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What I Got Wrong About Creating Holiday Traditions with My Blended Family

In the early years of celebrating the holidays with my blended family, I was confident that the way to win the hearts of my new tween stepdaughters was by focusing on the true meaning of Christmas: Presents.

I’d buy their love and adoration one pair of Steve Madden shoes and fruity-scented body splash at a time. The following year, I realized the mistake I’d made by only focusing my attention on gifts. I’d completely missed out on over-the-top memorable activities! Like a Hallmark movie Christmas starlet in holiday heat, I made sure we crafted ugly Christmas sweaters, decorated gingerbread houses, and I even organized a Christmas morning scavenger hunt, complete with custom hot cocoa cups and Santa hats.

A year later, I knew I had to dream bigger. On Christmas morning, the girls opened embroidered suitcases each containing a poem that surprised them with a family trip to Mexico. Who needs Santa when you got Ol’ Saint Stepmom rocking around the Christmas tree? Surely, this would make it a Christmas they’d never forget. Well, years later, they would forget. Not about the trip of course, but about all the over-the-top gestures that I’d obsessed over each year.

“When a family changes through separation, divorce, or death, the predictability of holiday traditions is suddenly gone.”

Tweens grow out shoes really quickly. Crafts end up in the trash almost as fast as those stale off-the-shelf gingerbread houses. Even those suitcases didn’t get used more than once.

When you’re a kid in a blended family, you have other relatives to visit during the holidays, so celebrations and gifts can easily all blend together. Case in point: I didn’t realize that year that the girls had mentioned to all of their family members that they wanted new suitcases so they wound up receiving three pieces of luggage. Each. That’s a lot of literal holiday baggage for a child to carry.

I began to think about what excited me about the holidays when I was a kid — and it wasn’t the presents. It was the predictability of it all. The traditions. It was knowing that every year we’d unpack the same ornaments to decorate a tree that we purchased from the same farm as the year before or that we’d listen to Amy Grant’s Christmas album. The smell of my mother cooking up a Norwegian Kumla for my dad. Hating the food herself, but loving that she could make it just the way his grandmother did.

When a family changes through separation, divorce, or death, the predictability of holiday traditions is suddenly gone. The truth is, I was terrified that our new family was too new. I was scared to step on the toes of lost traditions and had no idea how to craft our own. How does one create new holiday traditions while still honoring the traditions past?

As the kids got older, and we all grew closer, I learned that the best gift for any blended family is time. It takes a while to discover new traditions and for new traditions to find you. A simple Polaroid placed on our Christmas tree in lieu of an ornament has slowly become our favorite yearly decoration. I introduced Norwegian Kringla cookies to the kids and they introduced to me the excitement of opening Christmas stockings. Our most coveted Christmas tradition is deciding who gets to place the star on top of the tree.

Early on while our house was being built in Denver, Colorado, we lived in an apartment and didn’t have a ladder to reach the top of our big wide tree. My husband enlisted the help of his girls. Big sister won a coin toss and was lifted up like an angel to anoint the top of our Fraser fir. Little sister was promised it would be her turn next year. Ten years later, with one in college, one in high school, one in kindergarten, and one in diapers, we’re still taking turns to star our family tree.

Moments like these are the traditions our older kids anticipate every time holiday lights start twinkling and Mariah Carey sings on the radio. It’s been beautiful to watch the children share these traditions and so many more with their younger siblings. While kids might not always remember the presents they receive, they do remember the magical moments that make families feel like one. What a beautiful tradition that is.

These are the toys Amazon thinks your kids really want for the holidays.

Amazon Holiday Toys

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