I’m a big advocate for creating your own family traditions—even as a pre-kids family of two!
Jared and I married in September 2008, which meant the holiday season beckoned right around the corner from our autumn wedding day. At that point, we still lived in California, a 30-minute drive from my parent’s house and much of my extended family. His grandma also lived in close proximity, and his parents were a day’s drive away in Oregon.
We love our families and have many fond memories of holiday celebrations together, that December we had a choice to make about our inaugural Christmas holiday. We decided to celebrate as a family. Just the two of us.
At that point, I couldn’t cook beyond boxed meals and sandwiches. So we slept late, made coffee, opened gifts, took in a movie, and found a Chinese restaurant for our first glorious Christmas dinner. And we began the new tradition of our traditions.
I know setting out to establish your own family traditions isn’t always easy. And every family has its own quirks and relationship nuances. But I’ve found that with some preparation and intentional communication, it can be done.
Here are some ways to know if it’s time to set your own family traditions for the holiday season:
- You spend more time driving to multiple houses than you do actually celebrating, and you’d rather not.
- The holidays are more tiring and stressful than enjoyable.
- Long-standing family traditions don’t leave room for you to celebrate the way you’d like.
- One or multiple members of your immediate family unit dread your upcoming holiday festivities.
- When you think of how you’ll celebrate, you prioritize the larger extended family (even if that means your parents) over your immediate family (your spouse and kids).
Any of these descriptions ring a bell? I know, I’ve been there too.
Here are my tips for peace, love, and happiness as your create your own family traditions this holiday:
1. Talk with your spouse.
Jared and I found that we default to upholding or expecting the same traditions of our childhood, often without realizing why we do so, or communicating that need to each other. This proves problematic at times, because we grew up in different homes with different holiday institutions. So instead, we’re learning to talk about our traditions. What we like and what we don’t. What fond memories we have from childhood. What’s hard for us about each other’s traditions (or expectations) and what we’d like to keep, toss, or modify. (If you have kids, get their feedback too. Make it a family decision on how you best want to celebrate.)
2. Determine what traditions are best for your family in your current season.
I think one of the flaws with traditions is that we assume they have to last forever. What if the activity stopped being the tradition and the essence or motivation became the tradition instead?
Growing up, your mom made fresh cherry pie every year because it’s your favorite. But your hubby and kids hate cherry pie and you hate making it.
You work hard to visit 4 houses in the 48 hours that encompass Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because you love your family and want to demonstrate this love by celebrating with them. But it leaves your kids exhausted, your spouse grumpy, and you frustrated because no one is having any fun and you put a lot of work into coordinating the schedule.
Maybe it’s time for a new tradition. Take the consideration and love and hold to those as the traditions you want to emulate. How can those traditions put down roots in this season and life circumstance you’re in now?
3. Brainstorm alternative ways to show love to your extended family.
If your new family traditions may be difficult for your loved ones to hear, start thinking about new and practical ways to show love to them. (I’m thinking especially about the moms and grandmas in your life.) Maybe you can schedule a different day to celebrate. If they’re bummed about missing Christmas Day, consider a separate special tradition, like baking cookies together in the week before, or a new year’s tea, to give them special one-on-one time.
4. Communicate with your loved ones in advance with love, compassion, and consideration.
A change in your Christmas plans isn’t ideal to spring on your MIL the night before. As best you can, give them advance notice. If the holidays are an especially important time, approach the conversation with a lot of patience. You’re not doing this to them. You’re doing this for your family. Affirm your love and come prepared with suggestions for other ways to invest love and time in your relationships. And tip #1 is super important here. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page so you come in unity and can back each other up.
5. Be empowered. It’s more than okay—in fact, it’s a good thing—for you to create your own family traditions.
These conversations probably won’t be easy and for some, they may turn downright dirty. I’m sorry. And I want to encourage you: it’s a really good thing for you to prioritize your immediate family unit. Your extended family may not understand, and that’s okay. Your practical demonstrations of love for them can’t displace or outweigh the considerate love you show to the family that lives in your home. If you feel it’s time to make a change, make it.
P.S. I talk about this topic in A Wife’s Secret to Happiness and included FREE detailed downloadable worksheets on creating family traditions and building new memories. Get your copy from Amazon, LifeWay, Barnes&Noble, ChristianBook, or Books-A-Million.