Navigating Holiday Traditions

christmas socks by fireI grew up in a Christmas Day family. We waited for Santa, opened gifts, visited grandparents and shared a holiday meal, all on December 25. My husband, on the other hand, was raised in a Christmas Eve family. They went to church and then came home to do their big celebration. Santa visited the good boy and girl at their house during Christmas Eve services. Christmas Day was spent playing with toys received the night before.

When we started our own family, combining Christmas traditions was simple for us: we always spend Christmas Eve with his family and visit my parents on Christmas Day. Easy-peasy. Without even really trying, we were able to give our kids a taste of both my childhood and their dad’s.

Next, we tackled Thanksgiving. Early in our marriage, we tried taking turns, but our families are small enough that it seemed silly not to join forces. Our usual practice now is to host the meal and include both families, plus any others who need a place to be at home. Over the years, we’ve shared the table with an assortment of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, out-of-town friends and neighbors.

Kid birthday celebrations followed suit. We invited everyone we loved and who loved our kids. Those who were able joined us.

That’s the secret, I think. When our focus is on the feeling and the relationships we want to foster, it’s easier to navigate the details of who and where and when.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Holidays and specials days come with so much expectation and pressure that it’s easy to lose sight of what is most important to us.  Mamas are tired and rushed and pressured to be everything to everyone–and never more so than at this time of year. Sometimes our tempers can be short, our voices sharp and feelings fragile.

Take a deep breath. Spend a few minutes thinking about the reason for your season. Invite your partner and your kids to do this, too. Do you want your focus to be on family together time? Maybe you’d like to center your celebration around faith practices or serving others. There’s no right or wrong answer—just the answer that is the best fit for your family.

Now make a list and check it twice. Include all the traditions and experiences you’d like to squeeze into the holiday season. Prioritize the list based on your “mission statement.”   Low-priority items may need to go or be postponed to a later date. For example, our family tours local holiday light displays after December 25.

If you find yourselves wanting to change or even eliminate something that involves others, consider suggesting an alternative that works better for you and yours. No time or money to buy gifts for all the cousins? Suggest a gift exchange or choose a charity that everyone could donate to. Sharing your thinking can help avoid hurt feelings.

Most of all, make sure your focus is on–and your list is full of–time spent with your babies.

Beth is mom to a high school sophomore and a first year college student. After fourteen years as a professional writer and editor, she earned graduate degrees in counseling and play therapy. Now she exercises her creativity as a school counselor. Beth loves reading, especially mysteries.