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I want my own traditions too, FFS!
November 8, 2011 9:22 AM   Subscribe

This has been bothering me for a few years. I'm really sad, and a bit angry, that I don't have my own traditions. What I mean, is that I have no reason to do anything since the "grown-ups" already do everything. I don't know if I can take it much longer.

Alright, so I'm young, I know. I'm 25, and my fiance 28. So maybe my need for my own traditions is silly. After all, I don't even have my own family yet, right?

We both live a bit far from our parents, but we go to his parents for every occasion. I don't really mind this, his family is like my own, and I love spending time with them.
Note: this isn't about spending holidays with MY family. Even though I love the traditions I grew up with, my family and I don't get along that well.

But at the same time, it feels really strange to me not to do anything. Oh sure, we help cook up the holiday dinner, but that's not the same.

I want to do MY dinner. Find my special recipes, have that special ornament on the Christmas tree, that thing we always do before opening the presents, WHEN we open presents... all those little things that make us smile and be happy for tthe holidays.

But I can't even try making a pumpkin pie, or an apple pie, or roast turkey. What's the point, when we always have more leftovers than we could care for, from his parents? I don't even know what's the point of having our own Christmas tree. It's fake (no pun intended). There's no feeling, joy, in it. It's just there.

The closest thing to tradition we have is drinking a Oreo milkshake for New Year's (we don't drink alcohol). His parents say they regret we don't spend New Year's with them, but frankly, we're both introverts, and it gets tiring going to so many big parties one after the other.

Even Christmas... we put up a Christmas tree... that's it. What's the point of doing anything else, when all the Christmas activity is at someone else's home?

How do I get there? *sigh*
posted by midnightmoonlight to Society & Culture (68 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have kids.
posted by empath at 9:24 AM on November 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Change the timing of your traditions! Have a big dinner that's different than Christmas dinner with friends, maybe a week before visiting family. Have a special present-opening thing a couple of days after you get home from Christmas. I always find the time after a holiday is kind of sad, so that may be a bit of a pick-me-up.

The traditions don't have to be traditional. When you stop thinking of exactly how your traditions will match up with the ones you've grown up with, you'll start making your own.
posted by xingcat at 9:26 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe this year try to not bother with any of the external trappings and just focus on your time spent with family.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 9:28 AM on November 8, 2011


I think traditions kind of build themselves over time. Don't stress that you don't have them. The only one I really have is making lemon squares for our extended family's summer vacation (my grandmother's recipe) but this came about organically over a period of a few years.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:29 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want to do MY dinner. Find my special recipes, have that special ornament on the Christmas tree, that thing we always do before opening the presents, WHEN we open presents... all those little things that make us smile and be happy for the holidays.

But I can't even try making a pumpkin pie, or an apple pie, or roast turkey.


Start doing those things, and keep doing them. And then, to paraphrase The Simpsons, it won't be long before these yearly customs become annual traditions.
posted by box at 9:29 AM on November 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


For most people: have kids.

When it's just the two of you Christmas etc. can be whatever you want. I'm your age and I haven't done the same thing for Thanksgiving any year since high school. These holidays are also a great time to travel.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:29 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do the things you want to do. If you enjoy it, do it again. Do that a few more times and tada you have a tradition. We go toboganing down a darkened ski hill at new years. It started as something to do, then it became a man that was fun last year we should do it again. Now its a tradition.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 9:30 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's forcing you to go up there every year? I mean, you're both adults and you can say "look, we'd love to have you down here if you'd like to come down here, but we're doing Christmas here this year." They might balk, but they're not going to, I don't know, disown you or something. Hell, you can even alternate, spending one holiday there and one holiday at home and switch up which is which every year.

What's the point, when we always have more leftovers than we could care for, from his parents?

Who cares! Throw a party and eat all the leftovers in one go with your friends. Or just give them away and make your own stuff. You're an adult and you're in charge.
posted by griphus at 9:31 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's stopping you from finding special ornaments to put on your tree, this year? One for every year you've been dating, or representing something you both enjoy (penguins for us, for example). Put up your tree early, so you can be around it for a while before you go off to celebrate at his parents' house. Bake cookies to bring over. Create a unique flower arrangement for the table. Make everybody new stockings or something.

My fiance and I host the fam, usually, but we all cook together, for example. Don't try to take ownership of anything, but contribute your own little thing this year, and maybe it'll make you happy and stick.
posted by lydhre at 9:34 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


You need to find time in your schedule to make your own unique life. If having kids isn't the answer (it isn't for me), create your own. We open our own presents, just the two of us, on Christmas eve. We do an "orphans" Thanksgiving with just our friends, no family, the day after (potluck). There is no reason you can't come up with a unique recipe - or ask his mother - "there's a recipe I've been dying to try, let me bring X this year". (That's how we became responsible for holiday desserts.) It's finding the little pieces of joy, between the two of you, and making that something you cherish each year. Maybe it's an Advent calendar that you open together every night before dinner. Maybe it's collecting ornaments from the places you travel together until you have enough to fill a tree. Consider yourself blessed that you have family to spend time with at the holidays, and then find your own blessings around that. (Or don't. Fit theirs around yours.)
posted by librarianamy at 9:38 AM on November 8, 2011


If you approach Christmas as a season, and not a day, there's no reason you can't have plenty of traditions that are your own.

I'm two decades older than you and I STILL go to my Place of Origin for Christmas and am pretty much beholden to the family-of-origin traditions on Christmas eve/day. Still, we put up a tree and I've built up a stash of ornaments and decorations in the style I like because I really like Christmas, and I like stupid folksy Christmas crap dammit, and I make holiday recipes and try to add holiday scents to the house and put on Christmas music, and I badger my husband to put up lights... Did I mention that I like Christmas? I go to the mall even though I don't normally like the mall, because I like malls that are all decorated for Christmas. We go on the holiday lights drive at the regional park.

