By Katie T. Kennedy, Crosswalk.com
Traditions are a wonderful part of who we are. They can be cultural, religious, or familial. They fill our year with celebrations, community, good food, and memorable times.
If these traditions are engrained in who we are, how do we merge them with our spouse when we start our own family? This is what we will explore. How can you take your family heritage and combine it with someone else's?
We will look at traditions, big and small, how they impact our lives, and how to work with your spouse to merge both your heritage.
What Are Traditions?
Merriam-Webster dictionary describes traditions as "an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (such as a religious practice or a social custom)."
Traditions are what makes your family unique and special. Whether they have been passed down for generations or you and your spouse start a new one, they are part of what makes you different. Traditions can also remind us we are part of a larger community or country.
Christians celebrate Jesus' birth in December and His rising at Easter. As a country, we recognize Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November. If you are married to someone outside the United States, they might not observe the Thanksgiving you are used to but might celebrate another day of giving thanks.
Just like families, each country has its own special history. We celebrate these milestones to remember our history. I'm sure the Pilgrims had no idea that their big feast would create a holiday we enjoy today. They were just celebrating a bountiful harvest after trying times.
Families create their own traditions related to holidays and birthdays. They also pass down family traditions. This can include things like how you spend Christmas and what your Christmas breakfast includes. Maybe your extended family spends a week together at the beach every summer. Traditions are a great way for your family to create lasting memories together.
You will do a lot of compromising in your marriage. Compromising will be your best friend, especially that first year of marriage when the year is filled with firsts, and you must figure out how to spend your holidays as a married couple. Plus, the pressure is on because both of you probably think whatever you do this first year will set a precedent for the rest of your marriage. Let me take the pressure off; go into the first year learning. See what worked well and be open to making changes next year.
You each come to the marriage from your own family of origin. No two families are alike, so don't expect your traditions to be the same. It will help if you view your spouses' traditions as a way to try new things and learn more about their background instead of making it a competition on whose traditions win out. The goal is to bring part of both of your histories into the marriage.
When you have kids, there are unique stories, meals, customs, and holidays you each will want to pass along. Sharing these parts of your past with your kids is a wonderful way to teach your kids where you come from.
Be open-minded to each other's heritage. You may like certain traditions of your spouse better than others. When it comes to marriage and our Christian journey, we are called to die to self. While this concept is unpopular and pretty much opposite everything the world will tell you, it's the call of the Christian.
Listen to the desires of your spouse. It doesn't mean you shove all your traditions aside and only incorporate theirs. This means working together and communicating what traditions are important to you. This brings me to my next point. Communication.
Marriage involves a lot of communication. It is a skill we hone and develop in our marriages and other relationships. Having a chat, or many is a great way to understand which of your spouses' traditions are important. You don't have to incorporate every single tradition both of you had ever done before you were married. Discuss which ones are important to you and why.
Most wives, at some point, try to replicate a family recipe for their spouse to find out later their spouse didn't care much for it. It will save you many hours and frustration if you ask rather than assume.
You don't have to sit down at one sitting and plan your traditions for the year. You can take one at a time. Things change, and you don't know what the future holds. Make time for these conversations as the year proceeds. Try to stay ahead of the holidays, so you have plenty of time to discuss and form a plan.
Have a conversation with both of your parents. Ask them what cultural or family traditions might be important for you to continue. Don't make any promises, because obviously, when you start your own family, these are the decisions you need to make. It might be interesting to learn what traditions they value and which ones they hold loosely. If you try to incorporate every tradition both of you had, you will wear yourself out and probably not enjoy any of them. Once you feel like you have a grasp on which traditions you might incorporate from your past, it's time for you and your spouse to make some of your own traditions. This is the fun part.
Making Your Own Traditions
One of the most special things about creating your own family with your spouse is getting to develop your own traditions together. This is where you get to dream and decide what things are important to you both.
Try not to put so much pressure on yourself to come up with these customs immediately. Most of the best ones will develop organically, such as our rhythm of buying our kids new Christmas pajamas every year and distributing them on Christmas Eve. I bought them one year, and as the next year approached, the kids started asking about them. I wasn't planning on doing it every year, but I had unintentionally started a family tradition.
I know a friend who makes a nutroll for her family during the Christmas season. It's a family recipe passed down. Her kids look forward to this day of baking, and she shares extra loaves with friends and family.
I asked around to find out some favorite traditions of a few families to pass on a few ideas. One family goes around the dinner table at Thanksgiving naming one thing they are grateful for this year. Some families enjoy the candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Others have a special book they read on Christmas Eve. Another family enjoys driving around and looking at the Christmas lights.
One of my friends drove around with her husband, visiting every aunt and uncle every holiday. While that sounds exhausting to me, she said it created lasting memories, especially since most of the family has passed on. They scaled this tradition back once kids came.
The great thing is there are no rules to traditions you and your spouse want to create and, most importantly, no time limit to develop these customs.
Can You Change Traditions?
Change is constant. I'm sorry for those who dislike change, but it's here to stay. You will get into a groove with life, then inevitably, change will come. Many unforeseen things can happen. Just know they are coming and get used to pivoting. Speaking as someone who is change-adverse, I've had to accept that I cannot stop it even with the best-laid plans.
It's great you have a holiday plan, but it's also ok if that plan must change for one year or going forward. You have the freedom to change, tweak or not participate in certain traditions. There may be some backlash, but sometimes you have to make these hard decisions.
If you find a tradition that isn't working, be open to changing the plan. We started out continuing my husband's tradition of seeing both sides of his family on Christmas day in addition to our own. We did this for several years until we realized three Christmas' was too much for us. It was a different speed than we wanted for Christmas. We desired a more laid-back holiday. We discussed this and made some changes. We scaled back, and it was a much better fit for us. When we had kids later, we continued a more relaxed routine.
What works for you before kids might need to be revisited when you have little ones. You or your family members could move, impacting traditions. Different seasons have different demands. Just know you aren't alone. We have all had to drop traditions along the way because they no longer fit. Plus, when one tradition ends, it makes space for a new one.
The great news is we are pursuing oneness in Christ. (John 17:21) You and your spouse have been joined together. You have an opportunity to seek oneness with Him together. While this doesn't mean things will always be rose-colored, it does mean God will guide you as you seek Him.
Pray for your marriage, for the conversations and compromises that will be needed. It can be hard to drop a tradition you've done since you were a kid. There could be resistance. Be sensitive to this, yet work together to keep pursuing traditions that will create lasting times. Celebrate the things that have meaning to you.
Most importantly, create your own fun, unforgettable, unique traditions. Start ones you and your spouse can enjoy for a long time. If you are blessed with children, you will have many opportunities to create new family traditions. What a joy. What traditions do you want to be remembered?
Katie T. Kennedy lives in Richmond, VA. She is married to a wonderful husband Jonathan and they have three girls. She is a writer, blogger, and employee of the family business. After a mid-life spiritual transformation, she discovered her love of writing. She loves to travel, read, be in nature, cook, and dream. She would love to connect with you online at www.katietkennedy.com, Instagram or Facebook.