Creating New Holiday Traditions
By Terri Clark
Every Christmas I say I’m not going to hang up the reindeer,
and every year I’m met with protests and gasps of disbelief.
I made the big stuffed Rudolph head, with a wreath hanging around
his neck, out of Christmas calico fabrics the first year Harvey
and I were married. Rudolph’s traditional spot is above
the fireplace mantle overlooking the many stockings waiting to
be filled on Christmas Eve. That first year I wanted the holiday
to be festive and fun for all the kids, so I made the reindeer
and matching stockings for everyone in the family. Over the years
the number of stockings has multiplied, and Rudolph has become
a little limp, but it just wouldn’t seem like Christmas
without them. The reindeer and stockings are as much a part of
our family’s Christmas as the tree.
When I was sewing these Yuletide decorations,
I had no idea they would become an important part of our family
tradition. Every year we seem to add a new stocking because of
a marriage or birth in the family. We are now up to seventeen
stockings hanging across the mantle under Rudolph’s watchful
eye. There seems to be something special about seeing the whole
family together across the mantle. When friends and visitors come
into the house, they cannot deny the sense of “family.”
The melding of two families’ traditions
into the new family’s tradition is especially difficult
during the holidays. Most of the fondest memories we and our children
hold are of family holiday times. Unfortunately, in the blended
family, the fond memories and traditions can drive wedges if not
handled thoughtfully and carefully.
Holidays leave a bittersweet taste for everyone
in the family. We love the festivities, food, and fun that accompanies
the holidays, but visitation, separations, and changes in the
way we have always done our celebrating dampen them.
One of my step-daughters shared with me recently
how much she used to hate the holidays. Even though our family
did all we could to make the times meaningful and special, our
kids still had to split their time between two households. They
hated missing Christmas morning in one household or having to
eat two Thanksgiving dinners. As parents, we plan the holidays
around our family—our kids. When we have to leave in the
middle of the day to pick up the kids or plan a meal around their
late arrival or early departure, our plans become complicated.
Attitudes tend to need some adjustment at those times.
Visitation agreements increase the stress
and tension in blended families. Harvey and I found that by letting
go of our planned program and set traditions, we were able to
create an atmosphere of peaceful celebration when the children
were with us. This made our holidays more memorable.
Sometimes old traditions can be carried over
into the new blended family, but sometimes it is better to let
them go. Picture this scenario: A child who always got the job
of placing the star at the top of the Christmas tree is anxious
to finish the decorating so he can perform his duty. Then the
unthinkable happens—an angel that has been in his new stepmother’s
family for generations replaces the all-important star. Because
of its fragile condition, she insists on placing it at the top
of the tree herself. Both stepmother and stepchild feel threatened,
and dad is in the middle—he can’t win. A wedge has
been driven into a new and delicate relationship between stepchild
and parent. This scenario is typical of the small straws that
build upon the camel’s back and eventually break up a marriage.
In this make-believe scenario, we can see
where the parents must remember their “vision” of
the completed house. Here is an example of how closed-door communication
and obedience to Christ as the foundation in the home are key
to building a strong family. Talking through this situation, weighing
the importance of our old way of doing things against having a
solid family, can actually result in creating new traditions.
In our make-believe family, mom and dad may decide to have two
Christmas trees—one topped with an angel and the other with
a star. Or maybe the angel will receive a new place of honor on
the mantle. Maintaining peace in the home while remembering the
reason for celebration should remain our focus.
Our goal was for everyone in the family to
have a great Christmas holiday. In my own family, we did several
things to compromise and compensate for the two-family Christmas
situation. One compromise that immediately comes to mind happened
a few days before our first Christmas as a family. Harvey’s
two younger daughters came to me in secret. They whispered that
I had to put out a jar of pickles for Mandi to find on Christmas
morning because she would be really disappointed if she got up
and didn’t find them. My confusion over this odd tradition
led me to ask Harvey about it because I didn’t want Mandi
to feel jilted over pickles. Behind closed doors, Harvey explained
that Mandi loved pickles, and her mother loved to surprise her
with a whole jar on Christmas morning. This was a unique and special
tradition between Mandi and her mother; therefore, we decided
we would not intrude on it.
One Christmas tradition I brought with me,
much to all of the children’s dismay, is the reading of
the Christmas story on Christmas morning—before the presents
are opened. Everyone in the family hates it. They dread having
to sit through the story in the second chapter of Luke while staring
at all the gifts spilling out from under the tree. I don’t
know if anyone even listens to the Bible reading, but they are
all reminded of the reason for the season.
My children and stepchildren alike have become
united in their efforts to prevent the delay in opening their
gifts. One year, Sara, Harvey’s middle daughter, hid all
of the Bibles in the house. Her efforts only delayed the Bible
reading and gift opening until I found an old King James Version
Bible she overlooked. One of the most creative delay tactics came
from my daughter, Jennifer. When the family gathered in the living
room around the tree, she presented to me a beautiful glass snowball
with a Nativity scene inside. The unique thing about this lovely
snowball was that it told the Christmas story when you wound it
up—that year they heard it twice! Another year, Aaron, my
sixteen-year-old eccentric son, offered to read the story for
me. Of course I was thrilled that one of the kids finally took
an interest in this very important part of our Christmas morning.
Aaron began his “reading” with all of the “a-hems”
to collect everyone’s attention. His paraphrased version
began with “Jesus” and ended with “was born”—and
nothing else in between. Nice try.
Reading the Christmas story on Christmas morning
became a Clark family tradition. Though it was once dreaded, it
is now expected. Everyone knows that once Jesus has been acknowledged
and we have prayed together as a family, the chaos of opening
gifts amid loud talking, thank-you’s, and torn wrapping
paper can begin.
Ol’ Rudolph still watches over the mantle
where all the stockings hang as a memorial to our sons and daughters.
You can almost hear him whispering, “Look what God has done.”
Order your copy of
Tying the Family Knot
More from Terri Clark at www.terriclarkministries.org
Excerpted from Tying
the Family Knot; Meeting the Challenges of a Blended Family,
by Terri Clark. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers
Nashville, Tennessee. Used by permission.
Clark is a Christian author and speaker from Pearcy, Arkansas.
In 2001, Terri Clark was invited to speak and minister in Uganda,
East Africa to help evangelize the remote areas of Uganda and
Kenya. Since then, she has been involved in the effort of planting
and nurturing churches in this part of the world. All proceeds
from Terri's ministry, whether by speaking or writing benefit
the Ugandan Outreach. For more information visit www.terriclarkministries.org.
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