Congratulations! You made it through the wedding, possibly a PCS, and now you’ve reached your first holiday season as a married couple. You each had traditions for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa growing up…and they might be drastically different. What do you do?
While every married couple goes through a merging not only of households and property, family traditions also merge. With military couples, the differences are probably more drastic than your run-of-the-mill, high school sweetheart couples. Often times, military couples are not from the same town, the same state, or even the same country, let alone the same religion. How do you reconcile the differences without changing how you define the holidays? And what if you’re stationed somewhere that makes carrying out your traditions harder, or impossible?
My husband and I grew up in very different places. He was an Air Force brat, and literally grew up all over the US and spent four years in Turkey as a kid. His parents were from two different states, although both are of German heritage. I was born into a Navy family. I grew up in Western New York and upstate South Carolina (what a combination!). My parents are both from Pennsylvania, but very different parts of the state. My mom’s family is Protestant, Swedish/Welsh (among other nationalities), and my dad was Catholic and Polish/Slovak (and many other nationalities, as well!). They met in Florida. My sailor and I met when he was stationed in Charleston, SC and I was a college student there. As you might imagine, there were a lot of family traditions that didn’t exactly coincide.
While both of us grew up celebrating Christmas, we found ourselves making some choices during our first Christmas, 1o years ago. What traditions were we going to keep, what were we going to merge, and what were we going to eliminate altogether? And what new traditions would we start?
For our holiday baking, we decided to merge that one, sort of. I bake my family’s traditional cookies, he bakes his (yes, he bakes). Our kids help with both, in the hopes that they will carry on all of the traditions to their own families in the future. I don’t like some of the ones he makes, and he doesn’t like some of mine. Every year, we try some new recipes, too. We kept the tradition of getting a new ornament each year. This way, by the time the kids are grown, they’ll have a good start on their own trees. I grew up opening one gift on Christmas eve, but we decided not to do that. He grew up opening gifts before breakfast, my family waited until after a full breakfast on Christmas morning..and after we were all dressed and beds had to be made, too! We were only allowed to have our stockings before breakfast. Our kids are allowed to have their stockings as soon as they wake up, but we open gifts as soon as everyone is awake (and I’ve had my coffee). I always liked the midnight candlelight service at church, but there weren’t any where we stationed at the time so we skipped it. We ended up making homemade pizza that first Christmas Eve, and that has become our tradition. I worked full-time until last year, so I didn’t always have time off until Christmas Eve. That’s when we traditionally do a gingerbread house. My grandmother hand-quilted my stocking, and my kids’. My husband did not want to give up the simple, store-bought one decorated with glitter that he grew up with. Our stockings may not all match, but they are what are we want. I was introduced to the German tradition of the Christmas pickle. We were gifted an Elf on the Shelf, so we do that now, too. Somewhere over the years, we’ve found our stride. We took a little from each family and added in our own traditions.
I think most married couples find a way to merge their traditions, keeping what they can and when they can’t, they start something new. Like many things in marriage, it’s about communication and compromise. Maybe one year you’ll be stationed overseas and adopt a tradition you find there. While the military lifestyle isn’t always the easiest and it keeps us separated from our loved ones way too often, it’s those traditions that keep us going. It’s the adventure that makes it fun.
How have you modified your holiday traditions since you got married? What did you keep and what did you start anew? What have you started because of your experiences as a military family?