Drifting snow. Twinkly lights. Lovely gifts, woodsy garland, and a simple nativity scene.
Mystery and joy.
It was Christmas Eve and our very first together.
We were newlyweds living in those dreadful pink apartments and I was eager to have his family out to celebrate Christmas Eve with us. Everyone was invited over for “light snacks and a festive evening”.
(Did you catch that? “Light snacks and a festive evening.” Just wanted to be sure.)
I put together a platter of cheese and crackers, a large bowl of popcorn, and an assortment of Christmas cookies. The doorbell rang and Matthew’s parents, his sisters and their families poured in and soon our tiny apartment was full to overflowing. Everyone was in good cheer and began nibbling on the goodies.
After an hour or two, however, something seemed wrong.
A slight tension.
I could feel it in the air, but couldn’t quite figure it out.
Finally, my sister-in-law softly whispered, “Um…..I don’t mean to be rude, but my children are starving! When are you going to serve the dinner?”
Dinner . . . ?
I’m quite certain that I had specified “light snacks” because, of course, that is what you do on Christmas Eve—saving your big, fancy meal for Christmas Day.
Yet apparently, that is not how they did it in his family. Not at all. So my “light snacks” were misinterpreted as merely a humble offering on my part.
Except that I had meant it.
I suddenly realized that our small apartment was full of very hungry people who look forward to this special dinner every year. And I had unknowingly offered them a rather meager bowl of popcorn . . . .
So I did what one can only do in such a circumstance: I burst into tears.
Horrified. Embarrassed. Stressed. Upset. Even angry.
Why hadn’t my new husband thought to tell me that this was the tradition in their family?? The misunderstanding seemed so unnecessary.
This was the first of many lessons I would learn about marriage, family expectations, and holiday traditions.
Thankfully, over the years I’ve learned some ways to help prepare our marriage for the coming holidays such as…
1) Communicate your expectations: Often we assume our spouse knows what we value and expect over the holidays, but it’s usually worth a conversation or two. You might both be surprised at the honest answer. You also might find that these things change over time.
2) Hold your traditions loosely: Traditions can be delightful – but they should never be held above your relationship. God cares more about the love and peace between you two than any long-standing traditions.
3) Protect your marriage: His family is important. Your family is important. But your marriage is your first priority, so make decisions together that are in keeping with that priority.
4) Keep it simple: I know, easier said than done. But if attending every event and upholding every tradition sacrifices the peace in your home? Is it really worth it? Probably not. Be willing to let go of some activities to lessen the stress.
5) Stick with your budget: Often the holiday stress stems from financial pressure, so determine your budget and then keep to it. Cut back your gift list, decorate simply, and make things at home. Debt is always a damper to celebration.
6) Be considerate of one another: For instance, my husband is an extrovert and I’m the introvert. Basically he has more “party” in him than me. So we try to accommodate one another – each giving up a little for the sake of the other.
7) Keep Christ at the Center. He is the reason we are celebrating. It’s not about the presents, cards, food, fun, or even family. It’s about rejoicing in the Prince of Peace, amen?
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isa. 9:6
I hope some of these things help you both to enjoy a loving, joy-filled Christmas this year.
And now you know, if I ever invite you over for “light snacks” . . . well, I really mean it.
Blessings on you and yours as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-Child and King!
*How about you? What are some ways you prepare your marriage for the holidays? Or what are some of your challenges?
Addendum: So many people asked how this story ended, that I thought I’d share it here.
While I went back to the bathroom to blow my nose and clean up my mascara, my sweet sister-in-law rummaged through my cupboards and freezer and started cutting up miscellaneous items like summer sausage, some fruit, and I think even some leftovers! They all had the kindest smiles for me when I got back out (Did she say something to them??) and no one has ever mentioned it since.
And just so you know? It’s a HAM dinner this year!
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