resentment.
How do you pick and choose? How do you respect your spouse’s background while honoring your own? And if you spend Christmas at relatives, how do you handle the different traditions.
Let your Partner know what is important to you
Talk to each other about what was important to you as a kid and why Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without some of those childhood traditions. Not all of them will be as important. Which would you be willing to give up? Which would you like to make a part of your own family’s tradition?
Experience a different tradition
Be willing to try on your partners traditions one year and then agree to follow yours the next. Maybe your family opened presents Christmas Eve and your spouse opened them Christmas morning. Be willing to “try on” the different tradition.
Pick and choose the parts of traditions that you can combine. Again, choosing from the above example, you might have celebrated Christmas Eve with extended family and friends who come for a special meal, opening of presents and attending candlelight church services. Your mate may have spent Christmas Eve wrapping presents with the family gathering on Christmas Day. Choose parts of both that are especially important to each of you and combine them.
Make your own traditions
Perhaps this year you want to put in place more meaningful traditions; such as spending time helping out at a food bank, or helping serve meals for shut ins, or sponsoring a child. As you experiment with what is important to your family, these can become important new traditions. Explain to in-laws or extended family why these are important to you. Let them know how much you appreciate the family traditions you grew up with but these new ones are right for you today.
Whatever traditions you follow, it is important that they have meaning and value for you and your family. Compromise, combine and create traditions that are right for you.
Marlene Anderson, MA, LMHC, NCC