How to Negotiate and Blend Family Customs for the Holidays


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Every Christmas Eve, my husband and I discuss whether the presents from Santa should be wrapped. We’ve been together for so long, we’re not sure whose family tradition we followed the previous year in that regard. We’ve decided that if we can’t remember, neither will the kids, so everything has gone smoothly so far.

When a couple starts their own family, each person brings in childhood traditions. Merging these to create family traditions requires negotiation and planning. Here are a few ways to help your family navigate this blending process during holiday celebrations.

Make a Plan With Your Spouse

Charlotte residents Paula and Marcel Elsener celebrate cultural backgrounds and traditions from Sweden, Switzerland and America. One tradition important to the Elsener family is to stay at home on Christmas Day.

“We’ve always said from day one that we are not traveling on Christmas,” Paula Elsener says. “It’s about the kids; we want them to build Legos for hours if that’s what they want to do.” They do, however, extend an open invitation to the grandparents letting them know they are welcome to join the festivities.

“Communication and talking becomes key,” says Michelle Deering, a licensed psychologist at Apex-based Curative Connections. “For the family unit, they are individually bringing their respective histories, and so the talking they need to do has to pertain to what traditions they liked and disliked, and then what desires do they have for the types of memories and messages they want their kids to have.”

Deering recommends that couples take inventory of their childhood experiences. “It doesn’t have to be done all at one time, but dribs and drabs of having that conversation will actually help them know what page they’re on,” she says. This helps a couple think intentionally about how they want their holidays to unfold.

Include Your Children

Children develop confidence and a sense of self through family traditions. It helps them know they are an important part of a unique family unit. Parents can include kids as young as age 2 in these traditions by making decorations, reading holiday books, teaching traditional songs and asking them about what they enjoy doing during the holidays.

“If you can start young, then you can make it age-appropriate,” Deering says. “If you’re talking with a 3-year-old or 4-year-old, ask if they like A or B?”

Take it a step further by asking the child to help choose holiday meal items at the grocery store or decorative items at a department store, then involve them in the cooking or in decorating the home.

The Elsener children — Tristan,15, Bjorn, 12, and Sawyer, 11 — decorate the tree and the house during the holiday season. They look forward to the Swiss tradition of Samichlaus, aka Santa Claus. He visits on Dec. 6 and fills their boots with oranges and nuts. Paula Elsener wasn’t enthusiastic about upholding a tradition involving Schmutzli, “the dirty one,” who comes with Samichlaus. As the legend goes, Schmutzli takes children away if they misbehaved throughout the year. Paula and Marcel chose not to emphasize this tradition for fear of scaring their children. Now that they are almost all teenagers, they have fun with the idea.

Be Clear

Some families look forward to traditions they have followed for one, two or more generations. Grandparents and extended family often want to continue these traditions, but when spouses come together, there may be a need to evaluate what works best for their immediate family.

Ditte Ranum and her husband, Hernando Gordils, live in Huntersville with their 5-year-old daughter, Victoria. They celebrate Danish and Venezuelan traditions during the holidays. Before their daughter was born, Ranum enjoyed her husband’s Venezuelan traditions, but when Victoria was born, she wanted to make sure the family honored her Danish heritage also.

“I want to get my traditions in the picture,” Ranum says. Gordils’ family was happy to accommodate Ranum’s request because she was clear about her needs.

Deering says listening to the needs of grandparents and extended family during the holidays can reduce hurt feelings and stressful situations. If you get requests for a special visit or an unusual change in the schedule, Deering recommends asking questions that may get to the heart of the issue: “What is it about this year that makes it important?” “How can we look at creative alternative options?”

“Everyone comes at this from different cultural perspectives and family dynamic perspectives,” she says. “What I’ve found is that the real core root of the tension is that family members do not respect the new boundaries that each person has to develop on their own.”

Deering tells her clients to use active problem-solving, and that if a wish can be accommodated, attempt it.

