Monday, 24 December 2012

Holiday Maps - For Partners With Different Traditions

Holiday Maps - For Partners With Different Traditions

By Dr. Benna Sherman

For most people, holiday celebrations and rituals follow the traditions of their family of origin. And, for many people, that has a lovely comforting quality to it, as this holiday looks remarkably like the ones that preceded it. But what happens when two people from different families come together to make their own new family?

Sandy and Nick were approaching their first Christmas together.

As soon as the Thanksgiving meal had been cleared away, Sandy ran to the closet and dragged out her box of ornaments and the sparkly silver aluminum tree on which to hang them. Nick looked up from his newspaper to see her carefully balancing the smaller box with the ornaments on the bigger box that held the tree.

"What are you doing? It's still officially Thanksgiving. You can't put up a Christmas tree yet."

"What do you mean? The turkey's history. This is officially the start of the Christmas season."

"It is NOT. The Christmas season starts when we countdown the Twelve Days of Christmas, just like the song."

"I'm not waiting. I love every single minute of this time of year. Now come help me assemble the tree."

"Help you... 'assemble'... the tree? Christmas trees aren't assembled; they're grown. We'll go to the Christmas tree farm the weekend before Christmas and cut our own."

"Suddenly you're a lumberjack? Don't be silly. Real trees drop their pointy little, toe-pricking needles all over the carpet; and you end up picking them out of the carpet until Easter. No way."

"Well, no way you're going to put up that stupid Jetsons version of a tree. It doesn't even smell like a Christmas tree."

"Don't worry; you'll love how it looks once I put up all the ornaments. They're all crystal. The effect is all magically sparkly, like a fairy Christmas tree."

"They're all crystal? But our tree always has keepsake ornaments and decorations on it. My mom gave me a box of stuff that's always on our tree. I even have the first popcorn garland that I ever made and the first pinecone ornaments."

"You want to put popcorn and pinecones on my fairy tree? But it will totally spoil the effect!"

Her lip was quivering. His jaw was set.

She went into the kitchen and made a cup of tea, sniffling back the unshed tears. He went to the garage and started bagging the Thanksgiving trash, using more than the minimum necessary force to compact the bags.

Each of them having taken a therapeutic time-out, they were both ready to re-enter the arena. Demonstrating the synchrony that they'd always enjoyed about their relationship, they entered the living room at the same time, albeit from different directions. That made them smile.

"Sandy, we're a family now. It's not about my traditions or your traditions. It's about making our traditions."

"Nick, I know that not everybody does everything the same way. I've just always considered the alternatives, well, wrong."

"I understand that. When you brought out your sparkly tree, all I could think about was how wrong the whole idea was. I think I need the smell of pine. It smells like Christmas."

"Yeah, I get that. I always loved that my Grandma Tucker's house smelled like pine. Her tree always looked like a real bird might be living in it."

"My Aunt Doris always had a tree that was decorated with crystal ornaments. I thought it was magical and that if I listened really hard, I'd be able to hear the crystal sing."

"Can't we have magic AND Christmas smell? Nick, can we have it all?" Her eyes were dancing and she was getting so excited that she could barely stand still. He was captivated by her excitement.

"Why not? I want the magic of Aunt Doris's crystal tree; you want the smell of Grandma Tucker's house. I want you to have what you want; and I know that you want me to have what's important to me. Let's start figuring out what we each want and start building our own Christmas map-a map to our very own holiday tradition."

"But how do we really do that?"

"Well, for starters, we'll have two trees. We can put your fairy tree here in front of the window, decorated only with crystal ornaments; and we can set up a 'real' tree on the tile in the family room, where it's super easy to sweep up the needles. I'll hang the popcorn and pinecones on that one."

"Nick, you are a genius!" She hugged him hard. Then she frowned as she considered some of the details on which she realized they might differ, like when to open presents, when to go to church, whether Christmas dinner was ham or turkey, or, she thought with horror, goose!

"Nick, this is really going to take work. There are a thousand details to holidays. We can't just have two of everything."

"I know; but I figure if we talk about everything and stay focused on making a tradition that works for both of us, we'll manage. What good is a Christmas that only works for one of us? We'll make holiday traditions that are about us, our family. And then our kids can think that it's the only right way to do Christmas."

Dr. Benna Sherman has been a Licensed Psychologist in private practice in Severna Park, Maryland, for over 20 years. She has a specialty in Marriage/Relationship Counseling and writes a biweekly newspaper column on relationships. Her book, "How to Get and Give Love - Relationship Maps", is now available on in both paperback and Kindle. Learn more about Dr. Sherman, subscribe to her free newsletter, and read more of her articles at

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