A. Holiday gatherings provide chances to reconnect with family, share old memories and make new ones. Major holidays, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, are often accompanied by major expectations. But with major expectations can come major disappointments, major tensions, and major stress!
The following may help lead to fond family memories instead of frantic family meltdowns.
- Plan ahead - If your extended family is like most, you will not be the only ones hosting or going to holiday celebrations! It is essential, therefore, that families are willing to “share” their family members and share the dates and times of celebrations. If it is important to you that everyone (or almost everyone) be able to attend your extended family celebration, advanced planning is necessary. This is especially important if part of the family lives in another state, or you have step-families where the number of extended family gatherings can be doubled or tripled.
- Communicate your expectations - You are more likely to get what you want if you ask for what you want. Don’t expect your family to read your mind or “just know” how you would prefer to celebrate. Communicate your desires, being careful to not present them as demands.
- Be flexible As families grow and change, family traditions need to grow and change with them. Ecclesiates 3:1-3 says, “There is a time for everything…” I would paraphrase this verse and say that there is a time for building family traditions and a time for changing or even letting go of those traditions. Life situations such as job changes, marriages and even new babies call for flexibility and the willingness to begin some new family traditions and celebration times.
- Be creative - Be creative in planning your family holiday gatherings. “Family Christmas” can be celebrated whenever the family can get together -- it doesn’t have to be done on Christmas Day or even in December. Some families exchange Christmas gifts the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other families celebrate Christmas in July at the beach.
- Be peaceful - Holiday gatherings are not the time for discussing controversial topics or dispensing advice. Romans 2:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Before you speak, ask yourself if what you are about to say will build up and encourage the other person, or tear him or her down. Use caution in asking questions that may subtlety suggest disapproval – such as “When are you going to get married, have a baby, or get a job?” For those who desire these things, such questions may trigger grief or make them feel stigmatized or isolated.
- Be prayerful - Pray for each member of your immediate and extended family and pray for your time together. If you, your children or parents are part of a blended or step-family, pray for all the people who are part of that family -- including the ex-spouses and their families. As we do so, we will be more sensitive to their needs, more forgiving of their flaws and freer in sharing our love. Prayer also causes us to look for God’s guidance and wisdom in relating to our family.
- Be loving - We are called to love each other just as Christ has loved us. First Corinthians 13:4-7 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” During these holidays, seek to demonstrate this love to your family in honor of the Savior who was born as love incarnate.
*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.