Beating the Holiday Expectations


When we were engaged, my husband and I had a conversation about holiday expectations. We wanted our future children to have those special memories and family traditions from childhood that we held so dear to our hearts.

So which would be our family traditions? At first we thought, “maybe we just let it happen?” but then also, “maybe nothing truly memorable will happen if we don’t put something in place?” Who wants to give up all their own childhood Christmas memories for something mediocre? Not me! Living intentionally makes a difference!

Every year growing up, my family put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. We always attended the same Christmas Eve parties, participated in a white elephant gift exchange, and went to midnight Mass. Christmas morning I would go downstairs to open my stocking and one special present before the extended family came over to eat breakfast and exchange other gifts. That was Christmas for me!

My husband had extended family get-togethers earlier in December, where they followed the German tradition of St. Nicholas putting goodies in his stocking on December 6th, and opening gifts with his immediate family on Christmas morning.

So, after discussing our Christmas memories, joys and traditions at length, we set a plan to determine our own.

I wanted to host a Christmas Eve game night party with our friends. We are blessed with a very large network of good friends, so this was similar to my memory of going to my aunt’s house. We would have food, play family games, make a craft, and just enjoy being together. Great plan! …Well, the first year of this I forgot, and it failed. And this year we will probably still invite our closest friends over for a dinner and games, but I’ve discovered that I had to let go of my Christmas Eve party desires to create something that works for my family and other families.

I also had to let go of Midnight Mass (for now). Last year, it was a disaster! I spent the entire time in the back with really tired children. To make it even worse, we didn’t get to open presents until 1pm on Christmas because their behavior the next day was so out of control. What a disaster!

So the old traditions were failing, but we also wanted to create some new traditions together. My husband puts lights on the exterior of our home and I decorate the interior in a similar fashion each year. My husband loves celebrating his German heritage, so I looked up a German breakfast recipe to be our special, Christmas morning breakfast. On Christmas Eve, we make Baby Jesus a birthday cake, and then on Christmas Day we put Him in the manger, sing Happy Birthday, and eat the cake. And all these have worked out great!

From our successes and failures, I have learned this is going to be an ever-evolving process of letting go of old traditions and expectations and being surprised by unexpected joys. I have come to realize that it is okay that we’re still determining what is important to us and what will work for our family. Because in the end, the trying new traditions with the family I love so much is also the fun of it anyway!


Photography: Flickr/ PROTheophilos Papadopoulos

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