“We’re eating German food for Christmas dinner,” Liz lamented. It was her second Christmas with her newly blended family, and the change of menu just reinforced the many differences between now and the way things used to be. She was still grappling with her mother’s death and needed something to cling to, but felt foreign and tense during her favorite holiday of the year. This scenario is familiar to anyone who has faced celebrating a holiday with new family members. While it takes time, patience, and practice to produce, here is a trusted recipe for creating a fun blended family holiday.
Gather ingredients: Plan
Celebrating any holiday in style takes a little planning, but when two families come together, extra effort is required. Start by holding a planning meeting with your significant other where you can find out details about important events, rituals, and especially feelings surrounding the upcoming holiday. Use that information to sketch out a brief blueprint of the day or season, including items such as a budget, food, gifts, decorations, and activities. Then reach out to other family members to get their ideas and input. Make assignments and invite commentary so that children feel a sense of ownership and inclusion instead of intrusion. Planning will help manage expectations and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.
Holiday traditions bind families together and provide a mounting place for memories. Honor the past, the security and comfort provided by tradition, by continuing to do at least a few things the way in which a child is accustomed. Our newly blended family has learned to accommodate preferences even if it means making two kinds of stuffing for Thanksgiving, re-enacting the Nativity without 100 percent support, and celebrating Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day even when those days may not have initially been important to half the group. Changes that may seem fun and exciting to one feel like betrayal to another; so, be understanding and sensitive about treasured customs.
Make the holiday your own by adding new elements unique to both families. Go shopping together for updated decorations; experiment with varying food choices; or attend a different holiday concert, Easter egg hunt or pumpkin patch than you have in the past.
A few years after they were married, my step-mom introduced a new Christmas tradition called The White Envelope. She and my father invited each child to perform a service for someone during the holiday season and then write a letter about the experience and send it to my parents in a white envelope. They place the envelopes on the Christmas tree and open them Christmas morning in lieu of gifts. This activity has become one of my cherished traditions, and I plan to incorporate it with my own children. Forge strong bonds by exploring new ways of doing things or even by finding new special days to celebrate.
Holidays are all about making family members feel loved and special. When a child sees his loved ones working to make the day extraordinary, he knows he is valued. Show love during holidays and holy days by giving thoughtful tokens of appreciation, spending time on details, teaching about cherished practices, and celebrating wholeheartedly. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes; acknowledge his feelings and differences in perspective. Certain holidays can be emotionally charged and stressful, especially for a newly formed family. Adding an extra measure of kindness and empathy can help smooth things over.
Clean up: Evaluate and practice
After celebrating a holiday, take time to review how things went. Make notes of what was successful and what could be improved. Listen to feedback and allow time and space for family members to express their honest opinions and feelings. Commit to make necessary changes. Even perfect recipes sometimes end up flopping. Creating a great blended family holiday takes time, practice, and repetition. Don’t give up on something just because it wasn’t perfect. Try it again with a different spin or a new angle. Practice makes permanent.
Enjoy a conventional or totally new holiday as you plan, honor traditions, create fresh experiences, show love, and evaluate. You’ll be surprised at what great concoctions your blended family can cook up.