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Tying the Family Knot

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Creating New Holiday Traditions

By Terri Clark – Every Christmas I say I’m not going to hang up the reindeer, and every year I’m met with protests and gasps of disbelief. I made the big stuffed Rudolph head, with a wreath hanging around his neck, out of Christmas calico fabrics the first year Harvey and I were married. Rudolph’s traditional spot is above the fireplace mantle overlooking the many stockings waiting to be filled on Christmas Eve. That first year I wanted the holiday to be festive and fun for all the kids, so I made the reindeer and matching stockings for everyone in the family. Over the years the number of stockings has multiplied, and Rudolph has become a little limp, but it just wouldn’t seem like Christmas without them. The reindeer and stockings are as much a part of our family’s Christmas as the tree.

When I was sewing these Yuletide decorations, I had no idea they would become an important part of our family tradition. Every year we seem to add a new stocking because of a marriage or birth in the family. We are now up to seventeen stockings hanging across the mantle under Rudolph’s watchful eye. There seems to be something special about seeing the whole family together across the mantle. When friends and visitors come into the house, they cannot deny the sense of “family.”

The melding of two families’ traditions into the new family’s tradition is especially difficult during the holidays. Most of the fondest memories we and our children hold are of family holiday times. Unfortunately, in the blended family, the fond memories and traditions can drive wedges if not handled thoughtfully and carefully.

Holidays leave a bittersweet taste for everyone in the family. We love the festivities, food, and fun that accompanies the holidays, but visitation, separations, and changes in the way we have always done our celebrating dampen them.

One of my step-daughters shared with me recently how much she used to hate the holidays. Even though our family did all we could to make the times meaningful and special, our kids still had to split their time between two households. They hated missing Christmas morning in one household or having to eat two Thanksgiving dinners. As parents, we plan the holidays around our family—our kids. When we have to leave in the middle of the day to pick up the kids or plan a meal around their late arrival or early departure, our plans become complicated. Attitudes tend to need some adjustment at those times.

Visitation agreements increase the stress and tension in blended families. Harvey and I found that by letting go of our planned program and set traditions, we were able to create an atmosphere of peaceful celebration when the children were with us. This made our holidays more memorable.

Sometimes old traditions can be carried over into the new blended family, but sometimes it is better to let them go. Picture this scenario: A child who always got the job of placing the star at the top of the Christmas tree is anxious to finish the decorating so he can perform his duty. Then the unthinkable happens—an angel that has been in his new stepmother’s family for generations replaces the all-important star. Because of its fragile condition, she insists on placing it at the top of the tree herself. Both stepmother and stepchild feel threatened, and dad is in the middle—he can’t win. A wedge has been driven into a new and delicate relationship between stepchild and parent. This scenario is typical of the small straws that build upon the camel’s back and eventually break up a marriage.

In this make-believe scenario, we can see where the parents must remember their “vision” of the completed house. Here is an example of how closed-door communication and obedience to Christ as the foundation in the home are key to building a strong family. Talking through this situation, weighing the importance of our old way of doing things against having a solid family, can actually result in creating new traditions. In our make-believe family, mom and dad may decide to have two Christmas trees—one topped with an angel and the other with a star. Or maybe the angel will receive a new place of honor on the mantle. Maintaining peace in the home while remembering the reason for celebration should remain our focus.

Our goal was for everyone in the family to have a great Christmas holiday. In my own family, we did several things to compromise and compensate for the two-family Christmas situation. One compromise that immediately comes to mind happened a few days before our first Christmas as a family. Harvey’s two younger daughters came to me in secret. They whispered that I had to put out a jar of pickles for Mandi to find on Christmas morning because she would be really disappointed if she got up and didn’t find them. My confusion over this odd tradition led me to ask Harvey about it because I didn’t want Mandi to feel jilted over pickles. Behind closed doors, Harvey explained that Mandi loved pickles, and her mother loved to surprise her with a whole jar on Christmas morning. This was a unique and special tradition between Mandi and her mother; therefore, we decided we would not intrude on it.

One Christmas tradition I brought with me, much to all of the children’s dismay, is the reading of the Christmas story on Christmas morning—before the presents are opened. Everyone in the family hates it. They dread having to sit through the story in the second chapter of Luke while staring at all the gifts spilling out from under the tree. I don’t know if anyone even listens to the Bible reading, but they are all reminded of the reason for the season.

My children and stepchildren alike have become united in their efforts to prevent the delay in opening their gifts. One year, Sara, Harvey’s middle daughter, hid all of the Bibles in the house. Her efforts only delayed the Bible reading and gift opening until I found an old King James Version Bible she overlooked. One of the most creative delay tactics came from my daughter, Jennifer. When the family gathered in the living room around the tree, she presented to me a beautiful glass snowball with a Nativity scene inside. The unique thing about this lovely snowball was that it told the Christmas story when you wound it up—that year they heard it twice! Another year, Aaron, my sixteen-year-old eccentric son, offered to read the story for me. Of course I was thrilled that one of the kids finally took an interest in this very important part of our Christmas morning. Aaron began his “reading” with all of the “a-hems” to collect everyone’s attention. His paraphrased version began with “Jesus” and ended with “was born”—and nothing else in between. Nice try.

Reading the Christmas story on Christmas morning became a Clark family tradition. Though it was once dreaded, it is now expected. Everyone knows that once Jesus has been acknowledged and we have prayed together as a family, the chaos of opening gifts amid loud talking, thank-you’s, and torn wrapping paper can begin.

Ol’ Rudolph still watches over the mantle where all the stockings hang as a memorial to our sons and daughters. You can almost hear him whispering, “Look what God has done.”

Excerpted from Tying the Family Knot; Meeting the Challenges of a Blended Family, by Terri Clark. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers Nashville, Tennessee. Used by permission.

Terri Clark is a Christian author and speaker from Pearcy, Arkansas. In 2001, Terri Clark was invited to speak and minister in Uganda, East Africa to help evangelize the remote areas of Uganda and Kenya. Since then, she has been involved in the effort of planting and nurturing churches in this part of the world. All proceeds from Terri's ministry, whether by speaking or writing benefit the Ugandan Outreach. For more information visit

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