Family traditions instill personal and family identity and bind families together throughout their many phases of growth and change. After children and grandchildren are grown and gone off to live their adult lives, the traditions remain as reminders of the sweetness of home and family, what is most important in life, and who they really are. Each new holiday our memories are flooded with thoughts of family parlor games, traditional songs, fancy feasts with predictable menus, and the excitement of treasured family time and open conversations. The best loved family traditions become the stories shared with college roommates and new spouses. No sooner does a youth launch into adulthood than they start to recall the traditions of their childhood and attempt to recreate a few of those treasured memories to share with the new people in their lives.
Trends and Traditions
Occasionally people create new traditions. When a couple marries, they either combine the traditions of their two families, choose to follow one family’s traditions, or start new traditions of their own. Traditions are also born when trend setters or ideologists suggest new ways of celebrating. These new traditions can be playful or serious, and they can revolve around spending money, bonding together, or remembering the past.
For instance, the playful Elf of the Shelf, a new Santa Clause based trend/tradition that many families enjoy, was created by Carol Aebersold and her daughters as a business opportunity, and popularized by the “Today Show,” in 2005. Other trend-based traditions that are changing all the time are the movies, books, products, ballets, festivals, parades, plays, and other social events.
Did you know there is also a tradition to stop Christmas? Of course the green old Grinch tried at one time “to stop Christmas from coming,” but I’m not referring to him. An ideological movement to discredit the celebration of Christmas has been coming in and out of popularity at varying times since the Puritan era of the 1600s.
In 1645 Oliver Cromwell cancelled Christmas due to his Puritan beliefs, but he was soon replaced by the Christmas loving Christian, Charles II. Cromwell’s Puritan ways were mild compared to the even more orthodox Puritan pilgrims who came to America in 1620.
Christmas was a Christian holiday started to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by Pope Julius I in the mid 300s. It is true that some pagan traditions influenced the holiday celebrating the birth of Christ because those pagan gift giving traditions at the winter solstice were already in progress. But, Christmas was embraced by all Christians until the Puritans determined that their other Christian counterparts were “wicked” for celebrating the Savior’s birth.
In America the Christmas holiday was outlawed for 22 years in Boston from 1659 - 1681 because of the “wicked” nature of celebrating. In modern times, there are still Puritan-Minded Christians and Atheists who resist Christmas celebrations, and try to stop Christmas from coming. This reoccurring anti-Christmas tradition targeted against celebrating holidays is a trend, just like the Elf on the Shelf, or the Polar Express reading trend. It’s okay for people to think differently about holidays, and it’s possible for them to be united with family members even though they have different ideas.
How were you raised? Did your family have traditions that involved the social playful trends, or did your family celebrate Christmas in a more serious way without the social celebrations? How did your family decide what traditions would be their family traditions? Was there a difference of opinions?
Coming Together for Christmas
All traditions create identities and foster valuable family bonding. No holiday tradition is more right than another tradition. Sure, some traditions may be more fun and playful and others may be more serious. Some may be more socially accepted and others may not be socially understood. But, no matter the tradition, they all have value and shouldn’t be used as catalysts for tradition wars.
Husbands and wives institute traditions that either bind and unify the hearts family members because they are embraced by the couple, or they can break family bonds and cause seasonal holiday fights because husband and wife are only thinking about what they wanted, instead of the unity the whole family needs. This second way of handling holiday tradition differences is judgmental and leads to a stressful, dark feeling during the time of holiday light.
To make the kind of holiday traditions that please both husband and wife and create a strong family identity for the whole group will not be made without some deliberate sacrifice. The self-government training I do for families revolves around Four Basic Skills for self-government success. Two of these calm communication skills are especially helpful for spouses when making their holiday tradition plan; Accepting a “No” Answer and Disagreeing Appropriately.
Couples who make deliberate plans bring family unity to every holiday activity and conversation. And, once holiday plans are made spouses should not go back on the plan or criticize traditions. This means that if a couple establishes the habit of having a Christmas tree and hanging stockings out on Christmas Eve, then if the husband wants to stop having a tree or stop Santa Clause from coming then he needs to discuss it with his wife and come to a joint conclusion. It would be combative if he declared he wouldn't participate in the family holiday traditions, and it would put the children in the middle of a social battle taking place between parents. Traditions are meant to unite, not divide.
Making a Plan
To start the plan making process, call a couple’s meeting. Plan to listen to the other person’s point of view more than sharing your point of view. Pray about what your family needs from the traditions decided upon. Share with each other your most treasured family traditions and things you’d like to consider for the family. Make a list of all the ideas shared in the meeting. Rejoice in the happy memories shared. Number each idea on the list in order of importance to each person. This means husband and wife have a different color pen and mark a 1 next to their top priority and a 2 next to their second priority, and so on until they have listed their top 10 priorities. Finally, the couple allows each other to have their top priorities. Some of them will likely match.
It isn’t wise to discredit a tradition that is suggested by a spouse. If a wife doesn’t like the Santa tradition, but her husband does, she needs to allow the tradition and embrace it for the sake of family unity and the spirit of love and understanding. If she shuns the tradition, it will create family fights and years of family stress for all involved. Outlawing a suitable family tradition is similar to the Puritans outlawing Christmas in Boston.
We don’t have to control the holidays for them to be enjoyable. We only need to bond with the people around us to make the holidays most meaningful. Christmas is about “peace on earth and goodwill to all men.” No matter what side of the Christmas tradition debate you find yourself this Christmas, do as Christ would do and spread peace, love, and joy as you enjoy a unified holiday season; even if it isn’t your way.
Join Nicholeen for Parenting Mastery Training in Lehi, Utah. It’s the gift of self-government that gives your family love all year. See details here.