Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Merging Family Traditions
A post at Small Notebook For A Simple Home regarding Christmas traditions got me to thinking about how my husband and I have merged our family's traditions and created our own.
The first Christmas we were married we went crazy making sure we saw everyone. We spent the day driving from our parents to grandparents for hurried visits. We even had two Christmas dinners. One at lunch with my family and another at supper time with his. By our next Christmas we had a baby. We decided Christmas eve and day would be time at home instead of madly rushing around. We planned our extended family dinners for the weekends before or after Christmas.
My husband and I looked at what our traditions were as children and decided which things we enjoyed and would carry-on. We also decided what we didn't like and would drop. My husband was happy to dump his family's tradition of eating breakfast before opening presents. I was thrilled to let go of my family's tradition of leaving for grandma's house right after the last gift was unwrapped Christmas morning. My parent's filled stockings for each other. My husband and I tried that, but we didn't really enjoy it so we stopped. Now stockings are just for the kids.
One of the new traditions we developed was making Christmas eve more of an "event". As I child I remember Christmas eve being so hard to get through. I was so excited and it lasted so long because our family didn't do anything special except for opening one present (always a pair of new pajamas, a tradition I gladly incorporated into our family's Christmas eve). Now our family fills Christmas eve with activities. We go to church followed by a drive around town looking at all the lights. We have certain Griswald-like houses that we go back to every year. We go home and have hot chocolate and some savoury delicacies like shrimp. We stay up late watching all our favourite Christmas movies. (over the years I've replaced our videos with DVDs).
On Christmas morning we do things a little differently than when we were children. Our families used to hand out all the gifts and then everyone would attack their own pile. You always had that one person who was a much slower un-wrapper than others and was still working away when all the others were done (that same kid always saved their Halloween candy too and teased when they ate it in front of the others!). Now we take turns doing one gift at a time. That way Christmas morning lasts longer and everyone gets to be the centre of attention. Everyone gets to see everyone else's gifts. The giver gets to savour the moment when the recipient opens that perfect present.
We have learned to be flexible as well. I am a nurse and I'm required to work every other weekend and every other Christmas. I don't want to feel that Christmas is ruined because we cannot do everything exactly the same every year. The year my kids were 11 and 16 I had to work 7 am to 7 pm. We talked to the kids about how they wanted to do things. The kids nixed the idea of getting up at 5 am to do their presents. They ended up choosing to open their stockings when they got up. They waited to do their presents when I got home at 8 pm. My husband cooked Christmas dinner and they brought plates to the hospital. We all ate together, in the hospital cafeteria, on my break. Everyone agreed, it was fun stretching out Christmas day like that.
As our family has grown and changed, our traditions have had to evolve. With a daughter away at university and home only for a limited time at Christmas we have had to shake things up a bit. We always decorate our tree on my first weekend off in December. Usually we make tree-decorating an "event". We went ahead and decorated the tree but we have saved some of my daughter's favourite ornaments. She can add them to the tree when she gets home on Christmas eve.
There is a certain security in practising the same Christmas traditions year to year. But it can also set you up for disappointment if you feel that everything has to be the same. When you merge two people's expectations and traditions being flexible will allow you to compromise and enjoy the holiday season. Merry Christmas everyone!
What are your favourite holiday traditions?