New Traditions


by Sister Denise (12/03)

Holiday Stress

     Holidays can be a stressful time for just about anyone.  But when you have to deal with toxic parents, it can turn typical holiday stress into dread and resentment.  In my situation, a few weeks before any holiday, my parents would start an argument or have a major attitude.  It seemed like they were happiest if they succeeded in making me miserable. 

     For many years, because of fear and a false sense of obligation, I spent every holiday with them.  After a while, I started to become more and more resentful.  Just the thought of an approaching holiday would overwhelm me emotionally.  My poor children didn’t understand why Mommy would be so agitated around the holidays.

Setting Boundaries

     We spent Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Day with my parents.  We did have some good times.  But the stress of the anticipation of spending time with them limited my ability to enjoy myself. 

     One year the Lord gave me the strength to take one small step.  I told my parents we would not be spending Christmas Eve with them.  They were very angry.  But the Lord was healing me and I needed to put my family first.

     This was a hard concept for me to accept since I was brought up having it drilled into my head that you should never put anyone before your parents.  They were the ones who gave you life and therefore you owe them for the rest of your life.  

     But the truth is, God was the one who gave me life.  I chose to obey him.  I am sure glad I did.

A New Start

     Our first Christmas Eve was quiet, uneventful, and very peaceful.  It didn’t occur to me to plan something.  The time I had with my own family was just so wonderful.  I really learned I needed to be focused on what God had so graciously blessed me with.  I was now free to enjoy my own family.  

     So I started to pray about how I could make this time special.  God gave me a word.  ‘Traditions’.  Now I was free from the Christmas Eve stress to start my own family traditions.

Christmas Traditions

     We now start our Christmas celebration in the beginning of December with a devotional every Sunday night around an advent wreath.  Each Sunday, we light another candle.  Sometimes I can get to add devotions during the week, but I mainly focus on Sunday evenings.  

     Christmas Eve, after going to church, we all go out to dinner.  The amazing thing about going out to dinner on Christmas Eve is that the restaurants are empty.  So we have the place pretty much to ourselves.  

     After dinner, we come home to our final candlelight devotion.  We light the last candle in our advent wreath and turn out all the lights and finish up our devotion.  And then I give each person in our family a candle.  As I light each person’s candle, they are to say what Jesus has done for them that year and what they would like for Him to do the following year.  

     My husband and I then pass out one gift to each child to open.  It is usually new pajamas (to look good in those Christmas morning pictures!)  Right before bed, we check the Norad  website(  to see where Santa’s at in the world, and then rush them all off to bed.   Even though my 11- and 12-year-olds no longer believe in Santa, they play along for the fun of it.

Truly A Tradition

     A year before we moved from New York to Tennessee, I decided to do something I thought would be nice.  Since it was our last Christmas in New York, I invited my parents to our Christmas Eve dinner.  I thought my children would be thrilled to spend this time with their grandparents.  But they were very distressed.  My youngest son, who was 9 at the time, said to me, ‘Why, Mommy?  This is our Christmas Eve together as a family.’

     My good intentions didn’t go unpunished.  My parents tried to start a few arguments and made many nasty comments toward me.  It was a miserable time.  I ended up being very sorry for inviting them to share in our special time.

One More Idea

     I am always looking for a new tradition to share with my family.  Just this past year, I read about a wonderful idea called ‘Secret Angel’.  At the beginning of December, we place our names in a hat and each family member picks a name.  For the month of December, you are to do nice things for that person, like leave typewritten notes, make their bed, clean their room, or make lunch for that person and leave it in the refrigerator.  I left my secret angel little candy bars in his shoes with a note that said, ‘Love, your Secret Angel’. 

     But make sure you keep it a secret who your secret angel is until Christmas Eve.  Then everyone can guess who their secret angel was.  My whole family really enjoyed this.

Lessons Learned

     It has  now been four years since we have started our own Christmas traditions and every year it gets better.  I will gladly spend Christmas Day with family and friends, but Christmas Eve has become sacred to us.

     My children will only be this young once and I will never allow anyone to steal the joy of a holiday away from us again.   I am so thankful to the Lord for giving me the strength to stand up to my parents, and for giving me the freedom to enjoy the wonderful family He gave me.

     I hope this will empower you and encourage you to start a family tradition of your own.


Dear Sister-

     Do you have any traditions that are special to your family?  Do you have any ideas for new traditions?  Please write or E-mail and tell us your suggestions, and we will share them with our sisters in the future.