Ever since I was a little girl, I have done pretty much the same thing every year for the holidays. For Thanksgiving, we all travel from wherever we are to my parents’ house in a small town in Ohio to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the dog show that follows it and eat way too much food at dinner. For Christmas, we travel right back to my parents’ house to finish wrapping presents, eat a lot of homemade cookies, and visit both sides of the family to celebrate.
While a few tweaks have been made here or there — maybe a slight change from an apple pie to a pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving or from going to my Aunt’s house to staying in by the fire — this is exactly what we’ve done for the last 30 years of my life. And while I love this time with my family, what can sometimes be a challenge is adding someone into the mix that is of a different culture and has been raised a bit differently.
I met my then-boyfriend, now-husband, back in 2013, and I knew after our first date that I’d marry him. He’s from Ghana and has been in America since he was 18, but when it comes to holiday traditions, he stayed true to his original upbringing. Growing up, the holidays weren’t as big of a deal in his family and culture as they are here. Sure, they’d open a present or two, but it did not take them the four hours to open presents as it did for my family, one by one, letting each person have their turn opening and enjoying each gift. He also didn’t pile up in the car and travel to visit other relatives, run outside as a kid and make snow angels, throw snowballs or go sledding.
For the last few years, we’ve been shifting and adjusting our traditions to make room for a tradition that includes both of our cultures. And now, more than ever, since we have a son, we want to make sure that our holidays moving forward are memorable and ever-evolving for our family. While it’s not always easy to blend two different lifestyles into one, here’s how we’ve made it work for us so far.
We don’t stop talking about it
One of the things I try to initiate as often as possible is the conversation around our traditions. It’s important to me that we don’t assume that someone is OK with something and end up hurting one another’s feelings when it could’ve been avoided. As thoughts or ideas around the holidays start swirling in my head, I make it a point to bring those conversations to him so that we can create an open dialogue about what each other wants.
The conversations can be about anything, but a few examples of questions I try to ask are:
- Where are we celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s?
- How much time are we spending there?
- What will be on the menu, and how can we incorporate one or both of the cultures into it?
- What, if any, traditions will we do separately as a family?
- What do we need to feel comfortable and not overwhelmed?
We create our own traditions
Now that we’ve grown from a family of two to a family of three, it’s really important to us that we begin to create our own family traditions separate from what we’ve grown up doing. While our son may not remember it later on, we want to begin building the foundation of traditions now so that we can talk about them with him as he gets older.
There are so many options to choose from when you’re beginning your own traditions. In our home, we want to make sure there is a variety of food, music, and movie options from both cultures. We plan to spend Christmas with my family for a few days this year but will come back to our home earlier than usual to open a few gifts together, drive around looking at Christmas lights, and watch Oliver play with his new toys and books.
If you’re looking for ideas for your own traditions, feel free to steal one of our ideas or create something completely new that neither family or culture has done before. Maybe New Year’s Eve is spent in a fort made in the living room or sledding Christmas morning after you open presents, or you play board games each year after Thanksgiving dinner. The options and ideas are endless!
We add in a piece from each tradition
No matter how close you are with your spouse’s family, if you grew up doing things differently for the holidays, that time together will always feel like a little something is missing. The easiest way to bring two traditions together is to bring something memorable from one tradition into the other. So, if you’re visiting your in-laws this year, ask your mom for her famous apple pie recipe and bring it along, play that card game you always played growing up, or share a funny story with everyone about holidays with your family.
For my family, each year I sit down and talk to my husband about the menu. Neither of us is ashamed to admit how much we love the food at the holidays, but the menus for us look quite different. So, while he may not eat everything on the menu, if I can include one to two of his traditional dishes to the spread it makes him feel more at home and reminds him of his childhood holiday memories.
We reflect and assess
Just like the rest of parenting, navigating the holidays as a new family can be stressful. And we’ve all had those holiday experiences where things just didn’t go quite as planned. Traditions are personal to people, and it’s important that we handle them with kindness and respect.
For us, through our own reflecting, we’ve decided to always include meals from the other tradition, make sure to spend at least a little time alone (even without the baby — thanks family!) on the actual day, and now, we’re dedicated to leaving a little room in our holiday vacation for just the three of us back at our home.
Once the holidays are behind you, take a moment to reflect on everything that happened. What went well that you’d like to continue to do in the years to come? What can be improved to be better for the next time? What do you want to agree to not do at all moving forward? Having these conversations while the memories are still fresh will allow you to have a clear idea of the good, the bad, and the ugly of your holiday season.
It’s not always easy blending two traditions together and making it enjoyable for everyone involved. But doing these four things each year has helped us navigate the holidays a lot better, and I hope it will for you too!