So the answer to "what's the point?" is this --you do these things because you want to do them. If there are things that you want to do that you're not doing...do them. Some Christmas traditions are tied to Christmas Eve/Christmas day, but so much else can be done during the big lead-up. Have an advent calendar tradition. Go to the local performance of the Messiah or the Nutcracker every year. Make a batch of eggnog and watch the Charlie Brown Christmas Special and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer each year. Do an Angel Tree gift. Make Christmasy crafts. Send out Christmas cards. The possibilities are practically limitless.
posted by drlith at 9:42 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yep, kids. But even with kids, unless both you and your SO are behind it, you will not start up and keep up your own traditions.

Wait til one of you wants the kids to wake up Christmas morning in their own house and the other one wants to be at the in-laws' house...NOT a fun fight.
posted by rahnefan at 9:46 AM on November 8, 2011


Empath: The couples I know that have kids do the same thing... they have no traditions of their own, they just go to their parents house. Worse, they do it for each in-laws ;-P

Xingcat: I'm not expecting the traditions to match the ones that I grew up with, that would be impossible due to sooooo many factors. I'm just tired of following someone else's traditions. It's bittersweet :-)

"I think traditions kind of build themselves over time. Don't stress that you don't have them. "
But if we always follow other people's traditions, how will our own ever happen?

"Maybe this year try to not bother with any of the external trappings and just focus on your time spent with family."
"What's forcing you to go up there every year?"
Believe me, we enjoy seeing them. Like many people we're all busy so we don't get to see each other as often as we'd like to. And if we don't go there, there will only be 3 people at the table. So it would pretty sad for them. *sigh* families here are so small!

"Start doing those things, and keep doing them."
We always come home with a lot of leftovers, easily 4 slices of apple pie and a few slices of pumpkin pie. They have a tiny family, so there's a ton of leftovers. Why would I make even more? :P And after going to his parents, we are tired and want it over with.

"What's stopping you from finding special ornaments to put on your tree, this year?"
Our tree has no purpose, it's just there because "we're supposed to have a Christmas tree". Also, we already have all the ornaments, he has all the ones from when he was young. That's fine with me, anyway. But our tree serves no purpose, do you know what I mean? I'm not sure how to explain.

I'm thinking about the comments... thanks... librarianamy and drlith's answers resonate with me a lot, but when your only days off are Sundays (and you're physically exhausted) and the holidays, THE day is the only day you can do something. Hmm..... *ponder*

Holiday bluuuuuuuuuuueeeeeees!
posted by midnightmoonlight at 9:54 AM on November 8, 2011


I want to do MY dinner. Find my special recipes, have that special ornament on the Christmas tree, that thing we always do before opening the presents, WHEN we open presents... all those little things that make us smile and be happy for tthe holidays.

Then do it. You're an adult. Talk to your partner. There's nothing saying you must see them for every major holiday - you can stay at home some years and host your own. Orphan's [fill in the blank holiday] are often a lot of fun! Or you could do your own celebrations around the days you usually are at the in-laws. Contribute recipes or ornaments to their tables and trees.

If you're both introverts, maybe you don't necessary want to host some big thing each year - start small! Experiment. Maybe you try something, you don't like it, so you do something else.

You seem to be waiting for.. something, I'm not sure what. Traditions rise up because we create them to fill a need. You want your own traditions? Start dreaming and planning.
posted by canine epigram at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


To me, the point of having a Christmas tree, even though I go to my parents' house for Christmas, is that I LOVE having a tree. The whole purpose of a tree IS the tree: It's festive! It smells good! It's fun to decorate it -- you and your fiance could have a tree-decorating party, there's a new tradition right there. HAVE Christmas activities at your house: have friends over for a cookie party (since you don't drink). Have people over to watch college bowl games. Hang stockings for the each of you and give each other presents in them. Christmas is, like drlith says, more than just one day. If you want it to be special for the two of you, you have to work at making it special.

Have you suggested hosting Christmas yourself? My own mother has been trying to get out of hosting every holiday event for years and is thrilled that I now have a place large enough to host. You might be feeling shut out of the process, but his mom might be really over having to do everything all year, so this could solve a variety of issues. At the very least, she might love it if someone else would make the pies this year. Ask what you can bring.

You sound kind of depressed/burnt out, to be honest. Maybe what you two actually need is not the holidays, but a vacation?
posted by Countess Sandwich at 9:58 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


It can be really hard trying to blend into an existing family and their traditions. I struggled at first fitting into my in-laws Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. They do a sort of modified potluck thing. All the good things to cook were taken. After a few years of trial and error and I now have a dish that I make and bring and people look forward too. No matter how many people are cooking for dinner surely there is something that you could bring that would be unique. If there is really nothing to add to the dinner maybe make some cookies and bring them bagged up for people to take home and enjoy.

As far as the other traditions go, the sky is the limit. Start buying one or two nice Christmas ornaments every year. There are tons of lines that issue new ornaments every year, or you could hit up your local craft shows.

If you want to skip the tree, how about making a gingerbread house? Crafty fun and less work to get rid of it when the season is over.

How about adopting a child or family for the holidays?

And there's nothing that says traditions have to be traditional. Maybe you could have a movie marathon sometime during the holiday? All the LOTR, the entire first season of Mad Men or Harry Potter or whatever floats your boat.
posted by MadMadam at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2011


"What's stopping you from finding special ornaments to put on your tree, this year?"
Our tree has no purpose, it's just there because "we're supposed to have a Christmas tree". Also, we already have all the ornaments, he has all the ones from when he was young. That's fine with me, anyway. But our tree serves no purpose, do you know what I mean? I'm not sure how to explain.


I'll be honest - it's been YEARS since we've put up a tree. The beauty of being an adult is that you really don't have to do anything you don't want to. If you feel that way about a tree, don't bother. Or put one up every other year. Or tell him that he needs to pick his five favorite childhood ornaments, and then the rest have to be "couple" ornaments. Or put it up at Halloween and hang creepy spider webs all over it. ;-)
posted by librarianamy at 9:59 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Traditions happen by accident. I learned how to make cannoli right around Christmas, and, being very happy with my new skill at mixing sugar into cheese, offered to bring some over for dinner. The next year: "Uh, cmyk, you're bringing cannoli, right?" Year after that: "I can't wait for the cannoli!"

