The holidays bring out unique and often divergent traditions and celebrations in each of our families. What do you do at a family event if your kids believe in Santa and their cousins don’t?
Even worse, what do you do when you disagree with your own spouse about how to handle this sticky subject?
As insignificant as it may sound, it’s exactly this type of conflict that stirs up family stress and there are a MILLION ways this can happen around the holidays.
Fortunately, you also have a few options when choosing how to approach this conundrum.
Let it Slide
You may choose to approach these scenarios passively, sacrificing your own values while in the presence of others. In the case above, this might look like tolerating a comment or two about how there IS no Santa Claus and then reinforcing your kids’ own beliefs later.
However, beware of the tendency to feel bitter about allowing someone else’s values to rule the day. If you’re on the opposite side of the Santa argument, for example, you could find yourself thinking, “Why would you ever lie to your children about something as silly as Santa? This is exactly how they become materialistic and demanding. Our kids are going to know the true reason for the season.”
You may be right, but allowing a critical or self-righteous spirit to seep into your mind and heart can doom your celebrations completely. You can become so focused on how others have “ruined” Christmas that you fail to enjoy it yourselves.
Pro: This approach preserves the peace.
Con: Mixed messages can be confusing to young kids.
Stand and Fight
In contrast, you may decide that your beliefs are worth going to the mat for. This is often the case when you’re the one hosting a holiday gathering and insist that your guests abide by the way you do things in your own home.
While this may be a perfectly reasonable expectation, you can face large-scale resistance that can take many ugly forms (including an all-out screaming match and slamming doors as people depart).
Not only does this squash the Christmas spirit, but it fails to resolve the conflict and you can bet that it will be back next year.
Pro: This approach sends a message about what you believe and how strongly you feel about it.
Con: It’s likely to result in damaged relationships.
A Balanced Approach
Perhaps the wisest of all strategies is the one which combines the best aspects of the two approaches above. After all, there isn’t any reason why you can’t make your own values clear while leaving room for those of loved ones you share the holidays with.
Here are some tips for how to do just that:
If your spouse is the one with whom you disagree, try to find middle ground. If your wife wants your kids to believe in Santa and you do not, decide on an age at which you’ll let them in on the big secret and stick to it. (Or use some of the tips below to explain him in a way that honors both your wishes).
Check your expectations at the door. Don’t assume your husband’s co-workers or extended family members share the same views or traditions as you.
Stop negative or critical thoughts or feelings as they come up and redirect your thoughts. Say to yourself, “I may not agree but this is how they do things and we’re free to choose how we do things in our own family.”
Use the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31) to remind yourself that you can model good behavior for others and focus on giving. Remember that everyone is doing their best to try to give their children the best Christmas possible.
Be willing to answer any questions your kids have when others’ beliefs or traditions diverge from yours. Even children as young as 4 and 5 can understand basic explanations about the differences between other families and your own.
Tell the story of Santa in a truthful way you can be comfortable with; i.e., “Many years ago, there was a wonderful man named Saint Nicholas who gave gifts to needy children in his village every year. Today, people dress up as Santa to remember what he did and keep this tradition alive.” Some couples who stick to a Biblical narrative explain that Santa gives gifts in the tradition of the Three Wise Men (or Magi), who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
If you’re the one hosting the holidays this year, talk openly with whomever will be coming and let them know ahead of time about any strongly-held beliefs or traditions. While you may feel uncomfortable about raising the issue, an honest and open conversation will serve you well in the long-run.
(If you don’t know where to start, use “I-statements” instead of “You-statements” when expressing your feelings. I-statements help you take responsibility for your feelings instead of placing blame on the other party. For example, instead of saying “You are so selfish to make my kids upset by insisting on doing what you’ve done with your own kids”, say instead, “I feel angry when you tell my kids that Santa isn’t real when you know this is an important part of our Christmas tradition.”)
Make your home a place where you invite all to share their holiday traditions. If someone grew up singing a certain song around the piano, print some song sheets. If someone lights advent candles, use them as a centerpiece. If you always read the story of Jesus’ birth before the Christmas Eve meal, pass a copy around and ask everyone to read a verse. You’ll find that making your differences an overt part of your celebration enriches everyone and gives you equal opportunity to express what you believe.
If you have other concerns about being around family at the holidays, check out Surviving the Holidays: Starting with Family, Parting as Friends. This post offers some more real-world tips on getting through this stressful time with a sense of peace and joy.
As you use these practical steps, you’ll teach your children how to honor differing holiday traditions and find that your holiday stress will greatly decrease!
We know, however, that this is easier said than done, so we encourage you to reach out to us. We exist to support you and your family in whatever way we can and help you create joyful, fun, and exciting memories—even during the stress of the holidays!
(Thanks to Angela Harris for her contributions to this article.)
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