Making Our Own Way

Our childhood Christmas traditions didn't work for us. But why was finding new ones so difficult?

My wife, Donna, remembers only two things from her childhood Christmases—the year her older brother found Santa's stash in Mom's closet (which got all the kids in trouble), and the music ball. A round blue music box that hung from the doorframe and played tinkling carols, the music ball was a single soft sparkle in a string of otherwise uneventful Christmases. All Donna's family holidays were like that. Her parents had moved from Ohio to Florida when the children were young, and far from adoring grandparents, family traditions faded and holidays were observed quickly and uneventfully. A doll, an orange (it was Florida, after all), and it was time to take down the palm tree.

My family celebrations, by contrast, were the definition of hoopla: huge trees and mounds of presents and late night communion services followed by wee-hour breakfasts at Waffle House. In my young memory, the bread of heaven was served with maple syrup. My Christmases were always a merry tangle of camel caravans and three turbaned Mammaws bearing treasures decked in curling ribbon. With few exceptions, every Christmas was grander than the one before.

Maybe this is why I brought so many holiday expectations to our marriage and my wife brought almost none. Although we compared our childhood holiday traditions early in our courtship, I did not realize how overcoming the differences would test our relationship.

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May 25

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