When we were first married, our holiday season looked very different than what it’s like today. Nearly 13 years later, and 7 children added has meant we reevaluate how we do this busy time of year. We had to rethink how we were going to follow through on building traditions of our own. We started out shuffling our little one between 4 different homes each season to make sure we made the rounds to all the relatives. It was a holly-jolly-happy mess and we were so glad to gift that experience to our son. The wonder on his face walking into a new house with fresh smiles ready to gobble up his hugs and squeals – the best!
But along with the ho-ho-home visits came intense anxiety for me. Trying to tame a toddler into behaving was challenging when all he wanted to do was play with his new toys. The re-buckling, uncomfortable clothes, expectations of toddler-gratitude, and sugary food had the tendency to turn our holidays into a colorful, candy coated nightmare. As we added our second child, and then our third the following year, we finally got off the Christmas carousel of rotating house visits.
Y’all, when we had our third (11 months after our second … oof) we were driving a Kia Rio. Three car seats in the back of that clown car, gifts, frazzled parents, three grumpy babies 3 and under – can you imagine the sight? Our intention to practice our own traditions had morphed into expectations that those traditions would look exactly like the ones we imagined, so disappointment was high and it’s friend anxiety was along for the ride.
Holidays became something I looked forward to all year, only to experience intense dread once they arrived. It was ludicrous. So we changed. We sat down and really talked about our hopes for the season, our expectations, and our likely reality.
Some traditions that made our list of hopes were:
- Making hot chocolate and apple cider
- A family advent study
- Driving around to look at Christmas lights in our town
- Reading books about the Christmas story
- Placing an emphasis on experiences rather than an accumulation of ‘stuff’
- Creating an atmosphere of hospitality and warmth in our home
- Stringing popcorn/cranberries for our tree
- Family tree decorating
… just to name a few
Narrowing down what we hoped for was helpful, but the game-changer was the umbrella over all of those hopes being a desire to genuinely enjoy the holiday season with our children. This was a launching point for how we approached the season. For us this means we have traditions we hope to accomplish, but our meter of success is if we (parents and kids!) are enjoying each other. A decrease in expectations has meant an increase in enjoyment for us. There have been years that we only accomplish a few things from our list of hopes, but our most important tradition? Enjoying each other? We nail it.
It can be hard, I know, to gently shed the traditions of your childhood, or your spouse’s childhood as you grow into your own family, but I encourage you to press on and figure out what is going to work out best for your family where you’re at. And what works in this season of your family may not be what holidays look like 5 years from now.
Those of you with older kiddos may LOVE getting out of the house and making the rounds. Maybe your family takes big trips? Perhaps your family starts at home and then ventures out. Those of you with tiny ones may also love heading to a place that’s not your own and you don’t have to cook or clean up. Go for it.
Right now we have 7 kids ranging in age from 1-13 yrs old. On Christmas Day, you’ll likely find us in our pjs, a sea of wrapping paper at our feet, and our three babies somewhere under it all. You’ll smell monkey bread and breakfast casserole alongside coffee, tamales, and tacos. Our big kids will likely be helping little ones, or playing with their own gifts. Grandparents will likely be sipping coffee and intermittently holding littles. Mike and I will be looking at all the mess and feeling extremely blessed. You’ll find us moving slow, taking in the day, and feeling palpable gratitude for each other.