Ranum agrees, and enjoys the cultural variety her family celebrates. “It’s important to embrace all the differences,” Ranum says. “Let’s make this our holiday, instead of ‘this is what we’ve been doing for years.’ Let’s make it unique for our family.”


Vanessa Infanzon is a Charlotte mom to three boys. Follow her @morethanVMI on Instagram and Twitter.


4 Quick Lessons in Holiday Etiquette

Aimee Symington, an etiquette expert in Charlotte and founder of Finesse Worldwide, suggests four ways to make celebrating holiday traditions fun and special for everyone.

Hosting guests. Share your traditions with your guests beforehand and ask if they have something special they’d like to do.

Prayers. If you pray before a meal and you’re hosting guests in your home, ask your guests to join in the prayer. If you are in someone else’s home, however, and they don’t follow that same practice, simply do it silently on your own.

Holiday food. Ask guests to bring a dish that is traditional for their family. It’s fun to share culinary dishes from different family customs and cultures.

Gift-giving. Get your extended family on board with a plan for gift-giving. Decide on who is getting and receiving gifts, as well as a spending maximum.

 

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November 2017

Step back in time with a 19th-century costumed interpreter and watch the millstones at work grinding corn into meal. Registration encouraged online. Tickets available at the...

Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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N.C. State Fairgrounds, Kerr Scott Building
1025 Blue Ridge Rd.
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Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
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Cost: Free and open to the public.

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Downtown Durham
120 Morris St.
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Sponsor: Durham Arts Council
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Cost: $8/resident, $10/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Crowder District Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
Apex, NC
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Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve
2900 Horse Shoe Farm Rd.
Wake Forest, NC
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Cost: $12/resident, $16/nonresident

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Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Morrisville, NC  27560
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
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Harris Lake County Park
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New Hill, NC  27562
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Jackie Trickel
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Cost: Free

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Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
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Raleigh, NC  27603
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Cost: Free

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Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
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Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
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Cost: Free

Where:
Saint Raphael Preschool
5801 Falls of Neuse Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: St. Raphael Preschool
Telephone: 919-865-5725
Contact Name: Sarah Rapp
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More information

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Cost: Free with admission

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Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Cost: Free

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Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, AL
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Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Cost: $35-$55

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Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Website »

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Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovky's timeless music. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $35-$55

Where:
Durham Performing Arts Center
123 Vivian St.
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $25-$45

Where:
Umstead Park
8801 Glenwood Ave.
Raleigh, NC  27617
View map »


Sponsor: Fit and Able Productions
Telephone: 919-673-4689
Contact Name: Travis
Website »

More information

Celebrate what you're thankful for. Play a game and make a pine cone turkey craft. All ages with adult. Drop-in program. Registration not required.

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

Toddler Time is a special time for ages 5 and younger to bounce under the supervision of their parents, and without interference from the big kids. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $7-$10

Where:
Sky Zone Durham
1720 Guess Rd., Ste. 90
Durham, NC  27701
View map »


Website »

More information

Shop more than 20 local vendors offering amazing gifts this holiday season. Enjoy daily raffles with proceeds benefiting local animal rescue Paws in the City. Kids can enjoy crafts...

Cost: Free

Where:
Cary Crossroads
333 Crossroads Blvd
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids ages 6 and younger enjoy stories. Take part in an optional arts and crafts session after storytime for $5.

Cost: Free

Where:
Read With Me Book Shop
111 E. Hargett St., $110
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: $5/adult, $3 ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Leigh Farm Park
370 Leigh Farm Rd.
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Durham Parks and Recreation
Telephone: 919-560-1116
Contact Name: Natalya Buckel
Website »

More information

See the classic holiday story brought to life onstage featuring favorite characters Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
Fletcher Theater
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

Catch this comedy classic on the big screen—as the symphony plays the charming and delightful score by John Williams live. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $14-$29

Where:
Meymandi Concert Hall
2 E. South St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Website »

More information

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