I love this time of year! No matter where we’ve lived or what the crazy weather is doing, going for a drive and catching glimpses of colorful lights and snowy displays puts me in a good mood. Some of our neighbors were even outside putting up their lights on Thanksgiving day! When we left the house the next day, Claire shouted from the back seat, “LOOK! A CHRISTMAS HOUSE!!” She’s into the season. We like that about her. We wanted that for her.
Though we were already married and had celebrated Christmas together a few times, it was our first Christmas as parents that really got us talking and thinking about traditions. Approaching Claire’s first Christmas, we shared stories with each other about what Christmas was like for us as kids. Tony remembered looking through the Toys R Us catalog and folding pages and circling all of the things he wanted. I remembered the year I got the red cable-knit sweater I’d been daydreaming of. We discovered that we had very different childhoods and we wondered together what Claire, and now Nora, would remember about the holidays.
So, Tony and I talked some more and dreamed up what we would want Christmas to look like for our family as our girls grow up. We want them to know Jesus. We want them to know why He came. We want to spend the season as a family. We needed our own traditions. We came up with our own plan to reflect and rejoice together in our little home. It was during Claire’s first Christmas that we started our Advent tradition.
In the traditional church calendar, Advent is the season to reflect and prepare our hearts for the coming King. Since I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, or really anything traditional, I read what I could find about it and came across the Advent Wreath. I loved the idea, but didn’t care so much for the way it looked and couldn’t imagine having this green wreath with pink and purple candles sitting on a table in my home. Since we were really making our own traditions, we designed our own Advent Wreath.
Now, each Sunday evening leading up to Christmas, we’ve incorporated our new tradition into our usual after dinner routine. We light a candle, share a quick reading, and Tony plays some Christmas music on the guitar and piano. Now that Claire is nearly three, we are starting to do little crafts and projects, too! Last week we let the girls decorate the Christmas tree to help celebrate the first day of Advent.
We know we’re not the only family making our own traditions and its been fun to see what some of our friends have come up with, too.
The Turkey Trot
Our friends Jenn and Stephen have their own tradition around the holidays. They have made it a goal to maintain an active lifestyle. Though Stephen is more of a natural athlete, Jenn takes comfort that their goal isn’t to win any races or be the best at any one thing, but just to engage in things that will keep them healthy and active. While Jenn comes from a large family with many of their own holiday traditions, Jenn and Stephen have come up with something on their own – the Turkey Trot.
Each year on Thanksgiving morning, they participate in a 5K benefitting the Ballard Food Bank. This was their third year participating, and they both think it’s one of their favorite Thanksgiving weekend traditions– a fun way for them to get some exercise in before enjoying Thanksgiving dinner.
Jenn shared with me that, at first, she didn’t think she had any room for any new traditions with the many that she already shared with her family. But three years into her marriage with Stephen, she is so glad they are building something of their own, resulting in some of their favorite and most special memories.
We met Jason and Erica when we were living in Wisconsin. Their tradition really originated on Jason’s side of the family. This couple has a shared love of Christmas– they’re the kind of people who start listening to Christmas music in early November and have the decorations up before Thanksgiving. Erica knew from the day she married Jason that he treasured traditions, but little did she know what that would mean for her around their shared favorite holiday.
During their first Christmas together in their new home, Jason announced that he had the perfect outdoor Christmas decoration. Erica was excited at first– this was right up her alley! About 30 minutes later, though, he walked into their home with the tackiest lawn decoration she had ever seen. It was Santa.
The story of this Santa dates back to when Jason’s dad was just 14 years old. He acquired this 4 ½ ft plastic Santa from a local retailer. Ever since that day, Santa has stood in the yard outside of every home his dad has lived. A few years later, Jason’s grandfather came home with an identical Santa. As if one wasn’t enough, now there were two!
