Ah, it’s that time of year! The time filled with all our most precious family traditions. Traditions we -- dreaming of our future married lives -- envisioned our spouses embracing with equal sentimental vigor and attachment.
Then you really get married. And yes, he is wonderful. Obviously. But… you now realize there are some things missing from your younger daydreams of Christmas bliss. Like – his family. His traditions. His tastes and preferences. His personality and identity and equally sentimental but inevitably opposite approach to Christmas.
My husband and I married November 2010. It was the perfect day. Followed immediately by the most wonderful time of the year. So naturally, our first major marital disagreement arrived wrapped in Christmas paper and glitter. We could not fully agree on how to celebrate Christmas. What is it about this time of year that makes normally loving people lose their senses?
Here’s a glimpse into our quandary*:
- Hubby loves Santa. And presents! And shopping! And Santa!
- I love St. Nicholas of Myra, Bishop and Defender of the Faith. And contemplation of the Holy Mysteries of the Incarnation.
- Hubby’s “love language”: gifts. Lavishing others with material goods brings him incredible joy.
- I was raised in a home where my stocking was stuffed modestly with new socks and a few pieces of candy, and my most cherished presents were often hand-made or books. (Yes, I was the child who got excited about books).
- Hubby likes to travel over the holidays. He (and his entire family) packs up for a vacation in the mountains several hours away. It’s a time filled with skiing and ice skating and shopping and fun and more fun!
- My preference: home for the holidays. I can’t imagine a better place to be.
- The only thing that prevents my husband from putting up the Christmas tree after Halloween is that it might die before December arrives.
- I prefer celebrating Advent and the 12 Days of Christmas (Dec. 25th-Jan. 6th), which means waiting at least until two Sundays before Christmas to break out the celebratory décor.
Yes, it appears we have a case of Mr. Fun marrying Ms. Nun.*
So what is a couple to do?
I am not going to pretend to have all the answers, but here are some do’s and don’ts I learned after Christmas #1 last year:
1. Don’t sanctimoniously announce to your spouse that your way of celebrating is more spiritual. Surprisingly (ahem), this is a bad idea. Truthfully, there’s rarely a situation where this is a good approach. It smacks of pride and doesn't inspire anyone towards a greater relationship with Christ. It also hit me this year that my husband has been Mr. Christmas Fun for his entire life, and yet he has never wavered in his faith (a parent’s dream!). What right do I have to assume my quieter approach is always the holier approach?
2. Don’t hold on tightly to your family’s traditions. The beauty of getting married? It’s time to create a new family. Work together to incorporate your favorite traditions, and create a few new ones just for the two of you. (Yes, I know all the advice books say that. But they're right!).
3. Do, “nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself” (Phil. 2:3). This is the verse that will be my theme this year. The first year of marriage has taught me that some issues need to be worked out not with the focus on comprising or each getting their “equal share,” but with a spirit of holding the other spouse up with higher esteem than ourselves. It’s better to make him happy than to get everything I think I want. Yes really, it is. Besides, how can I really complain when he’s beckoning me to smile, eat one more cookie and buy my sister one more gift?
4. Do budget so that you can be generous. Typically, one spouse is the saver, wanting to keep gift costs low or creative, and the other spouse is a spender who can’t fathom depriving loved ones of fancy gifts. I’ve realized that my fretting over having an overly extravagant or materialistic Christmas would be unnecessary if we just budgeted not for being stingy, but for the purpose of being generous. Honestly, I love that my husband gets a thrill out of giving gifts. Why not encourage him in his Christmas spirit with a well-designed budget?
5. Do combine traditions. Okay, so we can’t literally be out of town with his family and in town with mine at the same time. But there are some traditions we can meld, like his desire to break out holiday décor early and my desire to focus on Advent. Advent begins shortly after Thanksgiving, often beginning as early as November. This year, I ran for our beautiful Advent wreath, set the candles up on our dining room table, and we’ve been happily lighting them at every dinner since the end of November. My husband likes Christmas carols playing at all times throughout December, many of which focus beautifully on the reason for the season. I’ve also made a point to add additional religious classics like Handel’s Messiah to our collection. Lastly, I love hand-made stuff, so of course I made our Advent wreath and much of our décor. Christmas really is a great time to experience joy as you combine two worlds.
6. Don’t be melancholy once a decision has been made. Open, honest expression of “true feelings” can be overrated at times. Once you’ve heard each other out and agreed on a plan for that year, it’s time to move on and embrace that plan without looking back.
7. Do Skype with the family you won’t see. Gone are the days when families moved away in covered wagons only to receive letters from one another a few times a year (although based on my own mourning of missing family, you’d think we still lived in that era). If you can’t see all your loved ones over the holidays, take advantage of technology.
8. Do forgive each other. Isn't grace and forgiveness the point of Christ coming in the first place?
9. Do focus on your unity in Christ. My husband and I waited a little later than some to marry because we wanted to marry a fellow believer. Now that we have each other, why bicker over different approaches to our faith? Instead, we can appreciate the fact that we do share our faith and learn from one another. Pray together, visit a living nativity together, and attend Christmas service together. There is no such thing as a bad Christmas when Christ is at the center.
*Disclaime #1 : My husband, our families and I are, of course, more complex than what I've presented here!
*Disclaimer #2: Yes, I know real nuns have plenty of fun!
Sarah Phillips, Crosswalk.com’s Family Editor, embraced faith in Christ at an unlikely phase in her life: as a skeptical undergraduate at Virginia Tech. She now enjoys putting her VT English degree to use at the Salem Web Network by observing and reflecting on cultural trends, marriage, family life, and the human condition through the lens of Christianity. When she’s not writing or editing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband, Corey.
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