Family holiday traditions can be the glitter glue that holds all the precious moments of the season together. But when a tradition that was once part of the holiday magic begins to feel like a stressful expectation, it might be time for a holiday tradition tune-up.
Now you just have to break the news to your family.
Talking about changing long-standing holiday traditions can strike fear in the heart of even the strongest among us. Why? Because we hate disappointing our loved ones – or worse, hurting their feelings – any time of the year. But during the holidays? That seems especially hard to imagine.
But when life changes and family holiday traditions don’t change with it, we can find ourselves feeling like Scrooge, bah-humbugging our way through every holiday party and event. Saying yes when we want to say no. Overscheduling our time and overspending our budget. And not feeling much of that holiday magic our long-standing traditions are supposed to bring.
So we know we need to talk about it. But how do we tell the in-laws that Christmas morning won’t be happening at their house this year? Or break it to the extended family that we won’t be home for the holidays? How do we say it’s time for a change?
It helps to have a plan.
First things first. Before you call off this year’s 12-hour cookie baking extravaganza, take some time to think about what parts of the holidays are working for you and your family.
What are the nonnegotiable traditions for your holidays to feel like the holidays?
Talk with your spouse and adult children and decide together the things you treasure most. What do you want to hold on to? And what could you do without?
Decide together what your ideal holiday would look like then take your ideas to God.
Ask God to give you an open mind and heart to think about anything new He might like you to try this year. Get creative and think of ways you might be able to compromise or turn an old way of doing something into a new way of doing it. And ask Him to show you anything you might need to let go of if your expectations of a perfect holiday might be turning up your stress.
Choose the best approach.
Once you’ve got your ideas together, along with a few new suggestions, think about how you would like to approach your family. If they appreciate humor, use humor. If they’re more direct, be direct.
We often beat around the bush because we want to avoid saying something hard and end up leaving everyone confused about what we’re trying to tell them. Not surprisingly, this often leads to more hurt feelings than if we had simply said what we needed to say. Don’t leave the impression that you want to stop what you’ve been doing without presenting some ideas for what you would like to try instead.
Acknowledge any disappointment, but don’t let your fear of disappointing others keep you stuck.
If your family’s traditions are no longer adding joy to your holidays, it’s time for a change. So don’t be put off by the fear of disappointing others.
The truth is that it’s probably not possible to please everyone. Someone will feel let down. But we need to recognize that every time we say yes to something we don’t want to do or commit our entire family to an event that no one enjoys, the people we’re letting down are the ones closest to us. That’s why it’s so important to start with them. Remember, you talked about what would work for you and your family. Now is the time to stick to the decisions you made together.
Keep things flexible.
Think of flexibility as a gift you can give and ask to receive during the holiday season.
Whatever suggestions you make for changing things up, be sure to communicate your willingness to stay flexible. Perhaps suggest trying something new or different for just this year and see how things go. Then schedule a time together after the holidays to talk about what worked and didn’t work for everyone.
As your family grows and changes over time, you might decide to bring back some of your old family traditions that don’t work right now. Or you might discover together that the new way of doing things becomes the new tradition everyone looks forward to.
Remember why family holiday traditions matter.
Family traditions create the moments that can add magic to our holidays. But what makes them so magical is how they bring us together to celebrate the season with the ones we love. And being together with our loved ones is always what matters most. So be there. Fully present without feeling the burden of obligation or expectation dragging you down.
You might be surprised to discover that others have been feeling the stress, too.
Your family, friends, and extended family might all be ready to try doing the holidays differently. And they might be delighted that you were brave enough to say so first.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. (Proverbs 25:11 ESV)