Nobody involved is Italian, except the friend who gave me his mom's recipe. It doesn't matter, it's tradition now. If I do not leave the gun and bring the cannoli then my presents are in serious danger. Also traditional, of course, are Godfather jokes - the folks I do Christmas with are fond of gangster movies.
posted by cmyk at 10:00 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, when we were 25 or 26, we started setting aside either Christmas or Thanksgiving for ourselves--sorry family, too hard to travel, etc, etc. (It helped that we were a flight or very long train ride away.) This time of your life is the perfect time to do it, because you have the opportunity to mint some "Christmas with adult sons and daughters" before everyone gets too set in their ways.

It's given us the space to make some traditions of our own. This process also took a couple of years. The first time we went on a long-ass walk on Christmas Eve through a deserted college town, we didn't know it would become A Thing We Do Every Year. It was just A Thing We Were Enjoying. And we remembered enjoying it the next year, and did it again. And again. Celebrating together gives you more reason to try recipes, to set up a tree, to have friends over, to celebrate in whatever way doesn't feel grindy to you. We're pretty ruthless with traditions ourselves--our "tree" is about a foot high because we don't want to deal with the stress of a real tree. That helps too.

One last thing I've been noticing with my family is that they are just DYING to stop doing some of those traditions that I think of as being so set in stone. So they might be feeling the same way you do about at least some of these traditions. If you offer to do the desserts for Thanksgiving this year, I'd bet that they'll either say "Oh, what a relief, I'll be able to relax the weekend before rather than coring apples for all these darn pies," or they'll say "Y'know, making Nonna's Famous Pie is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving, but I'm pooped by the end of the holiday season. Maybe you could bring dessert for Christmas?" And then you make a few things, and two of them are Just Okay, but the kid in the family makes a funny mispronunciation of the third and suddenly when you think of Christmas you all think of Lemon Harangue Pie.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:03 AM on November 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think that maybe holiday blues are more the problem here than anything else - do you notice that you're coming up with an excuse of "why not" for almost every suggestion so far? You might want to think about the fact that it looks like the biggest impediment to starting your own traditions... might be your attitude.

But if we always follow other people's traditions, how will our own ever happen?

You make them up. Add stuff on.

Our tree has no purpose, it's just there because "we're supposed to have a Christmas tree". Also, we already have all the ornaments, he has all the ones from when he was young.

Take half of them off, and figure out what else you want to mix in there. Have a contest with your friends for geekiest / flashiest / cutest / whatever ornament. Buy your own ornaments that mean something to you (one couple buys a glass pickle every year, another collects comic book character ornaments.)

Set aside some time over the holiday season to sit near the tree in the dark and drink your beverage of choice or read a book to each other.

Or, if you really don't care about having a tree... don't have one.

We always come home with a lot of leftovers, easily 4 slices of apple pie and a few slices of pumpkin pie. They have a tiny family, so there's a ton of leftovers. Why would I make even more? :P

So don't take so much leftovers. "Oh, we're doing some backing this year, but I want to have some delish pumpkin pie, so I'll take a slice!"

The point is, there are lots of options, but first you have to figure out what you'd like to do, and then work towards that, with your partner.
posted by canine epigram at 10:04 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Christmas tree in my house is a fake, as well. Otherwise, we would have very sick little kitties.

Why do your holiday traditions have to be centered on food particularly? Each year, the local historical village strings loads of Christmas lights on pretty much everything and offers horse-drawn sleigh rides. My family goes down there every year after dark to look at the lights, pet the horses, and generally get into the spirit of things.

Or, attend a Come Sing Messiah performance, where the audience sings along!

For years, my family planned the music for midnight Mass for our parish church. It got to be a community thing, with people who would otherwise never sing in church getting roped into the "Midnight choir".

As a child, my parents and their friends always organized a cross-country ski party that took all day, and afterwards, we'd go back to someone's house for stew and hot buttered rolls. The deal was, you had to serve stew. No foodie one-up-manship. The focus was on the skiing.

There's lots of things you could do!
posted by LN at 10:05 AM on November 8, 2011


I want to do MY dinner. Find my special recipes, have that special ornament on the Christmas tree, that thing we always do before opening the presents, WHEN we open presents... all those little things that make us smile and be happy for tthe holidays.

But I can't even try making a pumpkin pie, or an apple pie, or roast turkey. What's the point, when we always have more leftovers than we could care for, from his parents? I don't even know what's the point of having our own Christmas tree. It's fake (no pun intended). There's no feeling, joy, in it. It's just there.


Well, your traditions are only going to have as much significance as you put into them.

Sure, it can be tricky to navigate a balance between being "the kids" to parents once we hit adulthood. But you're not children. You are grown-ups. You can define your own traditions, you can make your own pie, you aren't required to take leftovers that you don't want, you can still gracefully enjoy the company of your in-laws without considering theirs to be the Only Authorized Holiday Celebration.
posted by desuetude at 10:05 AM on November 8, 2011


Yeah, me again. Obviously this struck a nerve. But this:
And there's nothing that says traditions have to be traditional.
We have friends who go directly after their Thanksgiving dinner to a movie theater, and see whatever cheesy horror film is out at the time. Most people think it's weird, but they've done it for so long, they love it.

but when your only days off are Sundays (and you're physically exhausted) and the holidays
And this - sounds like a "Sundays are the days we spend the entire day in our PJs, passing back and forth the crossword puzzle, drinking a pot of tea and napping in a blanket fort" tradition waiting to happen.

