Learning to Live With Changing Holiday Traditions

Learning to Live With Changing Holiday Traditions

I absolutely love the holidays. I love all the food and decorations, the get-togethers with family and friends, and the tradition and ceremony of it all. From late November until early January, we are guaranteed to turn inward a little more and focus on what’s most important in our lives and count our blessings. I think the nature of the season lends itself to the holiday season. It’s colder, darker, we’re looking to huddle down in our homes and wait it out. But how do you handle changing holiday traditions?

Learning to Live With Changing Holiday Traditions

Growing up, it was tradition to celebrate those six weeks in a certain fashion every year. We would eat turkey at an aunt’s house for Thanksgiving. My mom always ensured that we baked dozens upon dozens of cookies even though we’d never be able to eat them all before they turned stale. We would open presents on Christmas morning, have breakfast, and then dress and without fail be at my grandparents’ home by the afternoon to celebrate with my mom’s very large family. Growing up that’s how it always was.

As I grew older though, things began to change including long standing holiday traditions. New members joined our family. New friends were made. New jobs limited the time we had to spend with those closest to us. It wasn’t a big challenge for us in the beginning of all these changes. But then our own family grew and grew again and our priorities needed to adjust to accommodate our newest members. And now we’re facing new adjustments to accommodate the latest change in our lives.

We didn’t go back to New Jersey for Thanksgiving with our family last week. We were burnt out on traveling and playing the pinball game that is visiting all the families in one visit. It’s not fair to the kids to be uprooted from their home and spend a majority of the time in the car, especially on a holiday. So instead, we stayed in our new home and celebrated with our little family. I, being the strongest adherent to tradition, thought the day wouldn’t really resemble a holiday. I was worried that this would be the choice we’d face for every holiday…an arduous travel schedule or a holiday that wasn’t really holiday-ish. I thought that we were going to be forced to constantly face the repercussions of changing holiday traditions for the sake of our sanity.

It turns out it wasn’t the letdown I was expecting. It was different, definitely not as boisterous, but it was festive. We put forth a little more effort than just planning a turkey dinner. The kids were involved in helping plan and prepare our meal. We shared a movie the night before to set us in the holiday movie. We had a breakfast we normally wouldn’t have, and we broke the rules and let the kids eat snacks in front of the television until dinnertime. There weren’t any other expectations for the day other than to spend it together. And it turned out to be a great day with a holiday feel.

We’ll be spending our Christmas the same way, just the four of us in our own home. We’ll visit with our families the weekend before and uphold some of the traditions that have developed over the years. But on the actual holiday, we’ll limit our expectations, develop our own traditions, and make the day a holiday on our own.

How do you spend your holidays?

18 Comment

  1. Ali says: Reply

    I’m a strong traditionalist too. Changing traditions is had for me but I always find the new ones are great too. You’re little ones will love these memories. Happy tradition season!

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      Thank you! I hope we can create traditions that will travel well with us in the years to come.

  2. Cathy says: Reply

    First and foremost, good for you! We have been in a similar situation and while it’s a tough decision to make, I think staying home last year for Christmas was one of the best things we ever did. We missed being with family, but it was also nice to focus on our immediate family unit and not be concerned with rushing out the door on Christmas morning to drive 2 hours (each way) to spend time with family. This year we did something even more crazy for Thanksgiving and spent it at Walt Disney World…..another decision I’m really glad we made. I hope your family has a WONDERFUL Christmas.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      Thank you! I’m glad to hear other people struggle with making the same decision and that they don’t regret it. It’s hard to fight that fear of missing out.

  3. I love this article, have had many of the same feelings and came up with a similar plan for our little family. Only this year, we were actually flying on Thanksgiving evening, a redeye. So we “crashed” a friend’s Thanksgiving on the way to the airport and ended up having the best holiday in years.

    Family is what you make of it. Traditions are what you create and honor.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      We’ve definitely learned over the years of being involved with the Army that family is what you make of it. I’m slowly making peace with the idea that it’s okay for some traditions to fade away, or get put on the back burner for a year, and make new ones.

  4. Skye says: Reply

    One year we were all mildly sick, so we stayed home and ate whatever we liked versus traditional holiday food, and read a bunch of books. It turned out to be one of our favorite Christmases. The focus was on us as a family rather than all the logistics of cooking / travel / presents. I definitely don’t want to be sick again for a holiday, but it reminded me that even if some X or Y doesn’t happen, it’s okay. 🙂

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      That sounds like an amazing holiday (minus the sickness part)!

  5. I love trying something new and changing traditions. I can understand how that can be hard for some who do not like change. Sometimes it is great to focus on your immediate family.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      I’m usually the one hard to budge on “tradition” but it was a nice change of pace and I think I enjoyed the holiday more this year than I would have if we traveled. I know the kids did…they were practically angels and that’s a holiday miracle!

  6. Kari says: Reply

    Getting married has definitely thrown a loop in my traditions. We have been working to bring our expectations together to create holidays that we are both happy with.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      The holidays after we moved in together and again after we got married were stressful. We tried to do it ALL the first few years and it always left us exhausted and stressed. I hope you two find a compromise that leaves you both happy. Merry Christmas!

  7. I am going through the same thing! Growing up, and up until recently, all holidays were spent with my large and noisy Italian family. But for the past few years we did something a little different and celebrated with the family on Christmas Eve, and then Christmas Day had a low-key holiday at home. Some of my best holiday memories are of those lazy Christmases staying in my jammies all day, playing board game marathons with my parents and brother and sis-in-law. This year my parents and I spent Thanksgiving alone, just the three of us…. and for Christmas we are probably traveling to California but will spend it with just my brother, sis-in-law and nephew. SOmetimes small, intimate holidays are really nice!

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      You’re right about the intimate holidays. I was so worried it wasn’t going to feel “holiday” enough with just our small family but it did and it was great.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Ali A says: Reply

    Aww, I liked this post. I’ve been celebrating my holidays the same way since I was a kid: with certain sides of the family in specific homes and traditions galore. As I get older and families expand and change, there’s a fear that things will become disbanded and we’ll all separate and that terrifies me. But the important thing (as you’ve done) is to make NEW traditions and still make it feel special no matter what you do. 🙂

    Also – still can’t believe we live so close! Too funny.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      I had that exact fear as my cousins and I started seeing people, moving in together, getting married, and having kids. I worry when the time comes for my grandparents to pass on that we won’t have that glue that holds us all together. New traditions aren’t as scary as I thought they were though and we’ve found small ways to tie in the old ones with the new.

  9. Judy says: Reply

    Sounds great until your the parent of the adult children who don’t come home for the holidays and your left alone with out your family coming to see you. It becomes a very lonely time of the year with out your children and grandchildren there with you.

    1. Jennifer says: Reply

      I imagine it does but I think there needs to be a give and take on both sides. This year we made it a point to go down and see everyone the weekend before the holiday (Thanksgiving & Christmas). It was a lot of work to coordinate everyone’s schedules and money spent by us to travel and time off from work and school. The kids were rammy by the end and worn out. I think next year I’d like it if our families could return the favor of visiting us, whether that means a weekend before or after the holiday or on the actual holiday.

      I don’t know how families do it when they’re further than driving distance because it’s expensive to fly any time of year but especially the holidays.

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