Q: Every year, my husband and I have the same argument about how to spend Christmas. On Christmas Eve, we always go to church and dinner with my family. Then on Christmas day, my husband's family takes up practically the whole day. We're expected to be there in the morning and stay until evening. Now that we have kids, I want us to establish our own family traditions.
Juli: Practically every married couple can relate to your question. Christmas is typically regarded as the most important day of the year. Because of that, it's often symbolic to the people in our lives ... we spend Christmas with those who mean the most to us. That's why deciding how much time to spend with extended family during the holidays becomes such an emotional issue.
I agree that it is important to establish your own Christmas traditions. However, there is nothing wrong with part of those traditions including your families. Every couple handles the details differently, but here are some basic principles to help you navigate through:
First, while honoring both your and your husband's families, set some boundaries. For example, you may decide that you will only go to your in-laws' house for lunch instead of for the entire day. Or you might decide to alternate years, one year spending time with your family during Christmas, the next year spending time with his.
Second, pick a time during the holiday season that you will protect and set aside for your family every year. With little children, Christmas morning becomes particularly fun.
Next, ask both of your families to be flexible. As children become adults, family traditions have to change. Perhaps your parents or in-laws would be willing to come to your house for dinner. Or maybe they'll decide to have their family celebration on Dec. 26.
The good news is that most couples eventually resolve the holiday question, honoring their families' traditions as well as creating their own.
Q: I want to set a good example for my kids by doing a "good deed" for someone during the holiday season. But I don't really know where to begin. Do you have any suggestions?
Jim: Start right outside your front door! The art of being a good neighbor has been lost in recent years. We're so busy running from one thing to the next that we hardly take the time to get to know those who live right next to us.
My wife, Jean, and I have put a lot of effort into helping our boys catch the vision for being good neighbors. I remember a specific day last winter when Jean made a batch of her delicious homemade pumpkin bread. I convinced my sons, Trent and Troy, to deliver it with me as soon as it came out of the oven -- even though the thermometer reading at the time was 10 below zero! But the experience was worth it. The bread was a big hit with our neighbors, and my boys learned that it's worth going out in the cold to do something nice for someone else.
Christmas offers the perfect environment for these little acts of kindness. It doesn't matter where you live; chances are there's someone nearby to whom you can reach out. What better way to embody the message of "peace on Earth, goodwill to men"? Sometimes a simple gesture is all it takes to create community with a stranger. And that one little act may encourage someone who's feeling lonely or depressed during the holidays. It could also signal the beginning of a friendship that will last long after Christmas is over.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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