Something else maybe? Think more broadly. Traditions are indeed made around the holidays. But what about the rest of the year? Monday night movie night? Friday night Scrabble game? First Friday of the month, go to the zoo. Do you do anything like that? A new restaurant a month? Maybe making your own traditions _outside of the Holidays_ will help?
posted by librarianamy at 10:06 AM on November 8, 2011


I'm not a big tradition person, but I am married and in my late 20s. Like tchemgrrl, we've been trying to do either Thanksgiving or Christmas as non extended family for the past few years. If you have only one set of parents involved, this is easier to implement (in the US at least), since Thanksgiving and Christmas are really not that far apart. My MIL still feels a need to "do" Christmas for us somehow even if we aren't there on the day, which to me, feels exhausting, but has allowed her to feel less bad about not seeing us on the day. And even though they'll be a little sad at first, people adjust to this sort of thing. Especially if you're in your early 20s and your SO has a good relationship with his parents, it'll just be another thing in the long line of establishing young adult independence that they've been getting used to for the past decade. Do it now, while they can still process it in that vein!

I agree that you sound burned out, and trekking up to the in-laws for every holiday when you're working 6-day weeks sounds rough, no matter how much you like them. If you've already made plans to go up there for this Christmas, make this the year that you mention that next year, you're thinking of doing a just-the-two-of-us holiday.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:07 AM on November 8, 2011


Make the tree serve a purpose. Go out each year and buy an ornament. Buy ornaments when you travel or for special memories. My husband and I have been married for 3 years. We buy one together each year that sums up the year for us. SO one year it was a cute Christmas Dog because that's the year we got our dogs, one year a plane because we went on a great holiday that year. I bought a kangaroo ornament when I went back home to Australia. Then suddenly putting up the tree has meaning. You are celebrating your years together. OK our tree also has a bunch of cheap decorations on to fill in the gaps, but each year we get more and each year our tree has more meaning and we love setting it up together. MY MIL has taken to buying us an ornament and my Mother in Australia sent me one last year so the tree will fill up with happy memories of our own soon enough.

Otherwise pick a tradition and do it. You've always wanted to make cookies. Do it. Make a Christmas Dinner, pick a time that isn't already taken and do it. I make an "Aussie" Christmas dinner for Christmas Eve for hubby, me and the inlaws and then we go to spend time with the extended family on Christmas Day. Then you get the best of both worlds, time with family, but also your own traditions as a unit of you and your partner. Funny thing is my in laws bitched about my Christmas Dinner the first year, but only the other Day my BIL wanted reassurance I'd make my "famous" stuffing and my FIL wanted to make sure we were having the mashed potatoes done how I do them. It took me 2 Christmases to make my third one a tradition with my husbands family.


Maybe if you are nervous you can pick one tradition you really want and do that this year, then slowly add to them. And if you want to make a pie then make it and take it along, hell yours might be so much better that that becomes the tradtion at his parents. I had to fit my ideas and traditions around my in laws when I moved here and it does take a little bit of pluck and nerve to say, you know what I'm going to do it this way this year, but its worth it.
posted by wwax at 10:10 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your traditions can be location-independent. I've been cooking the Thanksgiving turkey since I've been in college. It's My Thing. And where I do this thing is irrelevant. I've made it my house, at my parents house, at my sisters house, this year will be at my sister-in-laws house, and at friends houses. Always to my recipe and technique. To my daughter, this is The Thanksgiving Turkey.

Also, we haven't celebrated Christmas at home in years, but putting up the tree is a tradition too. We listen to Christmas music, talk about when/where we got the various ornaments, talk about what a crappy job I did of putting the lights on so they're even, etc. And then we pretty much ignore it until we get home after Christmas and take it down. But that time putting it up is special family time. I suggested not bothering one year and you'd think I'd suggested not bothering with Christmas as a whole.

It's not about the specifics of what you're doing that make it tradition, it's about doing something and making it special to you.
posted by Runes at 10:14 AM on November 8, 2011


We put our Christmas tree up whether or not we're going to be at home over Christmas. We do it because Christmas trees are beautiful, they make us happy, and they make the house feel cozy and seasonal. Not seeing it on Christmas day makes zero difference, I'll see it everyday in December and it'll warm the cockles of my heart. It's not fake at all, it's just enjoyed over a longer period of time than just one or two days. Plus, decorating the tree is one of my favorite bonding moments with my fiance.

And if by fake you mean not a live conifer, well, what's the difference? I had a plastic tree growing up. In fact, last year is the first time I've had a live tree. It's the spirit that counts, if the idea of YOUR tree, with your ornaments, and your traditions, decorated your way in your own time, in your own home, then who cares if you're not there to see it on the 25th? Put it up early, take it down late! Spend your winter evenings sitting by it with the lights off and a cup of something warm.
posted by lydhre at 10:15 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you already have too much food, you could bake cookies to donate them to the local orphanage or homeless shelter. That would be a meaningful tradition.
This is what we do:
- we buy and decorate Christmas tree together - we have cute ornaments for our tree we both really like
- I bake cookies to give away to friends and family
- we wrap presents for family and leave our presents under our tree
- I plant onions on Christmas day
- we take a hike in the woods in the morning - this is a great tradition
posted by leigh1 at 10:18 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I disagree with your premise. The family traditions you're participating in probably didn't start with your fiance's parents when they were in their 20s and childless.

Your fiance's parents probably spent holidays with their parents until they had kids of their own, and then perhaps the location of festivities changed to their own home (but equally possible, maybe they just schlepped the whole family off to grandma and grandpa's house). Even if the location changed, the traditions probably stayed more or less the same as long as the grandparents were involved. When those parents were no longer able to host or strongly influence what was done, then the torch was passed to your fiance's parents and they got to truly make their own decisions about what traditions to keep and what new traditions to incorporate.

So, stop thinking you've been robbed of your right to a holiday like you want it. Eventually, your in-laws will no longer be able to host holiday gatherings, and it'll be your turn. If you want your turn sooner, that's fine. You just have to be intentional about it--that means no complaining that your tree "has no purpose." You need to give it meaning. And no complaining that you "can't even try making a pumpkin pie, or an apple pie, or roast turkey." Why not call your mother-in-law and say, "I would love to get involved in the cooking this year, ok if I bring this amazing side dish I just discovered?" Or, you know, just show up with a pie you made.

