For the second year in my life, I am sharing a combined Christmas with my biological family and my stepfamily. My father and my stepmother are both widowed, both have five children (four of whom, on either side, are married), and a growing brood of grandchildren. All told, there are 37 of us celebrating the holidays together, which theoretically is a recipe for headaches, chaos, divisive differences, and hard feelings. I am happy to say, however, that so far things have been relatively harmonious (with a family this size, chaos was inescapable, but otherwise we’re happy). Like many of you, I have also had miserable holidays that I’d just as soon forget. The difference, I think, comes from five virtues that, if applied, can make this time of year a delight instead of a chore.

  1. Acceptance– Peace at home requires genuinely welcoming all family members (and guests), regardless of political, theological, or lifestyle differences. In fact, if you can take it one step further and find a way to respect others’ choices and see the value in them, so much the better. I have a cousin who broke off from our family’s shared religion. He married someone of a different faith, and experience with others in similar situations led him to expect his family to ostracize them. To the contrary, his parents and siblings have been certain to make him, his wife, and his beliefs welcome in their home, and they’ve not had to compromise their beliefs in doing so. What could have been a divisive factor has instead turned into a real-life application of love and acceptance that has brought the family even closer together.
  2. Charity– The holidays, for many, are a time of great joy. For others, they are a time of despair. Taking time to connect with those who are lonely or otherwise suffering (even and especially within your own family) spreads holiday cheer not just to them, but to you as well.
  3. Pull Your Weight– Help with the decorations. Offer to do the dishes after a family meal or take out the trash. If something is needed at the store, offer to be the one who braves the winter cold to get it. Helpfulness not only lightens the overall stress at home, it also increases feelings of warm regard. Best of all, a helpful attitude is often contagious!
  4. Embrace the traditions– Even the things that made you roll your eyes when you were younger can become cherished parts of your holidays, if not for the events themselves, then for the sense of unity they can provide. Short on traditions? It’s never too late to start new ones. Go see the lights. Watch a holiday movie. Exchange gifts, Secret Santa style. Read the classic holiday stories. Make gingerbread houses. The possibilities are endless.
  5. Be flexible– Some traditions, however, are outgrown or replaced with new ones. Let it happen. Happy families successfully balance stability with change. This applies to factors other than traditions, as well. Perhaps your family has picked up new members through marriage or adoption, or lost some through divorce or death. You may have stepsiblings or stepparents who bring with them their own ways of doing things. That’s just fine. You may have to adapt; just keep in mind that families come in many types and forms. Perhaps some family members can’t make it back this year. Roll with the punches, and make the best out of your situation. Being able to “go with the flow” could spare you unnecessary hard feelings.

From all of us at ACHMI, Happy Holidays!

Jonathan Decker, Master’s student, Marriage and Family Therapy


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