Newlyweds? Here’s How We Figured out the Holidays

My first year of marriage was tough. Kristan and I had just graduated from college, gotten married, and moved to a new state, far away from anyone we knew. While we had been engaged for years, living together was entirely new for us.

It was tough to merge two lifestyles. She is organized and clean. I am forgetful and messy (years later, I still drive her nuts). I love to cook new foods every day, and she prefers a regular rotation. I like to go out. She likes to stay in. There were a lot of challenges.

The holidays were no exception. We had traditions with both sets of parents on every holiday. Who would we visit for Thanksgiving? How would we handle Christmas?

Our first Christmas with family

For our first Christmas as a married couple, we tried to do it all. Our parents live about 15 miles from each other, so we thought we could combine all of our traditions. We had Christmas Eve lunch with my parents and a worship service at 4:00 pm, during which I preached the sermon. Then, we went with her parents to an 11:00 pm worship service with Christmas presents to follow. The next morning, we went to my church, and I preached again. We had lunch and presents with my parents, and then went to her parents for dinner. We loved seeing both of our families, but the schedule was brutal.

The problem? We tried to act like we did when were single, but together. We did everything we’d have done individually, which meant twice as much. Twice as many church services. Twice as many family dinners. Twice as much time. There was no way we could do that every year.  

So, we decided to split our holidays. When we’d go home, we’d do Christmas Eve with one set of parents and Christmas Day with the next, and we’d rotate through other holidays. We both loved our family traditions, but we had a new family, now. Her and me.

We loved our traditions, and we didn’t want to lose a piece of our childhood. Even worse, I was really nervous to tell my parents. Would they get upset?

Our parents were great. I’m sure they had to go through the same thing when they got married. They didn’t pressure us. We pressured ourselves. They just wanted to celebrate with us when it was possible.

RELATED: Staying Mindful and Calm During Holiday Chaos

Traditions of our own

Years later, I took a job as a pastor at a church in Chicago, so I work on all the family holidays. When most people gather around their Christmas tree, I make sure worship goes smoothly. Both our families now live too far away to see them afterwards so we do holidays alone.  

My wife and I don’t like fancy dinners or big celebrations. We’d prefer to hang out at home in our pajamas. We’ve always been like that. Every year, we order stuffed crust pizza and watch a movie for Valentine’s Day and our anniversary. I know. Hot date. But pizza at home in comfy clothes fits our relationship. You gotta do what’s right for you.  

We exchange presents on Christmas Eve after we get home from church, usually around midnight. I can’t fall asleep right after preaching, so we use the time to wind down. The morning is a blur until after worship, so we don’t go into celebration mode until the afternoon. For us, it starts with a nap. Afterwards, we go for a short run together, which only happens once a year, since we usually run at different paces. For dinner, we make something simple. It’s usually steak, and we watch a Christmas movie. We love it. It’s comfy and low-key, just like us. That’s what really matters.

If you like the traditional Christmas hooplah, go for it. If not, start your own traditions. Do what’s right for you and your family. It took Kristan and I years to figure out what works for us. But 15 years later, we’re glad we did.  

Originally published on December 13, 2018.

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James is a pastor, writer, and geek who lives in Chicago. He's currently researching the work, history, and architecture of Lutheran Churches in the City of Chicago. You can read some of his initial results at Medium or follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or MeWe.