Also, if you don't want to try to get more involved in existing family traditions, there are plenty of traditions to be had around leftovers (e.g., my mom makes the world's best turkey hash out of leftover turkey and stuffing), and nothing stopping you from doing, say, and early Thanksgiving dinner to share with friends the week before Thanksgiving, or an annual Christmas party. You can collect your recipes, decorations, traditions, etc., and enjoy them with friends now, and then when you and your fiance take over holiday hosting duties as his parents age, you'll have your own arsenal of holiday traditions to draw from.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:19 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Here's another one. Having spent all my life in Florida I am fond of the silly "tropical Christmas" things - think Corona ads, etc etc. When I lived on a house with a nice big porch I'd spend the evening hanging out on the porch, drinking beer and listening to reggae while putting the lights up barefoot (those big Louisiana shrimp-boat lights, which wasn't half dangerous if I dropped anything) because I enjoyed doing it that way. That's one of the things I miss the most about that place.

Now I have a small house with no porch or easy way to put lights outside, so the year before last I did something I'd always wanted to do: I got a potted palm tree and a bunch of those tiny blue-white LED lights and decorated that instead. Everybody who saw it loved it and thus, a new tradition spawned itself. My christmas palm tree lives outdoors the rest of the year, so it's gotten nice and big.

So - think of something you've always wanted to do, but never did, and then go out and do it. If you enjoy it, you might want to do it again next time. And if that happens, it might turn into a tradition.
posted by cmyk at 10:27 AM on November 8, 2011


"Even Christmas... we put up a Christmas tree... that's it. What's the point of doing anything else, when all the Christmas activity is at someone else's home?"

So that you have your own traditions!

I don't know if you're religious, but take a page from more traditional Christian groups and do some Advent celebrating. The four Sundays before Christmas are Advent Sundays, which is super-convenient for you because, hey, Sundays are your one day off! So do some holiday things on the Sundays leading up to Christmas. If you want to be traditional, you can get an advent wreath and go to church and light candles. But you can also find a local sing-along of Handel's Messiah that you go to every year. You can designate a Sunday for tree-putting-up and one for present-wrapping.

We still spend holidays with Family Of Origin, but among our traditions are using the wedding china and having fancy meals on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, and setting an extra place so that strangers and wanderers are always welcome to join us in our celebration in our home. (Which, when I grew up, they always were, we had random foreign exchange students and stranded Californians and all kinds of people with us for Christmas, so I thought of a way to express that tradition for my family because it's an important value for me.) We buy ornaments of places we go on vacation or touristing so our tree (also fake!) is decorated with family memories. (Keychains make good substitute ornaments when you can't find an actual ornament.) We take down some of our pictures in order to put up some Christmas pictures in their places. We put up two awesome nativity scenes and hide the Jesuses until we leave for the holiday to see FamilyOfOrigin. (Then the Jesuses can go in the manger.) Now that we have kids, we may do St. Nicholas Day to have a little celebration at home. A couple of nights before we leave for FamilyOfOrigin, we usually have a little party for just us and open presents that are too big a hassle to cart with us.

There are a million things you can do ... Advent runs the whole four weeks before Christmas, and technically "the Christmas season," liturgically, runs until February 2. For a while, before we had kids, I was doing a "12th Day of Christmas" (Epiphany) Feast for my friends, since scheduling things leading up to Christmas is so hard, but on January 6 you can totally get everyone together and I'd make medieval things and tell people to wear medieval-ish clothes. (None of my friends are Rennies, so people would wear velvet dresses, or their wedding tiaras, or halloween costumes, or just regular clothes, but it made it fun.) And we'd put on medieval-ish music and light the place with candles and drink a lot. Rock on!

Decide what things are important to you, and create a tradition that expresses that, and then just do it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:29 AM on November 8, 2011


I wonder how you think previous generations managed to create their own traditions?

It's not like one day their elders ceremonially handed down the family turkey carving set, at which point they became empowered to do all the fun stuff. No -- they just started acting like grown-ups, which means that the other grown-ups eventually had to start treating them that way.

What does acting like grown-ups mean? It means actively contributing to family holidays, rather than showing up and having everything taken care of for you. So start asking what you can cook, and/or come early and help with more of the preparations.

It also may mean declining family invitations in order to have the holidays in your own home. While this typically precipitated by the arrival of kids, you don't have to have kids in order to do it.

No, it won't be popular. Yes, it will feel weird and kind of awkward.

That's kind of what growing up feels like.
posted by ottereroticist at 10:47 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Traditions happen organically over time. My family has all the usual Christmas-y ones, but recently we just realized that it's not Christmas unless my dad makes his homemade beef jerky! What the heck? Beef Jerky? Christmas? But it just sort of happened. Someone got him a dehydrator for Christmas eons ago, and the next year he made a ton of stuff to show off his new dehydrating skills. The jerky was damn good. It was gone in seconds. So he made more the next year. And the next, for several years. And now there is no way he can not make jerky for the holidays -- its just what it is. Tears would literally be shed over any lack of jerky.

I guess what I'm saying is -- make your own jerky, whatever jerky means to you. Do want you want to do, every year, and before you realize it will become expected of you. And don't complain when the grandkids start harassing you for jerky :)
posted by cgg at 10:49 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm getting a little turned around by your question (and some of your responses). You want to begin some christmas traditions- but what you really want is to have christmas celebrations at your house? I guess you mean ON the specific dates, like dinner ON December 25th?

I don't really see what's stopping you from having parties. If you think putting the tree up doesn't mean anything because there was no party or because it's just you and your SO, why not have a party? Holiday traditions in your immediate family (you and your SO) are going to boil down to you and your SO, and maybe have a revolving cast of others through the years.

If you want the tree to mean something, make the tree mean something. You don't feel attached to the ornaments, get new ones. go get a real tree. sit with your SO and look at it. talk about holiday memories and what you guys want to get others for christmas.

