Unless you are a full-time student, though, there's a good chance that while you may get a few days off for the days themselves, life goes on during the holiday season.
Between parties, special events, shorter days, winter weather, and of course the host of family gatherings that take place between Thanksgiving and New Year's, even single people can feel overcommitted. For individuals who are dating, married, have children, or any combination of the three, the effect can be greatly compounded.
However, as so many holiday-themed movies have expressed, it is also very difficult to be alone during the holiday season.
Let's take a look at what you can do to remain grateful for the relationship you have during this holiday season, and to skillfully and successfully manage the feelings of over-commitment that can arise during the holidays.
Couples Join Together Two Families
Depending on the stage of the relationship and the level of commitment, it can be awkward to decide whether or not both parties should attend family gatherings. In many instances, individuals can feel that they are damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Family traditions and family relations always carry with them a certain weight of vulnerability. Parents and siblings track with us throughout the entire course of our lives, and presenting a past side of ourselves to another person can a vulnerable experience, particularly when we feel that the side of ourselves we show when we are with our families might not represent who we really are.
Furthermore, for couples who are married, living together, or otherwise participating in a serious, committed cohabitation, (particularly couples with children), it becomes necessary not only to appease both of the families of origin and keep relationships alive with siblings and extended family members, but also to begin one’s own family traditions.
In situations like this, it is not merely two families that must be joined together in the relationship, but with the relationship itself becoming a new family, it becomes necessary to juggle three different families, all during one short holiday season.
At that point it becomes easy to wonder: What is it all for? Are these annoying family traditions even important?
The Role that Holiday Traditions Play in Our Lives
In one 2013 article, it was argued by two sociologists (Drs. Mason and Muir, at the University of Manchester) that traditions serve an important function. The authors argued that holiday traditions “enable the bundling up of time,” and allow us to keep in touch not only with current family members in the physical, tangible sense, but they also connect us in a more macro sense to past generations and to our cultural heritage.
For example, the authors correctly identify that traditions generally receive the most attention during periods of transition. When a new member joins the family due to a new relationship or marriage, or when a child is born, often times traditions must change to accommodate the new interpersonal arrangement.
Also difficult are times when a loss is experienced: Perhaps a particular individual who regularly carried out a certain part of a tradition is no longer available, either because of a move, a death, or a change in situation.
In transitional situations like this, the simple fact that there was a tradition in the first place enables all of the parties involved to “bundle up” time, remembering the periods before the transition and after. This conception of time enables us to more easily remember people who have been lost or moved on, and connects us to the cultural heritage that elder generations passed down to us.
While it's easy to lose sight of this abstract and rather intangible process of orientation, it is nonetheless crucially important to our overall mental health and life balance.
How to Approach the Holidays as a Couple
It’s not easy to say no to family members and old friends who make demands that you find unreasonable. This is skill to be developed, and it requires a lot of tact and diplomacy. To accept that things are changing and to let go of old traditions and old patterns of relationship takes a lot of maturity.
But at the same time, it's important not to become so focused on yourself and your relationship with your significant other that you lose sight of what other people want and what other people need.
After all, the holidays are a time to love and be loved, to care for the people close to you and to be cared for, to reaffirm relationships, and to spread joy and cheer. And if, for some reason, this is not the pattern you find yourself in, you always have the opportunity to redirect your focus around these goals.
So this holiday season, as you attempt to strike that difficult balance between investing in yourself and your relationship and fulfilling family obligations, don't discount the importance of traditions.
If you're someone who highly values tradition, make sure that you provide energy and excitement without placing undue expectations on other people to uphold the letter of the law.
On the other hand, if you're someone who couldn't care less about traditions and just wants to do your own thing, make sure you are as graceful and accommodating as possible to the people that are really interested.
Every person is different, every couple is different, and every family is different.
But so long as everyone involved is able to keep their orientation around spending time with loved ones and investing in community, there's no doubt that even the busyness of the holiday season will end up being a net positive for all involved.
Mason, J., & Muir, S. (2013). Conjuring up traditions: atmospheres, eras and family Christmases. The Sociological Review, 61(3), 607-629.