I’m in my mid-twenties, a time filled with many bridal showers, weddings, and baby showers. It seems like every time that I check my Facebook newsfeed someone else has gotten engaged, married, or discovered that they are pregnant. This is a decade of great change, much excitement, and more than our fair share of fear. Change is not always easy. Sometimes it can be very uncomfortable. On occasion, it can be downright painful. Many of the changes that we will undergo while in our twenties will be good. We will get “grown-up” jobs. We will rent apartments, and perhaps buy our first home. We will get engaged, get married, and have our first children. These are all very exciting changes, but they can also be scary at times. After a prolonged adolescence, we might find ourselves out in the real world, needing to fend for ourselves for the first time. We will need to make big decisions that will affect the rest of our lives. We will need to evaluate what is most valuable to us, and what we are willing to part with. We will need to adapt to changing circumstances, which sometimes means adapting to other people’s traditions or creating your own. As new and exciting as this might be to some, it can be downright terrifying to others.
Christmas time is filled with such decisions, especially for those who are engaged or newly married. After growing up with our own family traditions for the holidays, we are asked to abandon some of our old traditions, to adopt some of the traditions of our significant other, and to create some new traditions of our own. It is a dilemma that every engaged and married couple must address, and the transition from single to married life is not always easy. Sometimes it can be nearly impossible.
Some couples are lucky. Sometimes family traditions can be so diverse that they never overlap. I know of several friends who easily settled into their families’ Christmas traditions, even as they were creating their own. I know of people who spend Christmas Eve with the bride’s family, Christmas day at their own house, and the weekend immediately following Christmas with the groom’s family at the annual Christmas party. The traditions never intersected, so it was easy to forge a new life together. And yet, even in these best circumstances, problems can arise. No family can escape at least some complications during the holidays- whether it be small children, sick relatives, or a freak snowstorm.
Those are the couples that have it lucky. Their families’ traditions never overlapped, so they were able to take part in both with no compromise. Most couples are not so lucky however. Quite often, families value the same holidays, and engaged and newly married couples must choose between their families’ traditions. Christmas might always be spent with one family, while Thanksgiving might always be with the other. Many couples opt to alternate holidays, so that families can celebrate the holidays with their children every other year. I know that this will be the route that my fiance and I choose, since our families have distinct traditions for every holiday, and it wouldn’t be possible (let alone preferable) to split up the holidays in any permanent manner. If we spend Christmas Eve with my family one year, we will celebrate it with Andrew’s family the next. It was a compromise that was necessary, but it also seemed to be the best solution for our situation. It was impossible to imagine never spending Thanksgiving with my family, or never spending Christmas Eve with his. While such a situation will require sacrifice from both of us (and our families), it seemed like the best fit for us.
The assignment of holidays can be an immense challenge to many couples, and sadly, not all couples can withstand its pressures. Couples must be willing to compromise, to make sacrifices for the sake of the one that they love. A certain degree of flexibility is incredibly helpful, especially when children are included in the equation. It might be easy to spend Christmas Eve with the wife’s family and Christmas Day with the husband’s family, but that might become much more difficult with children. I know that when we were young, many holidays were moved to our house because it was more convenient for my parents, and it was easier for the family to travel to us than the other way around. Granted, even now that we’re all in our twenties, a lot of the holidays are still celebrated at my house. Fortunately, everyone seems content with the arrangement, and my mother is a superb hostess!
Christmas is a time of great joy, but it can also be very stressful. It’s a time of standing in massive lines while waiting to buy that last gift for your aunt. It’s a time of large crowds and short fuses. It’s a time of traveling, traffic, and occasionally dangerous driving conditions. And for us twenty-somethings, it’s also a time of changing family traditions, compromises, and sacrifices. But despite the stress that might be associated with our changing circumstances, we must remember why we are willing to make such sacrifices and compromises in the first place. In marriage, two become one. A new entity is created. Sometimes that union opens up to new life, and children are thrown into the mix. Love involves change. Life involves change. As we are united in marriage, our families are united as well. I will become part of Andrew’s family, and he will become part of mine. We will be shaped by this expansion of our family ties. Two lives are being brought together; two families are being united. This new situation demands change if it will survive. It demands compromise and sacrifice, all in the name of love. Fortunately for us, Christmas is the best time for such growth, as we celebrate the birth of Christ, who has taught us the meaning of sacrifice and love, and as we are faced with so many opportunities to grow in these virtues. It might not be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!