It almost sounds like you don't want to do what your parents do, and you don't feel like what you do could be valid without other people saying YES- That's Christmas!
posted by Blisterlips at 11:01 AM on November 8, 2011


I should have mentioned in the opening post that if we don't go to his parents, then their holiday is ruined too, there won't be anyone to celebrate it with them.

Anyway... I do have plenty of dreams :-) But there's time, money, fatigue, constraints.
Eggnog and comedy movies.
Eggnog and all sorts of snow play.
Opening presents at midnight or so.
Pumpkin pie for halloween (since there's no point making it for Thanksgiving. But we were tired and didn't do it).
Fireworks for New Year's. Tiramisu. Shrimp.
Going for a walk in the woods, or a nice trail, early morning.
I'm not saying these things have to happen, and, none of these were my traditions growing up. It's just that every year, I yearn to do these things, but they don't happen, because we used up all the time we had at his parents.

I'll be honest - it's been YEARS since we've put up a tree. The beauty of being an adult is that you really don't have to do anything you don't want to. If you feel that way about a tree, don't bother.
But I DO like a Christmas tree! Putting your ornaments and decorating just the way you like it. Remembering when you got that ornament. Cussing that this kind of ornament always seems to break. Sitting next to it starting at the presents, shaking your fist that there's still X days till Christmas.
Except none of that ever happens. Haha. We don't have time to enjoy the tree. And we don't have presents here, only other people's. Ours we also open at his parents.

"And if by fake you mean not a live conifer, well, what's the difference? "
What I meant about the tree is not that it's fake (there's no shortage of cheap fresh trees where I live!), but the fact that there is "no reason" to have the tree.
And yes, it would matter to me if it's a real tree or not ;)

"I think that maybe holiday blues are more the problem here than anything else - do you notice that you're coming up with an excuse of "why not" for almost every suggestion so far? You might want to think about the fact that it looks like the biggest impediment to starting your own traditions... might be your attitude."
I can't do holidays on my own, can I?
Someone up there mentioned that they make canoli, even though no one there is italian. I worried that were were some things I wanted to cook/bake, but wouldn't mesh with the rest of the food at the table. I'm trying that, even if people will say "oh how nice". Atleast I'll eat what I want LOL.

Take half of them off, and figure out what else you want to mix in there. Have a contest with your friends for geekiest / flashiest / cutest / whatever ornament. Buy your own ornaments that mean something to you (one couple buys a glass pickle every year, another collects comic book character ornaments.)
I do know what things I would like on the tree, but what I feel sad about is that there is no reason for me to put those there. We don't have time to enjoy it. No one will enjoy it. I think I will just give up on holidays for now and do whatever floats my boat, even if it means I'm alone.

So don't take so much leftovers. We take leftovers because 1) we need them, we have little money 2) they'll go in the trash if we don't take them 3) not taking leftovers would fix what, exactly?


Something else maybe? Think more broadly. Traditions are indeed made around the holidays. But what about the rest of the year? Monday night movie night? Friday night Scrabble game? First Friday of the month, go to the zoo. Do you do anything like that? A new restaurant a month? Maybe making your own traditions _outside of the Holidays_ will help?
We don't have much money. But one thing I wanted to do was go for a trail walk Sunday mornings... didn't work out, too tired. :P

"Your fiance's parents probably spent holidays with their parents until they had kids of their own, and then perhaps the location of festivities changed to their own home (but equally possible, maybe they just schlepped the whole family off to grandma and grandpa's house). Even if the location changed, the traditions probably stayed more or less the same as long as the grandparents were involved. When those parents were no longer able to host or strongly influence what was done, then the torch was passed to your fiance's parents and they got to truly make their own decisions about what traditions to keep and what new traditions to incorporate. "
That's what I'm thinking too. But back then families were bigger, people lived closer, weren't so busy that they dropped dead on the bed every night. But now, when the only time we have is the holiDAY itself, Hmm....I don't know.

"I don't know if you're religious"
No, but I grew up religious. True, I miss it! Christmas was atleast 2 months. We had big families. We did the holiday on our own, then the next days, we would go around and visit family and friends (and in turn, we would get visits from those same family and friends).

"What does acting like grown-ups mean? It means actively contributing to family holidays, rather than showing up and having everything taken care of for you. So start asking what you can cook, and/or come early and help with more of the preparations."
We do that. We get there early and get our hands dirty. We bring one dessert because were not sure what the heck we can bring. I've suggested wine, a side, but no, they've got it taken care of. So we still bring dessert anyway.

But just because I'm there making the meal doesn't mean it's how I would enjoy my holidays.
So yeah, maybe I'll be a jerk this year and just do what I want. I did it once, they, and my fiance, still bug me about it.

Tears would literally be shed over any lack of jerky.

I guess what I'm saying is -- make your own jerky, whatever jerky means to you. Do want you want to do, every year, and before you realize it will become expected of you.
So what you're all saying is that I can do whatever I want. That's it? Really? Sounds too easy to be true... but I'll give it a try! ;-D Let's see how many people bite my head off.


:P
posted by midnightmoonlight at 11:02 AM on November 8, 2011


A lot of married 20-somethings (and 30-somethings) still go to either or both sets of parents' houses for the holidays if the 'rents are still alive. They don't start making their own turkeys and such until they're older, their parents are gone, and the sisters start calling around asking "Can we do Thanksgiving at your house this year?" If you want to make a turkey dinner for just you and your fiance for some occasion when you don't have holdiay leftovers from your relatives, you can roast just a turkey breast or a couple of wings and a enough dressing for two. (Mr. Adams doesn't care for turkey, so for the past few years I've made Cornish game hen and stuffing, which is enough for me for about two meals.) Maybe you can do something small and special, say, Christmas morning before you have to get dressed and go out visiting - exchange stockings filled with silly and serious little gifts with each other over a small continental breakfast and mimosas, for example. And YMMV, but I know that as I've gotten older I've preferred having the really big traditional stuff at other people's houses so that I can leave the mess behind when all the fun is over and I'm tired and just want to crash and not worry about cleaning up.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2011


Just start doing your own thing. I don't really see what there is to get down in the dumps about. Have you considered that people go over to other people's houses at the holidays because they want to see them, not because it's tradition? Sometimes I only get to see some family members only once a year and I welcome seeing them (some, I don't, but every family is like that).

