Holiday Traditions: Old and New, His and Mine

The holidays are supposed to be a happy time. A time full of traditions and family. But the holidays often seem to be a time of stress, whether it’s mild, moderate or severe. Whether the stress is because of family, gifts, money, time, traditions or people pleasing… it never seems to be in short supply. In fact, during the holidays everything seems to be heightened (and I am speaking in general, I’m not even going to touch how the holidays are a natural trigger for me, and why).

For married couples (or any serious couple who are sharing the holidays together) I think traditions can be a part of that stress. There is an adjustment period where you have person A with their traditions, and then there is person B with theirs. And if one of their families get into the mix (let alone both!) the happy time, while still happy, can also be one of tension, anxiety and disagreements.

This will be the fifth Christmas I spend with my husband, but by now we have gotten into a rhythm of sorts. We both have traditions that matter to us or our family (more him than me) and we even made some of our own (this time more me than him).

First off, we always spend Christmas with Roy’s family, whether we fly out to Florida (where his parents, grandmother, sister and a few aunts and uncles live) or whether his immediate family comes out to celebrate it with us (Roy’s brother, his wife and their kids live out here too). I think this is one way that makes “less stress” around the holidays for us. We don’t have two extended families competing for time or “their turn”.

I’m not close with a lot of my biological family for very valid reasons. But those I am in touch with want to do whatever they want to do, which doesn’t include me. And I’m fine with that. To be perfectly honest, I have spent almost every Christmas alone since I was sixteen (maybe fifteen), or if not alone, with strangers as kind an “orphan” to tagalong kind of thing. I think this also makes me more “whatever” when it comes to Christmas. Every Christmas I tell my husband, “What do you want?” Because it’s his family, and it’s a big deal for him, so I’ll just do whatever. But I also have a lower tolerance for BS because this time is a heavy trigger for me, so any disagreements or “drama” and I see my way out of it. Let whoever work it out with whoever else. Because I’d rather have a holiday by myself than a tense time around others. (Luckily, this isn’t like a norm or expectation with Roy and his family, just saying if it ever was, that is what I’d choose.)

When it comes to old traditions, Roy has a few a “musts” but being the epitome of people-pleasing and Type-B means this list is still relatively short.

  1. A nice Christmas dinner at our house.

Roy loves our house and the life we’ve made (so do I, but this is his desire so I’m trying to keep it about him) and he wants his family over, to talk and play and just spend quality time together, before and after a really nice meal. The day doesn’t matter so much to him, as long as the time happens.

  1. Christmas lights.

He likes to go driving and look at all of the Christmas lights. We do it together in Florida, and we do it around our house when we’re here for the holidays. I enjoy it too, and this year he really wants his family to join in (they’re coming to us this year) the Christmas lights fun.

  1. Christmas Eve church with mom.

He doesn’t say that this matters. Since the very first year we were together, he considered not going. But I think this was for me. It was our first Christmas together (we got together the previous December, but did not spend the holidays together) and I think he still hadn’t figured out that when I said, “I really don’t care if you go, I just don’t want your decision to be contingent on me going too” meant that I really didn’t care. I’m not a church person. I was raised to be super religious, but being gay you can imagine the bad taste that was left in my mouth, particularly growing up in the middle of the Bible belt. I feel incredibly uncomfortable whenever I am at a church/service. It’s draining, so I choose not to go. But every Christmas with the exception of once (and that year Roy didn’t make it either) I have gone because it matters to my mother-in-law. To be clear, she never pressures me. It’s not like if I don’t go she would hold it against me, but I know that going as a family means a lot to her, so I suck it up and go, and don’t tell anyone how extremely uncomfortable I am the entire time (though my husband knows). Because family does that.

Roy goes for the same reason, because it means a lot to his mom. I think he likes the idea of finding a regular church, but more for the community and people than for God and religion. This year we’re actually going to the church he wants to join (so you know that as much as I’m saying, “I don’t think I’ll go this year,” it’s the normal feet-dragging-but-I’ll-end-up-going-anyway thing that ends up happening every year). I know Roy is excited about this, and his mom has been to this particular church before and seemed to enjoy it, so there’s that.

That’s pretty much what matters to my husband. My list is even shorter.

  1. It’s all about Christmas Eve. And there has to be plenty of desserts.

For me, it was always about Christmas Eve, which was spent at my grandparents’ house (both of whom have since passed). My grandmother was the closest thing I had to a mom growing up, and we were very close. As the oldest grandchild, I was always at her house, helping her prepare for the rest of the family. On that side, we have a big Irish family, so I remember how there were always at least twelve different desserts. Even though I was there, I was always amazed and wondered where all of the desserts came from. Since then I have also tried to incorporate several desserts into the Christmas meals we have at our house. For me, it’s more about the desserts than it is the dinner. (My husband is the opposite, it’s more about the dinner so we end up going “all out” for both.)

And that’s it for my list.

It’s fairly simple incorporating our traditions. Roy wants a Christmas dinner, and Christmas Eve matters to me. This just goes together, because since he likes a more elaborate spread, if we had dinner Christmas day, we wouldn’t be able to be with his family, because we’d be in the kitchen starting at 7:00am until it was time to eat! And no offense, but a Christmas meal before Christmas Eve or after Christmas isn’t the same when it’s just immediate family (under ten people). It’s different when it’s with cousins and grandkids (again, big Irish family) and then it’s totally fine, but it’s a different vibe at those kinds of gatherings. It just is. Roy and I both take care of the dinner and the desserts, though I have a greater hand in the desserts, just like he has a greater hand in the dinner. And since we’re flexible on when dinner is, we can always make time to go to church with his mother, assuming it isn’t like a 4:00 or 5:00 thing. (This year we’re eating early so we can make a 7:00 service, so it’s not like midnight mass is the only option.) And the lights just always end up happening sometime before Christmas Eve.

I think what I enjoy the most however, is the new traditions we have made for ourselves. For example, decorating the tree is always a sacred time every year. No computers, or phone calls (unless it’s Facetime with family) – it’s just him and me and we’re eating sugar cookies or snickerdoodles while drinking some Christmasy beverage we concocted (nonalcoholic) while decorating the tree. We spend a few hours doing this and it’s just magical for me (I know my husband enjoys it too, though I’m not sure he would use the word “magical”). It’s relaxed and just happy. And that’s what I want most in my holidays: Relaxed and happy.

Christmas morning is also always sacred (when we’re at our house and not in Florida anyway) and it’s just the two of us. We have nieces and a nephew and so we’re at their house pretty early on Christmas day and there all day long, so we get up extra early to do our own thing first. We do stockings and presents (for each other, and our dog and cat, because we’re those people) and since we have to be somewhere it’s a little more rushed than decorating the tree, but it’s still just as nice.

The last tradition is one that I do, but Roy doesn’t. We both want kids, though I think I hear clock ticking way more than he does, and so I have started doing things that I want to do with our kids: May Day and Easter is full of all kinds of silliness like secret baskets and egg hunts (some of the eggs even have change in them 😉 ). Anyway, for Christmas, I have always planned on sneaking a stuffed animal into my child’s arm every night (from Santa of course). That way they experience that special (childhood) Christmas magic as soon as they wake up. So two years ago when we were at our place for Christmas, I gave Roy his own stuffed animal. Because I am that person.

I’m excited for this Christmas and I feel like it’s going to be our smoothest yet. We have found a way to incorporate all of our old traditions into our holiday plans, and have even made some of our own. There are almost always some bumps along the way, but this year I really do think that the fifth time is the charm! 😉

Happy Holidays! 🙂

-DMW

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