Breaking Traditions

There’s an old saying that “traditions are meant to be broken.” And while I think I agree when we are talking about someone else, I struggle when it gets personal. Selfishness erupts when we are talking about breaking MY traditions! 

All Newlyweds are Cross-Cultural

I grew up with numerous holiday traditions around Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I hold dearly to them like they were the last brownie left on the plate. The problem is that my wife has her own set of traditions. The rituals and memories my parents gave me are NOT the same as my in-laws, and there isn't room for them all. When we were first married, we had tough negotiations regarding whose traditions we would honor and which families we would see and when and for how long. And even to this day, a decade and a half later, I still don’t have my Christmas Eve tradition here at home (not that I’m bitter or holding on to that)!

My tradition is better than yours?!

We have these beautiful and wonderful nostalgic memories that we simply don’t want to let go of--we feel that if we don’t keep moving on with those feelings of the past, then they will cease to exist. And when we hold tightly to our own without allowing space for our spouses’ heritage, then we signal that mine is simply better than yours. Is this really where we’re trying to go? Is it really worth it? 

Proverbs 18:2 states that, “fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their opinions.” The fool simply wants to speak and have their opinion heard as opposed to hearing what someone else has to say. A good reminder when we are passionate.


Marriage is about compromise; listening, hearing, speaking into, and coming together in matters. It’s a partnership for a reason. It’s taking two distinct and unique people and creating something beautiful out of the two. It’s about taking a history, past, memories, and traditions from one and smooshing them together with your partner’s history, past, memories, and traditions--all with the hope, desire, and understanding that something new is being made. And let’s be honest--the traditions YOU were raised with were ALSO a combination of two different traditions! And even THOSE traditions morphed and evolved over time too.

Is it worth it?

What this really boils down to is asking “is it worth it?” Is it worth winning the battle if you lose the war? Is it worth the arguing, the fighting, the unhappiness that will result from a selfish decision? Is your spouse worth the new memories, joys, laughter, and traditions that await when new traditions are forged in community? Care about the opinions of others and value their input. Work together to create the best situation for everyone involved.

Times Change

For my wife and me, it was a matter of finding what worked for us--and to be honest, what worked for us as newlyweds was vastly different than what worked for us once we had kids! And then once I became a minister it changed again! Be honest about the needs of this season. A surgery or a childbirth may mean a change in tradition for a year. Give yourself grace to acknowledge the needs of this season.

Practical suggestions

  • Focus on the central point of the holidays by keeping God at the center. Incorporate spiritual practice into your family traditions. Many traditions may change, but keep God in the middle of your activities.
  • Your spouse is your human center of gravity, not your parents, in-laws, friends, or even kids. You two are uniquely bound for a lifetime, so honor one another as you seek new patterns in your marriage
  • Talk about your holiday priorities and seek understanding. We can handle not having it our way if our opinion was valued and we felt cared for in the decision making. No one person should have it all their way at the expense of someone else.
  • Find the compromise. Maybe Thanksgiving is with one family and Christmas is with another. Maybe travel happens one year and the next we stay home. It doesn't have to be that same every year, and it doesn't all have to happen every at once. Find the middle-ground where each tradition is honored.
  • Try one tradition from one side of the family one year and one from the other the next. Take time to glean the best of the traditions from both sides of the family.
  • Combine a couple of traditions together and see how they feel to your family.
  • Explore the needs in your community to create a brand new tradition. Singing at a local nursing home, serving food together at a shelter, or inviting a neighbor to dinner are all ways to foster new traditions.
  • Accept and acknowledge that it is impossible to keep everyone happy, and it's not your job to meet everyone else's expectations. Recognize and care for the needs of your family instead of stretching yourself too thin trying to please everyone else.
  • Utilize technology to connect with one another even if you can’t travel this year. Make a Skype call so grandparents can have brunch with the grand-kids, talk with them about their school program, or see them open presents.

Keep in mind that ultimately, it’s not the nostalgic memory of holidays past that you are holding to--it’s the people you’re doing it with that the memory is sealed in. Philippians 2:4 instructs, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Care for one another as members of God's family. God has placed us in community and blessed us with opportunities to forge relationships, so get creative with one another and create new memories!

About the author — Rev. Kelly Vander Woude

Kelly Vander Woude is always looking for something yummy to put on his smoker…and then getting friends and family to enjoy it with him. When he’s not smoking food he can be found playing and hanging out with his two kids, wife, and their dog, as well as preaching at Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, CO. Oh…and he’s usually trying to learn some new musical instrument with the hopes of one day mastering at least one of them! You can find more of his writings at

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