Seriously, just start doing your own thing. It'll happen organically if it doesn't.

Also, nthing others' suggestions to have kids.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 11:04 AM on November 8, 2011


So what you're all saying is that I can do whatever I want. That's it? Really? Sounds too easy to be true...

Yes. Yes. That's exactly it. If you want to cook, cook. (Hint: you don't have to have pie, or turkey, on the actual date). If you're afraid you won't "mesh with the meal" tell them in advance what you're bringing.

Also, don't get hung up on the date. I lot of your "wishes" don't need to be date specific. Part of being a grownup is taking control over your own life. That includes the tradition part of it. Just do it. Be brave.
posted by anastasiav at 11:06 AM on November 8, 2011


So maybe my need for my own traditions is silly.

No, absolutely not. Creating your own traditions is part of becoming your own person.

This has been bothering me for a few years.

That's a clue that you need to pay attention to this and act on it even if you do love your fiance's family. This feeling isn't going to go away.

I have no reason to do anything since the "grown-ups" already do everything.

There's your answer. You are fond of them, but that doesn't mean you need to do let them arrange your lives, even if it will maybe be sad for them if there are only 3 people showing up.

As you've identified, you have to create your own traditions and establish your own independence. That doesn't mean that you have to dump them from your lives, but it does mean that you start separating from them . . . slowly.

we go to his parents for every occasion. I don't really mind this, his family is like my own, and I love spending time with them.

I think this is the key to the problem. Even though you love them, you cannot simultaneously spend all your holiday time with them AND develop your own traditions to the extent that you clearly would like to do.

Plus, you say you don't "really" mind this. If I were in your shoes, I'd mind it a whole lot. You might like to consider whether you do too. I'm not saying you do, but life is always easier to manage when we're brutally honest with ourselves.

I want to do MY dinner. Find my special recipes, have that special ornament on the Christmas tree, that thing we always do before opening the presents, WHEN we open presents... all those little things that make us smile and be happy for tthe holidays.

But I can't even try making a pumpkin pie, or an apple pie, or roast turkey. What's the point, when we always have more leftovers than we could care for, from his parents? I don't even know what's the point of having our own Christmas tree. It's fake (no pun intended). There's no feeling, joy, in it. It's just there.


It seems that despite your fondness for your fiance's family, you're feeling unhappy with the amount of time you spend with them. Possibly resentful, possibly smothered--but definitely restless and unhappy. It's o.k. to feel that way no matter how much you love them.

His parents say they regret we don't spend New Year's with them, but frankly, we're both introverts, and it gets tiring going to so many big parties one after the other.

So, his parents are lovely but have a much higher tolerance of/need for social interaction, and you are both introverts. If you're there every major holiday, it's no wonder Christmas feels joyless to you. I'm an introvert, and I'd be going out of my mind.

but when your only days off are Sundays (and you're physically exhausted) and the holidays, THE day is the only day you can do something.

If you are exhausted on top of needing more time alone and wanting to establish your own traditions, it's no wonder you're unhappy.

How do I get there? *sigh*

First, and most importantly, you do need to separate from his family. Kindly, lovingly, and slowly. You've already recognised you can't have your own traditions if you spend all your time with them. I would agree that this is something to prepare for next year. I wouldn't announce it at this upcoming Christmas, though (why add tension to the event?). But sometime early in the year, say . . . March, you can start talking about how you'd like to do things a little different next year. I'm not saying it will be easy, and you'll meet resistance--but they'll get over it.

You might give them this article to read: "Caring For Your Introvert".

I would also recommend several things that you can start to experiment with this year.

First, it might be possible to work certain Christmas traditions in to the season itself. For example, it took me *years* to realise how important music was to me, and the season just wasn't fun for me unless I incorporated seasonal music. So I listen to Christmas music (both carols by pop singers and sacred music by opera singers) as I drive around or clean my house. It helps a lot, even if I can just listen to 5 minutes a day.

I also love the smell of mulled (non-alcoholic) cider--and the taste. We don't make it any other time of the year but over Christmas Eve/Christmas day. So that's another thing that helps.

I guess I'm saying that it would be wise to consider all the senses, and all your interests, and then see how many can be incorporated into the spirit of the season.

Well, this answer has gotten quite long enough. I hope it helps a little.
posted by Amy NM at 11:07 AM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You don't have to stress over starting a tradition, just try something new this year (maybe a few somethings) and see if you like it. Declare that you will get up on Christmas Day morning as early as necessary to hop in the car with your fiance, go to the nearest park, walk a mile in the peace and quiet, and be back in time for morning coffee with your inlaws. Do it. Did it suck? Don't do it next year. Did you like it? Do it again next year.
posted by aimedwander at 11:08 AM on November 8, 2011


Well, not to be grim, but my parents stopped following their parents' holiday traditions when my grandparents all died off. 'Til then, we alternated Christmas eve with one set, Christmas day with the other.

In your 20s things are usually in flux. Tradition is the opposite of flux. I don't think I spent two Christmases in a row the same in my 20s. I had the same struggle and tried so hard to create a tradition of walking the Stanley Park seawall every year, but even that didn't work because you never knew who was going to be around, who was paired up and celebrating as a couple, who was jetting off to Winnipeg to see their folks...

At 32 I had a kid and that did make a difference, but mostly because it meant one year looked very much like another. What we do is one Christmas at our place (where we host my parents and my brother if he's in this neck of the woods) and the next at my parents. When it's at my place, I am the Boss of Christmas and we do it my way (more or less), as big or small as I want to go. When it's at my folks' I do minimal decorating and don't bother with the tree at all.

