How to Establish Family Holiday Traditions


When you're a newlywed, or a young family, just starting out on your life's journey together, the thought of establishing your own family holiday traditions can bring up feelings of both trepidation and excitement. Which holiday traditions will each of you bring from your own family background? Which will you create fresh that will become a hallmark of your family's memories for generations to come? How do you graciously excuse yourself from traditions where your presence is expected? Where do you begin? What is a family tradition?

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm defining a family traditions as...

an action or behavior which is entered into with goodwill and done
collectively as a family with enough repetition as to create stronger family unity.

Communication

Dreaming up ideas and beginning your own family holiday traditions is an exciting process that requires open and honest communication between you and your spouse. It may start as one conversation, but is really an ongoing discussion, revisited and reevaluated through the years. But you have to start somewhere, so begin by discussing what's important to each of you. You'll likely learn much about your spouse and his/her family in the process. If, for example, you were trying to decide what your family traditions centered around celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas might be, following are some important aspects to consider:

- Timing. Will your main celebration be on the actual holiday, or another day? Will you celebrate on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? I once knew a couple whose grown children were all married with families of their own, and they wanted to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their WHOLE family. However, they didn't want to cause friction between themselves and all the in-law families, so their family Thanksgiving was always the Saturday before the national holiday.


- Aspects. What aspects of a holiday celebration are the most important to you and your spouse? Is food paramount, or are you content with ordering the meal? Do you want to allocate most of your budget to presents, or will your gifts be small and sentimental? How much time and energy do both of you have, and how do you want to spend it?

- People. Who do you want to spend your holidays with? Will it be both of your families together? Family and friends? Immediate family only? Just the two of you?

- Faith/Sharing/Outreach. How will you practice or demonstrate your faith in your family traditions? Will sharing with others, or some form of outreach be a tradition in your family?

- Tone. What tone do you want your holidays to have? Are you a go-for-the-gusto, Clark Griswold type? Do you crave peace and minimalism? Maybe you want a "the more the merrier" tone and have a full house on holidays?

- Family Expectations. Its a guarantee that both of your families will have some expectation of your presence around the holidays. How will you spend time with them? How will you show them love while having your own traditions?

In all this discussion, be willing to compromise. When we had our first child, I was shocked to discover my husband had the expectation that she would receive ONE present for Christmas, because that's what he remembered from his childhood. I, on the other hand, had about ten presents under the tree each year, tagged as gifts for me from: Dad, Mom, grandparents, the dog, the cat, the turtle, etc. We've settled on a compromise of about four presents per child for our own family. Expect some give and take to be part of your discussion.

Inspiration

Maybe you've come from a family that didn't really celebrate much, or did not create traditions in the way that just makes your heart glow with yearning. Maybe you need some inspiration for ideas. Some of my favorite inspiration sources are:

- Family and friends. Ask them about their most meaningful traditions. Which family traditions do they celebrate that you have always admired? How can you borrow some of their ideas and make them your own? Growing up, we had family friends whose children always received new pajamas on Christmas Eve. I can't remember a time I didn't adore that thought, so we adopted it for our family and added a new book with the pajama gift, because tucking in on Christmas Eve with a new book AND new pajamas is so cozy!

- Blogs. Go back to the December postings of your favorite blogs to see what family traditions other have created.

- Pinterest.

- Instagram.

- Movies. What holiday movie scenes do you wish you could step right into? Why? Analyze what you love about that scene and create a new family holiday tradition from it.

- History and culture. Maybe it's something from Christmases past that you'd like to pull into your world. Roast chestnuts. Play charades. Go caroling to your neighbor's homes. Or maybe something from your family's cultural heritage can be incorporated into your holiday.

Continuity 

Remember our definition of a family tradition includes "done with enough repetition...", so there is an expectation of continuity. Consider how rigid or flexible your family traditions will be. Once your start a tradition, if the family wants it to continue FOREVER, you might want to start simple, or on a smaller scale. If your holiday traditions will be grand and/or elaborate, you may need willing helping hands and an investment in materials, e.g.: cloth tablecloths and napkins, a turkey roasting pan, etc.).

Have Fun

Finally, enjoy the traditions you establish, or change them until you do. And don't forget that some of the best traditions are ones that spring up spontaneously! Time, energy, and love lavished on your family is never wasted. Enjoying one another at the holidays is the best gift!


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