Holidays can bring out hidden dynamics within a couple.
It’s one of those times when your individual pasts meet and you get the chance to blend them into a new tradition together.
If you are celebrating a holiday that is part of both of your family traditions, such as Christmas or Hanukkah, you each may have particular traditions you want to bring into your relationship as a couple. Twenty-two percent of American couples come from divergent religious backgrounds with very different holidays and many more regional variations of them.
Even an all-American holiday like Thanksgiving can be unfamiliar if your spouse comes from a country or culture where this kind of holiday doesn’t exist!
Be curious and respectful
Holiday traditions go very deep for most people. They accompany us from our early childhood and are part of our sense of identity. Be curious and respectful of each other’s traditions. You never know what complex associations an inexpensive-looking Santa hat (for example) may have for your partner.
Don’t make assumptions
If you are part of an interfaith or mixed cultural relationship, you may try to find out a lot of things about your partner’s traditions on your own. Your partner, however, may have had a different, or non-typical, holiday experience from the one you have been reading about. Don’t make assumptions, ask!
Create your own individual blend
Like coffees or teas, your traditions may have many countries of origin, but it is up to you to create your own specific ‘house blend.’ As a couple, creating completely new holiday traditions is a great way to bond and make your partnership real. Find a special way to exchange gifts, and create a special time just for you to share a newly created holiday activity. Try to bring one element that you really enjoy into this new blend. It will have a unique flavor that will grow on you every year.
Be real about the holidays — together
Holiday traditions can also be a trap. If there are things you really didn’t enjoy about your original holiday traditions, now is the time to stop or transform them. Not all traditions deserve to be continued.
For many people, the holidays can also be a very stressful time when they feel that all they do is try to satisfy other people’s expectations at the expense of their own. If that is the case, your relationship with your partner can allow you to set new boundaries. When you start celebrating together, you are no longer just children at your respective parents’ holiday events. And while it is important to honor heritage traditions, it is equally important that the holidays are a time for restoring your energy and inner peace, and a time to bond for the future.
The best of the past holiday traditions
Ask your partner, and yourself, which of the holiday traditions you grew up with were the ones that mattered to you most, and why. Then think of a way to re-create some or all of these traditions just for the two of you. You may end up with very similar activities, perhaps lighting the candles on the Christmas tree and on the Menorah all together (or the lights for Diwali), or you could just do one celebration on one day and then next one on the other if they fall together in a year. Many holidays offer more than one date for celebration.
A new relationship with your families
When you feel ready, perhaps when you have established your new, blended holidays for a few years, it may be time to invite your families of origin to join you and join in your new holiday traditions. This is also an opportunity to introduce the entire family to a different cultural background or to learn more about another religion.
Blended families with children
A particular challenge can come up if one or both of you already have children from a previous relationship. Try to respect the children’s attachments to their own holiday traditions, even if they were created before you joined their family.
Just like you, these traditions are a part of a child’s identity, even if the child is still quite young. Don’t take away, build on what you find.
And add your own way of telling them, through a present or a special moment together, that you love them and want to celebrate with them.
Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate
Whether it is a series of festivals from different religions — either a month or two apart or sometimes right after one another — or a big round of non-religious holiday parties and visits, you’re connecting two families and circles of friends that used to be separate before. If you blend your holiday traditions, you will have many occasions to celebrate.
Of course not all holiday traditions are of the ‘cozy snow’ kind. Not all of them involve conventional rituals or ceremonies.
Some couples opt to create a completely new tradition by heading off to another country, perhaps to a sunny climate, where they celebrate the holidays — by going on holiday.