The holidays are coming, sooner than later at this point. We start thinking about Christmas shopping around the time the fireworks stop exploding. It’s the only way to budget with five kids. Holidays can be a wonderful time of year, but for blended families, they can also be a time of stress and confusion for step children. It’s difficult to hold on to everyone’s special traditions while still building new ones with the new family unit, but it is definitely important to try.

When I was growing up, my family always opened presents on Christmas Eve. It started with my great-grandmother when she was a child and continued down through the generations. Each year, the kids would anxiously wait until it was dark enough to go out looking for Santa with an older relative.  Each year they searched for Santa’s sleigh or in later generations, Rudolph’s red nose lighting up the sky.  By the time they came home from searching, Santa had made his stop at the house and the festivities would begin. We never did stockings or left cookies out for Santa before going to bed.

When I first began dating Dave, his kids had been raised with the more typical Christmas morning fun. They put out cookies and carrots for Santa and his reindeer, and they hung stockings on the mantle. Because it was important to us that the kids have as much of their childhood remain intact as possible, I learned about their traditions and joined in the fun.

At the same time, I did not want to give up everything from my childhood traditions, and we knew we would face challenges when our additional children were born. We kept the early Christmas morning fun and stockings, but added a nighttime drive the night before, looking at Christmas lights and keeping our eyes open in case we were able to catch Santa out and about.

Dave and his kids had always picked out a live tree every year that they decorated with a decade’s worth of Hallmark collected ornaments; I always put up a white tree filled with precious Victorian style ornaments. Rather than worry about whose tradition would be protected, we moved the furniture around and did both trees.

Over time, the holidays became ours. Some were shared with other family; sometimes we were all alone in a strange city and had just the seven of us. Once, Derek was home only until the day before Christmas – on a special transport from Iraq – so we adjusted everything to celebrate with him before he returned to the war.

These days, we start prepping for the holidays early. We now put up four trees, with everyone helping. In the last couple of years, we also have strayed away from the traditional holiday meal and have lasagna and garlic bread, and the whole family goes to a movie together. This year, we’ll be celebrating the holidays in a new house and a different town; it may also be the first year we celebrate without Derek, who is stationed in Japan.

As our kids get older, get married, and have children, I imagine that our traditions will again require incorporating another family’s ideas of the holiday. We’ve learned, though, that starting new traditions together only strengthens our bond, and we greet new ideas with enthusiasm and welcome.

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