“Nope, that’s not the same.”
With Christmas music playing quietly in the background, I stared incredulously at my then-boyfriend as he tried to convince me that the Polish open-faced pastry he was holding was the same as the closed kolackys my extended family has eaten for decades during the holidays in honor of our Czech heritage.
Sure, some family holiday traditions differ, I thought to myself, but clearly what I know to be a kolacky—a small, dinner-like pastry with fillings like prune or poppy seed—is correct.
After a call to my very Czech mother and a second call to a bakery in the nearby self-proclaimed kolacky capital of the world, we discovered that both open-faced and closed-face kolackys were made in Czechoslovakia. Apparently my family adopted the closed kolacky, while my significant other’s relatives to the north adopted the open-faced version.
It was in that very moment that I realized that my normal (if there is even such a thing) was not his normal. My traditions were not his traditions. What I perceived to be expected and ordinary was new and different to him not only in the holiday season.
At no point during the standard “We Are Family” dance at any of my relatives’ weddings did I think of the unique characteristics that make my family my own and how that would play into my future marriage. Our history and our traditions, from the foods we eat to the expectations we have of each other, bind our extended network of relatives together. Now as an engaged couple, we’re trying to fit each other into the crazy web of our families while creating our own traditions within a new family.
As we approached our first holiday season together, George and I literally had a formal sit-down conversation to candidly discuss our traditions and reflect on what was important to us within the Christmas season. We both knew that the holidays hold so much emotion and importance, and we wanted to eliminate the possibility of hurt feelings and disappointment as much as possible.
We discussed how his family celebrates on Christmas Eve with Mass, while my family celebrates on Christmas Day. His mom takes over the kitchen, while my family works together to make our holiday meal. Piece by piece, tradition by tradition, we let honest conversation and loving intention guide our choices as we developed a plan on how to share the important holiday, as well as other events like Thanksgiving and Mother’s and Father’s Day.
This wasn’t an easy process. I didn’t want to give up on spending both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my parents. He didn’t want to sacrifice his down time to fit in my jam-packed holiday schedule complete with work and friend events. We both didn’t want to rush between two Thanksgiving celebrations. As we addressed each concern, we found ways to meet each other’s needs and create new traditions that we will carry into our marriage.
While I do not see my parents on Christmas Eve, we now plan a formal dinner before or after the holiday at a new restaurant. Instead of George feeling overwhelmed by my social obligations, we build in our own low-key dates between the other events to relax while watching a movie or cooking. A close married friend recommended that we designate time within the holiday season early on just for the two of us, so we now spend Christmas morning enjoying a leisurely breakfast and opening gifts.
We may not know how we will trim the tree or which dessert will became a family favorite, but I know we have a foundation that will allow us to not only blend our two families but create a new family with our own traditions.
And maybe this year, we’ll serve both open and closed kolackys.