Alas, Santa #2 came to live outside of Jason and Erica’s house. Erica wasn’t exactly thrilled, but when she saw the excitement in Jason’s eyes over putting the illustrious Santa in his very own front yard, Erica just knew she couldn’t take that away from him. She saw a little boy filled with Christmas joy. How could she say no and deny him this special tradition? Even though Santa is the tackiest thing she had ever seen, she told Jason to go ahead and put it up and he has been in their yard every Christmas since. Fast forward to the present, and now their 7-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter adore Santa, too. When he comes out of storage every year, their eyes light up– just like Jason’s.
Santa just gets tackier– he’s held together with tape and fiber glass patches– and Erica is sure that passersby must wonder why they don’t spring for a new Santa. But Erica doesn’t see the tacky anymore. She knows that when Jason sees Santa, he is fondly recalling Christmases of years gone by, and now, when Erica sees Santa, she sees love for her husband, understanding, and new memories being made every year.
Traditions Create Shared Meaning
In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman shares that a successful, long-lasting marriage is not just about avoiding conflict and living peacefully together. His research shows that there is a next level. His Principle #7 is: Create Shared Meaning. It was reinforced for Tony and I as we read this book that each family has its own culture. It’s like a micro-culture all on its own, with customs and rituals, language and symbols, within the larger culture of its society. This is what he says…
“Developing a culture doesn’t mean a couple sees eye to eye on every aspect of their life’s philosophy. Instead there is a meshing. They find a way of honoring each other’s dreams even if they don’t always share them. The culture that they develop together incorporates both of their dreams. And it is flexible enough to change as husband and wife grow and develop. When a marriage has this shared sense of meaning, conflict is much less intense and perpetual problems are unlikely to lead to gridlock.”
Developing your own traditions around holidays is just one way to create this “Shared Meaning.” Tony and I, and our friends above, really look forward to our traditions each year. Creating our own has been an adventure, something that has brought us closer together, and really made us feel like a family. But, I realize it’s not always that easy.
Disappointing Your Families
If you and your spouse are very close with your own parents and families of origin, creating your own new traditions can be tricky. Often times, well-meaning in-laws can feel like they are getting snuffed out. They probably hoped to gain a son or daughter when you two got married- an extra family member to share in the yearly Anderson Family Christmas Eve Cookie Baking Contest Sleepover. Instead, their precious daughter is now spending less time with them as she is split between her own family, her husband’s family, and an attempt at spending time with just her husband and kids. This is where most of the stress and tension around the holidays comes from– someone trying and failing to please someone else, at the detriment of themselves.
I don’t exactly know how to help you navigate that, but I can tell you this: as a married couple, your priority needs to be each other. Your marriage will not thrive if any one person (or parent, or grandparent) takes priority over your spouse. Again, I know this is not easy, but it is vital. Your spouse needs to know beyond a doubt that they come first, that they are most important. It can be sad and hard for you to give up or compromise some of the traditions you’ve grown up with. At first, it may not feel quite like the holiday you’ve always known and loved without heading to Grandma’s and pretending you don’t know it’s Uncle Lewis in that Santa suit. This, again, is why it is so important to communicate with each other about what you really love about your own families, to practice a little give and take, and to come up with your own traditions along the way.
It’s Not Too Late To Start Your Own
Maybe you’ve been married awhile and had some traditions that you’ve let fall by the wayside over the years. Pick them back up this season! Maybe you’ve only ever relied on your parents’ traditions and haven’t really made any of your own yet. Talk with each other this week about your traditions, about the things you look forward to. Is there something you could add or change to really make this season even more special for yourselves this year and the years to come? We would love to hear from you! What are some of the things that you’ve made traditions out of, the things you’ll always look back on fondly? We hope there is warmth in your homes this holiday season as you build shared memories, shared meaning. Be merry and #staymarried!
P.S. If you enjoyed this post and think it could benefit someone else’s marriage, please consider sharing. Also, if you’re new here, welcome! You might like to check out why we started this blog and my first entry to get a little background. Thanks for stopping by!