I don’t know about you but I love this time of year and all the wonderful traditions that families have. However, if you are in my situation, a new “family”, whether that be a blended family or a newly wed couple on their own or have a grandparent or parent moving in, family traditions may be an interesting situation.
Throughout my entire life, I have rarely seen two couples that have the same exact traditions. Even within extended families, traditions may be similar but they are still different. As a kid, you inherit the traditions your family establishes and for most of us these become deeply rooted within us and are just “the way it’s supposed to be.” For example, in my house we have always put our nativity under the tree. Thankfully, my husband is okay with this, though he questioned it the other day as to why. The only answer I had was that was the way we always did it so that was the way it was supposed to be. I asked my mom and she said the same thing. IT had just become a rooted tradition. Being confronted with your new spouses or new family member’s deeply rooted traditions can mean a challenge, and while I hope not, can also be a conflict waiting to happen.
Depending on just how different your traditions are can determine just how smoothly that first holidays may go. If you have similar traditions, then odds are you will probably fall right into an easy set of family traditions for your new family. But, if they differ drastically compromise and establishing new traditions may be in order.
In my “new” family we have a combination of both. Here is what we have been doing with respect to our traditions and somethings I would have done differently.
I would recommend sitting down with your significant other (or new family member) and talk about your traditions. I would suggest first seeing what you have in common or close to in common that would mean easy blending. It gets them out of the way and also paves a positive way for compromise and creating new common ground.
Next is to address those traditions that you don’t have in common. Make sure you share which ones are really important to you. Odds are that if one spouse or family member unwillingly gives up a tradition they feel strongly about, then resentment can grow. Frankly, that would be awful as the whole idea behind family traditions is to bring families together. So be upfront about a tradition that is important to you. For me the nativity under the tree is important. It would not be Christmas without it and the tree would not be the same. It is so deeply rooted in me that it brings back vivid crystal memories of my brothers and me having to trade off years as to who got to set it up.
If the tradition is important to your spouse but you are indifferent or okay with letting it go, then I suggest openly embracing them and making them your own. In our case, the nativity is again a good example, as my husband has embraced something that is important to me since he was okay with the idea.
However, if it is something that both of you are passionate about, then I would suggest combining elements of both. For example, when I was a child we always left Santa cheese and wine instead of milk and cookies. (Kind of off on a tangent but there was this great California Cheese commercial where Santa left this little an amazing load of toys and her parents say, “wow. That must have been some cookies.” to which she replies, “I didn’t leave him cookies. I left him cheese.” I always knew we were on to something.) My husband always left milk and cookies. We agreed to do both. So in our house Santa tanks up on the sweet and savory while getting a small buzz to warm him up for the rest of his trip.
Sometimes combining doesn’t work due to other factors, say like family. While we have been lucky on this front, I know a lot families have to manage the challenge of whose family do we spend a holiday with. This can be tough since most people want to be with their family if that is what they have always done and this can be especially tough if kids (i.e. grandkids) are involved. One suggestion I know that has worked well is to rotate the years between families. One year with his and one year with hers. I also know some people who spend Christmas Eve with one family and Christmas with the other and then vice versa the next year. That way each person gets to spend part of the holiday with their family.
This can also be a huge factor in blended families with stepchildren. Often, not always, kids rotate between parents – one year with mom and one year with dad. I know this was true in my family growing up and was also true for about one year with my son (stepson). A great thing that I know has been successful for many is on the year your child (or stepchild) is with you, if you rotate holidays between you and your spouse’s families, I suggest spending that holiday with your child or stepchild’s biological family. That is by no means to say that the non-biological family is not the family of the child, just that it’s one easy way to decide how to divide the holidays. I and my family very much consider my stepson ours, a part of our family and is treated like any other family member. However, if my son still split holidays between his biological mother and us, I would support spending the holidays we had him with my husband’s family. Also, when a child is older you can also ask them their preference. I know my son, well my stepchild, loves to spend the holidays with my family as well as his dad’s.
Another thing to consider when blending family traditions, especially if you are dealing with older children in a blended family, is what traditions do the children like and what would they be willing to adjust to in the new family. For example, my son had no problem with opening stockings first as my family always has versus last as he had done growing up. And he was super excited about decorating our new yard with light up lawn decorations for Christmas, something his family had never done. However, up until last year, he also very much wanted to keep the tradition of hot chocolate, late nights and going to see the lights. That is not something that my family never really did with intent…we just appreciated them as we saw them. But I was happy to continue this tradition with him and for him.
In the end as long as everyone is willing to give and take, you will find that blending traditions does not mean giving up what you grew up with. Rather it means developing something that is uniquely your family’s and in the end that is far more special and cherished.