Consider This is a column focused on how important elements of a woman's life look in single life and in marriage. This week, we’re considering the experience of celebrating holiday traditions as single and married women. One single woman and one married woman have written essays, to be published on different days. On a third day, they respond to each other's experience.
Growing up, Christmas was a deeply meaningful time for my family. Both of my parents love traditions, and they brought many to their marriage and our family. From our “seven fishes” Christmas Eve dinner rooted in my mother’s Italian heritage to loading our car with tween girls for late-night trips to the local drive-through light show, the entire month of December was punctuated by what felt like nonstop magical moments, big and small.
As I grew older, though, I started to dream about what the holidays would look like for my own family one day. There were certainly plenty of memories and traditions I wanted to preserve, but others I could envision shedding to make space for something new, something that was only mine. And sure enough, now that I am married with one baby and another on the way, my family indeed brings its own personality, spirit, and flavor to the holidays. This is something we are continually working to refine and bring into sharper relief with each passing year.
Making the holidays our own
Because we live in the same town as both sets of parents (as well as a smattering of siblings, in-laws, grandparents, and aunts and uncles), our first few Christmases as a married couple looked like a very frantic attempt to accommodate events, traditions, and decor that we each brought to our marriage from our respective families. As a result, our schedule looked over-packed, our home cluttered, and our celebrations lackluster and tired as we moved through the season checking each item off our list.
This tendency to try to fit everything in came from a good place: naturally, we each wanted the holidays to look a lot like they did when we were growing up. For me, this meant joining my parents for Christmas Eve dinner. For my husband, it meant spending Christmas morning ensconced in the warmth—and chaos—of his parents’ living room, wood-burning fireplace and hordes of nieces and nephews in tow. It meant carving out a budget for plenty of festive local events and gift exchanges but also honoring the relaxed, slow pace that we both yearned for.
However, the result was less than desirable. Instead of taking time to devise our own special traditions, independent of our families, our holidays looked more like a messy mishmash of our histories: a little bit of his, a little bit of mine, but nothing that was uniquely ours.
Over time, we have slowly winnowed the family traditions we brought to our marriage, keeping only those that are extra meaningful. We have used the white space in our schedules and minds to create a few of our own traditions, for instance, enjoying neighborhood walks to look at lights and hosting our annual holiday open house (which, sadly, is not happening this year due to COVID, but which we hope to reinstate soon).
This refining of tradition has allowed us to design a holiday season that fits our unique identity as a family. There are many traditions our parents passed down that are special, but which do not necessarily fit the way we want to celebrate and observe the holidays. Accepting that has helped us understand more deeply what matters most to us during the season.
Each year, we learn something new about each other, our families, and our own natural tendencies and preferences. For example, my husband’s family tends to be more spontaneous and in some ways, less intentional, than mine. Weaving our plans with theirs during the holidays has been a valuable exercise in flexibility and graciousness. At times, our plans change on a dime or we need to consider more than one family in our plans. Life with them can feel a bit chaotic, so I’ve had to learn how to hold my plans with looser hands.
Conversely, my husband has learned a great deal from my family’s faithful adherence to their treasured traditions and has taken away a sense of the beauty and awe involved in preserving time-honored traditions year after year. He has benefited from the sense of peace, stability, and comfort this posture can bring, and we have both agreed that we would like to bring that same peaceful spirit to our family.
Cultivating beauty through traditions
We have one child now who is too young to appreciate the traditions, but we are excited for future years as we can begin to make the ordinary magical—for instance, through special meals, rituals like driving around with hot chocolate to look at lights, watching classic Christmas movies, and enjoying local events like the holiday parade and poinsettia festival that brought so much joy and delight to my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that traditions are for us, not us for them. It is important to only establish them if they foster a culture of life and joy in our families. They are not something to check off a list or add stress or financial strain to our lives. For my husband and me, our ultimate challenge is to keep our traditions sweet and joyful, not items to cram into our already-busy schedules. It is also our goal to appropriately honor our families of origin while still preserving our own version of sweetness and magic during what we hope will always be our favorite time of year.
Do you have reflections on celebrating holiday traditions that you'd like to share? Tell us here, and your response may be published by Verily at a later date.