An Ode to Combining Family Traditions


Most families have a certain number of traditions that are passed down over the years. Growing up, we had quite a few in my family. Every holiday someone made my grandma’s apple salad recipe. On my birthday, I had a chocolate upside down cake. When Santa came to our house, he never wrapped the presents, and they were always just sitting out by the tree when we awoke Christmas morning. We almost always spent Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family and Christmas Day with my mom’s. We used to each have a few Easter baskets, and the Easter Bunny would hide them around the house for us to find. We always tried to go see fireworks on the Fourth of July.

My husband’s family had a lot of their own traditions as well, some of which were similar to ours. My husband always wanted a carrot cake on his birthday. On Christmas Eve, they would always go out driving around looking at holiday lights, and when they would return, Santa would have been there, leaving all the wrapped gifts for them to open the next morning. On Christmas Eve, they always ate homemade clam chowder and Italian bundle sandwiches. They would spend Christmas Eve and Day going between their grandparents’ houses (this was easy, as they lived across the street from one another). The Easter Bunny would leave all their baskets on the kitchen table covered with a blanket or sheet, and they would have a big reveal Easter morning. They went camping at Beaver Dam every Labor Day weekend.

On that fateful day when my husband and I married, the future of our family traditions became uncertain. It was obviously going to be impossible to be in two different places on holidays, especially since my family was mainly in Ohio, and his was in Missouri. We eventually worked out the usual holiday revolving door. If we were with my family on Christmas, there was no clam chowder and Italian bundles. Holidays with his side of the family only included my grandma’s apple salad if I made it.

And then we became parents. How were Santa and the Easter Bunny going to visit our children since their M.O. was different in each of our houses growing up? Holidays became an even more complicated proposition when we moved to the West Coast for four years, then the East Coast for the next four.

The “Tradition Dance” is one taken on by every couple when they become ensconced in each other’s families, and the prospect of starting new traditions unfolds, especially as children are added to the mix. For some people, it’s easy – both families live in the same town, and they work out the details without much fuss. They either have very similar traditions or don’t have traditions at all, so it’s easy to adopt what their partners are used to. I have friends who literally moved in a few doors down from the wife’s parents and the husband’s parents only lived ten minutes away. However, for many, like us, families live in different cities, different states, and even different countries. When that happens, some traditions have to change, and the truly important stuff finds its way into the new scheme of things.

As far as my husband and I were concerned, we worked out all the little details gradually over the years. Santa doesn’t wrap our children’s gifts, and the Easter Bunny uses our kitchen table and a random sheet he happens to always find laying around. We don’t usually have the clam chowder meal, as none of our children will eat it. We always have Grandma’s apple salad, even with my husband’s family, because they loved it as well. We work out holidays based on my husband’s work schedule, our children’s busy lives and my opportunities to get involved in local theater. My husband still wants carrot cake every birthday (as does our oldest son), but the rest of us kind of change it up from year to year. We try to see fireworks on Independence Day, but if we don’t, we make do. We try to make it to the State Fair, our church social, and a few other local events every year. I don’t think anyone from my husband’s family has been camping over Labor Day weekend for over 20 years, and since that is usually my birthday weekend, I usually get to choose the activities, and I lost my love of “roughing it” around the time child #3 was born.

As our own children are growing up, I know that some of our traditions will likely go through another round of adjustments. I keep waiting for my daughter to ask to spend a holiday with her boyfriend’s family instead of ours. Family vacations will start to involve less people as they move out and establish their own adult lives. But until that happens, I will cherish any time I have with my family. So here’s to traditions, old and new – may they always remind us of the true meaning of home. And I want to thank my mom for making me a chocolate upside-down cake this past birthday, just like old times. It really hit the spot.