Husband & Wife Articles


 

Uniting Traditions

Tips for spouses to celebrate Christmas in peace and joy

By Stephanie Weinert

In Italy, Christmas Eve is celebrated with the Feast of the Seven Fishes and Midnight Mass, followed by feasting into the wee hours of the dawn. In Sweden the same night is celebrated with a smorgasbord – a buffet of hot and cold meats, fish, salads and numerous hors d’oeuvres. If you’re from France or Belgium, you’ll be feasting on the famous Réveillon, and in Australia you’ll most likely go caroling outdoors after dinner. In Holland, you’d probably open your gifts on December 6th, Sinterklaus Day, and if you’re from Eastern Europe, you might wait for gifts until the Feast of Epiphany. And if you live in North America, you grew up with any number of the Christmas traditions mentioned above, and maybe even others.

Traditions form memories, like a thick, intricate cord around our hearts that grows stronger with each passing year. Traditions help us remember the past and look forward to the future. They are beautiful, powerful and meaningful. And when a man and a woman are married, traditions can be both a source of great joy and a cause of major stress and strain on a relationship. Maybe his family always ate roast beef on Christmas Day and opened gifts on Christmas Eve. Her family went to Midnight Mass and only ate meat (always a ham!) after Advent had officially ended. The children in his family believed that Santa Claus brings the gifts, popping down the chimney each Christmas Eve, and her parents never taught kids about Santa Claus – they celebrated Saint Nicholas instead.

Sound familiar?

In these situations, feelings can get hurt and expectations deflated during the holidays, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are three ways my husband and I have learned about uniting holiday traditions that help us ward off potential conflicts:

Become a student of your spouse. Your husband probably didn’t love every single tradition his family kept during Christmas. Odds are there are just a couple things that are really important to him. And same with your wife. She probably has one or two childhood traditions that define her happy memories of the season. We can learn so much by just taking a step back and observing, listening and asking good questions of our spouse. Be alert when your spouse talks about memories of childhood and holidays. Find out what those few special things are and incorporate those few but significant customs into your new family’s traditions.

Make some new traditions. When I first got married, I made the mistake of thinking holidays in my new home had to look just like my parents’ home in order to be festive and merry. I felt compelled to cook and bake the same foods, throw the same parties, even decorate in a similar way. But there is great freedom, joy and just plain fun in creating new traditions with your spouse.

My husband’s family is German, and my family of origin is Scandinavian. And yet, he never felt an immense affection for German traditions, and I flat out hated the herring and crackers on the Swedish smorgasbord. Both of us absolutely love Italy – the country, its food, customs and, of course, wine! So we’ve started the tradition of celebrating Christmas Eve with Italian food, wine and traditions. Neither of us is the least bit Italian by blood, but those are the foods and customs that make us happy, and it was a natural fit for our newlywed family.

Home is your happy place. I’m the oldest child from a large family, and my husband is the youngest of a large family. Needless to say, family is extremely important to us and we’re both very close with our parents and siblings.

We love celebrating holidays with our extended families. Yet when it comes to creating a home and traditions of our own, we’ve found that nothing beats staying home. After years of traveling to his side or mine for holidays, our family tradition is now to stay home every year for Christmas Eve. It’s helped us create new traditions and unite old ones in our new family better than anything we’ve tried. We make it a point to see family as often as possible on other days, but for Christmas, home is where our hearts have the freedom and space to be our own unique family – a home full of traditions old and new.

Merry Christmas!

Stephanie Weinert is a former talk show host for the EWTN Radio Network. A frequent conference speaker and guest writer for Catholic media outlets, she lives in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband, Peter, and their three toddler sons. Her blog is LittleBitofParadise.Wordpress.com.