Creighton University's Online Ministries
A Family Christmas Guide for Newlyweds
- and Beyond
A young bride looked distraught. “It’s not fair,” she said. I want to be with my family for Christmas Eve and his father is pushing us to go to their house."
A newly-wed young man sighed. “Her parents insist that we have Christmas at their house and we are always there. I want my Christmas, too!
For most of us, Christmas offers images of warm holiday gatherings and memories of family events that shape how we want to celebrate – and where and with whom. When the joy of a marriage happens, families are merged and blended and we all celebrate.
But with the first set of holidays, the new couple has to make decisions. Suddenly the reality of two sets of families, traditions and “the way we do things” comes together and it can be a struggle for even the most loving couple. Family pressures on either side – or both – add to the stress.
This is a great time to stop for a minute and think of this very season. During Christmas we celebrate a centerpiece of our faith: the savior of us all was born in a stable and slept in the feed box for the animals. These events of long ago can shape our response today to the stress of celebrating in new ways.
Each of us is used to our own ways and our own traditions. There is a comfort in the familiar that we rely on to tell us who we are and where we fit in this world. Changes can feel like a threat to who we are. It isn’t always easy for us to remember that our spouse is also facing changes and we are asking not just our new partner but her/his whole family to adapt their way of doing things for us. They, too, will lose “the way we have always done things.”
How do we divide up the holidays? How do we decide what is fair? By asking a new question! Don’t ask what is fair. In a marriage, the question is no longer “how do I get my fair share?” Now we ask: What would make my spouse happier? What does my husband/wife need most from me? How can I support her/him in these traditions? How can I love him/her more in these situations?
To some of us, this sounds absurd. Our culture is centered our how we succeed and in getting what we want. But, Christianity is centered on others. Putting our own needs aside is the most counter-cultural thing we can do – and it will lead to a happier marriage. We want to get to a place in the Christmas season where we can get closer to the manger, closer to the mystery of Christmas and to Mary and Joseph who said Yes to impossible demands. Just trust God. Ask God for help. God can work here: in this manger and in the stressful demands of a new family.
Stop the tussles about the Christmas schedule. Bite your tongue the next time you want to comment on her/his mother or his/her demanding father. Don’t put spouses in the middle of a tug-of-war between your Christmas and theirs. Don’t roll your eyes anymore when she/he talks about her/his family events.
Here is a simple guideline for a wonderful marriage: The best way to love your spouse is to love his mother. Or her father. Or his crazy brother. Or his grandmother who drinks too much. Her uncle who is so obnoxious. Love them. Excuse them. Forgive them.
And hope that they will forgive us for our own human failings. We all have failings and we all need forgiveness. In marriage, we have to wake up every morning and ask for forgiveness and a recommitment. We have to pledge to love each other better. We can be grateful for being an imperfect human but ask God to help us on the good days and the bad days – especially when the bad days are ours.
Let’s soften our demands. Let’s be flexible. Let’s love our spouses more. What could help my spouse have the best Christmas ever? For her/him to bring a happy, non-pouting spouse to any family event.
This is not an excuse for an abusive situation, and those in abusive relationships are urged to get help. This is a commentary on a normal marriage, especially one that is just getting started. This is the time when you want to love more and better. We start by letting go of all of our own needs and joining in with the desires of our spouses.
If we have been married for a while, our patterns, and sometimes our silent struggles, our resentments and our pouting are set. This is the Christmas to change all of that - to join in the movement to the stable. I can leave my resentment and my belief in the unfairness of it all, with the child Jesus who will bless it. Make it a silent Christmas gift to your spouse and to your marriage.
We can ask for help from Jesus or Mary or the noble Joseph standing with his family so loyally. “Help me to be less impatient. Be with me as I try to love better. Give me the patience to hold my biting remarks. Soften my heart so I am more loving. Show me how to be a better spouse.”
This isn’t something for women to do for their husbands. Or husbands to do for their wives. It is what each of us as married people are called to do for each other. This is the way of life Jesus calls us to: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” It isn’t “Fair” but it is the best way to happiness for a married couple.