Often in a merger, you have to make compromises. A well-managed company will assess the things that are a top priority and will not compromise on the things it thinks would cause it to lose value or ethical standards. A well-managed marriage is much the same and the holidays are no exception.
My husband and I came from different religious backgrounds. He was Catholic (Catholic schools, Notre Dame, etc.) and I had not been a regular church goer, but would claim Methodist as the church I was baptized in. I was willing to convert if it was truly important to him, but it turned out that the same issues I had issues with concerning the Catholic church were his as well, and he was willing to change. We compromised on Presbyterian.
On to holidays.
My family celebrated Christmas by having a delicious strawberry crepes and orange juice supper on Christmas Eve and the “Opening of The Presents.” The next morning we slept in, had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and spent the day playing with our new possessions and then ate a big Christmas Dinner.
This was not what his family did at all. On Christmas Eve they had cold cuts and cheese and crackers, went to mass and then went driving through the neighborhoods looking at lights and critiquing the holiday decorations. Then the next morning at the crack of dawn, everyone rose and started opening presents. Many would be wrapped very creatively by various members of the family (7-layer bean dip and a descending scissors meaning “we’re cutting back this year,” which was a family joke, were favorites) By the time they finished, it was around noon and they would have cinnamon coffee cake, eggs, bacon and orange juice for brunch and then relax with their new possessions until late afternoon, when they shared a lovely dinner.
What to do? Well, it turned out that I really liked his family’s traditions, and we decided that our new little family could adopt them instead of mine. I added George Winston piano music to the trimming of the tree the day after Thanksgiving and a few other little things, but I have loved the traditions and the only thing we may have expanded just a little bit, is the “seeking of the blarf.” On Christmas Eve, after church and a cold cut dinner, we actively seek the really “over the top” houses that we call “blarf.” Yes, we made up that word, and we love it! There is a certain joy to seeing a house totally overdone with multiple themes, clashing lights, weird displays, etc.
So, what do you do if your new family has traditions you just can’t stand? Or if you are blending religious faiths? Or if you are juggling his family and your family in your holiday obligations?
All of these things can be incredibly stressful and loaded with emotion.
That is why you don’t discuss it during the actual season.
Discuss it months away from the actual holiday. Then, it is more likely that both of you can stand back less emotionally and state your priorities and what you are willing to compromise. It gives you time to plan what that new tradition will look like, and time to prepare other family members if there will be a change in what you have been doing in the past.
Parents of young children: Discuss opting out of things that stress your family and make less time to be together and enjoy each other’s company. Remember, you really only get a few very special years with your children, watching them discover new things at the holidays as they grow through different stages, and then they are off to their new families and making their own traditions. It will be fun to see which of your family traditions survive their mergers; but be careful not to set expectations on them and stay sensitive to the balancing act they will be performing with both families.
Parents of adult children: As grandchildren come, be very sensitive to your children’s wishes when it comes to gifts. In some families, toy guns, etc. are a big no-no, even though your son played with them when he was little and he turned out fine! Ask if they have any restrictions and then have fun shopping for the new generation. You really do get to experience childhood again just a bit, and with none of the responsibility. Eureka! Seriously though, do be sensitive to their rules for behavior and try to enforce them as much as you can.
You will then be a help and a blessing to them, instead of grandparents who return sugar-hyped, crazed children to their already frazzled parents.