Every home has its own culture for celebrating the holidays—its own family traditions, its own way of doing things. Imagine being a new visitor to a new home and being thrust into the thick of celebration their way. No one was really asking you what you wanted or cared about; however, they were expecting you to "get with it" and be happy about what was going on.


I would suppose that some things you would think were pretty good or fun, but other things you might not understand or care for at all. Most of all, I would imagine that you would miss the smells and routine of home and how Christmas was celebrated in your family. Who would ever do this to someone—just thrust a new person into such a situation—and at the holidays too? Adoptive families are often living through this scenario. Adoptive families of older children, especially during the holidays, must be sensitive to their new child, while bringing him or her into the family and making him or her a part of traditions that have been in place for years. The following seven points can help us get through a holiday fraught with emotion, keep our important family traditions, blend in our new children, and head off most major blow-outs.

The first step is to take into account a new child's background. As much as this would be helpful to new parents, in actuality it can be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. Our family adopted two toddlers through the foster care system. The oldest child was 2½ years old. She was not able to verbalize to us what Christmas might have been like at her house. The only clue we had was when she saw some Christmas decorations in a store and was enthralled with them. When I commented that it was almost time for us to get our decorations out, she looked astonished and excited that "we were going to have some in our house!" The most important thing to be mindful of is that adopted children were adopted for a reason. In Parenting the Hurt Child, Regina Kupecky and Gregory Keck say that "we simply want to make it clear that most adoptable children—regardless of their country of origin—have experienced trauma."[1] Christmas is such an emotionally charged season; we can assume that this time of year for an adopted child was either a horrible event or a bright spot in a desperate life.

Don't assume they are just going to get it. We become so used to the way our family does things that we assume everyone does it that way, or that once it is explained, they will just get it and go along. When I lived in Argentina, the family I was staying with did not have any particular Christmas colors and actually preferred pastels. It was really hard for me to grasp this, and I finally convinced them to add some red and green to the decorations. Such a small thing as colors had a big impact on me, and I was a healthy, secure, attached teenager on an exchange trip. I really did not feel that I could just go along without at least trying to insert something that would remind me of home. Taking into account that our adopted children have likely been traumatized in some way, their memories of Christmas may not be as simple or pleasant as colors or stockings. It may not be necessary or possible to give the child something to help him, but it will be important to acknowledge that it is difficult to have everything different.

A child does not have to participate in every event. In our family we have the motto that readiness does not depend on age. Emotional age and chronological age are not always equivalent. Children who have experienced trauma in their past often have needs of a younger emotional age. Parents need to discern the ability of their children to handle the events of the holidays. One Christmas two of our children were starting to "get worked up," and it was almost time to decorate the house. I was sure we were going to have mass chaos at decorating time. Instead of chancing major fall-out, I chose to schedule the decoration time to take place after the children were in bed. Not to leave out my older children, I allowed them to stay up later to help me. I laid out some things that belonged to the younger children.