So, my advice is don't sweat it yet. Traditions will develop gradually. Why not try adding one thing this year--maybe you and your sweetie buy each other a small gift to give each other at midnight in private--and see if that helps it feel more like your own.
posted by looli at 11:19 AM on November 8, 2011


Oh, one more thing: if you are totally wrung out, there's no reason your traditions can't be slacker traditions. Don't create traditions that add to your overwork and exhaustion, find some that make your life easier and are a treat that way. Maybe you don't cook a giant turkey with all the trimmings, but have a hot turkey sandwich in the diner down the street at the stroke of midnight.
posted by looli at 11:23 AM on November 8, 2011


Friends of mine, who would shuttle from one spouse's family to the other over Christmas vacation, started celebrating St. Nick's Day as their own personal holiday. This was years before they had a kid, and now they have a big party every year and invite friends. I think it is a lovely tradition, and it is early enough in December that folks are usually not on vacation yet.
posted by pinky at 11:29 AM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Amy NM has a wonderful and much more kindly response. Mine is a tad more prickly because almost every answer is "Yes but... [HERE IS WHY I CAN'T HAVE FUN]." Go get some sleep and come back and re-read your answers, your frustration and feeling of being stuck is loud and clear, but you're afraid of rocking the boat. Change is challenging, and it takes time.

It's just that every year, I yearn to do these things, but they don't happen, because we used up all the time we had at his parents.

Then, as others suggest, you have to take control and figure out which holidays you will spend with his parents, and which you won't. And they can be different each year. Let them know months in advance. That gives them plenty of time to plan their own celebration without you. So this year, you might just bring something special (or go for a walk while you're at their place, because that's a new thing you're doing.)

I can't do holidays on my own, can I?

You and your partner can, sure! He or she is on-board with this idea, right? You can invite friends and other people who don't have anyone to spend it with.

We take leftovers because 1) we need them, we have little money 2) they'll go in the trash if we don't take them 3) not taking leftovers would fix what, exactly?

You don't need them, poor or not - desserts have little nutritional value. If you were coking a whole turkey yourself, that'd be a different matter. Not taking them would... allow you to make your own desserts.

And yes, it's okay if most of their leftovers go in the trash. Or heck, tell them ahead of time, can we make less pie? we always take home so much and end up throwing too much away!

But just because I'm there making the meal doesn't mean it's how I would enjoy my holidays.
So yeah, maybe I'll be a jerk this year and just do what I want. I did it once, they, and my fiance, still bug me about it.


I bolded this because it makes me wonder if this - the interactions with your fiancee and by extension his family - is the real elephant in the room. It doesn't sound like your fiancee is at all supportive of creating your own traditions, he wants to keep doing things the way he grew up, with no compromise or creativity, and if you try to add something new, you get swatted down?

I'm sincerely hoping I'm wrong in my uncharitable reading of this... because if it's true, no wonder you've had so much trouble carving out some space for yourself as a couple. If your fiancee is unwilling to compromise and create some holiday couple traditions, separate a bit from his parents' celebrations... then this is a window into your future life together. And right now, you sound miserable, burned out, depressed and just stuck. It sounds like you might need to sit down and talk.
posted by canine epigram at 11:32 AM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm unclear whether the real elephant in the room is that the relationship with your in-laws is the issue and you need some independence from them, or if it's that you're exhausted and have no free time. If it's the latter, you might spend Christmas by yourselves intending to start traditions and do the holiday "your way" and end up, instead, power-napping through the entire holiday because you're EXHAUSTED.

If you don't have time to take a walk in the woods, make some eggnog, and have a snowball fight on ANY Sunday in December, will you have time to do it on Christmas?

Also: "We don't have time to enjoy [the Christmas tree]. No one will enjoy it."

Ours goes up in our living room, where we have a hide-a-bed, and the first year we were in this house (our first house) I was so sad about having to take it down that I suggested we sleep on the hide-a-bed so we could enjoy it one last night. So we plugged it in and went to sleep to twinkling tree lights. Now we do that at least once every season, sleep on the hide-a-bed to stare at the tree. Makes our backs hurt like crazy, but it's so worth it.

You could even put the tree up IN YOUR BEDROOM so you could look at it every night and go to sleep to the pretty lights every single night. It can even be a mini-tree if a full-sized tree is too much expense/hassle.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:38 AM on November 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I started hosting Thanksgiving when I was about your age. Cooking a turkey for the first time and presenting it to judgmental in-laws was all kinds of fun, but in the something-something years since then, I've probably hosted about half the Thanksgiving dinners I've eaten. Not sure it qualifies as a tradition, but hey, you can do it.

My folks used to host a New Year's Day open house at which massive quantities of chili are served. They live far from me, and have since discontinued the practice. About 5 years ago, I decided to take over the tradition. Now my friends look forward to it, and it has evolved into my own tradition. This obviously does not revolve around any particular observance in the USA, but it's turned out to be a lot of fun. I'm not saying you should do this, exactly. The calendar year affords lots of opportunities to invent your own rituals.
posted by adamrice at 11:41 AM on November 8, 2011


Amy NM has a wonderful and much more kindly response.
Yeah, I started crying as I read it :-)

Mine is a tad more prickly because almost every answer is "Yes but... [HERE IS WHY I CAN'T HAVE FUN]."
No kidding. I realized why I'm answering like this, I'm frustrated after all these years. And I'm frustrated that I can't express how I feel. It seems Amy got it, that must be why I started crying. I just want to enjoy the holidays without tearing up on the way home, and feeling sad for days... for once.

You and your partner can, sure! He or she is on-board with this idea, right? You can invite friends and other people who don't have anyone to spend it with.
No, for him he does what his family does, so he won't hurt them. He's a Nice Guy. What kind of evil person would hurt their family? He's kinda like that. Seems like I'm starting to become like that too... so I think I will do it alone and enjoy it on my own.

You don't need them, poor or not - desserts have little nutritional value.
Not the desserts, silly, the food. We get enough food for 6 meals or so. But yes, we enjoy desserts too... ;-)

the interactions with your fiancee and by extension his family - is the real elephant in the room. It doesn't sound like your fiancee is at all supportive of creating your own traditions, he wants to keep doing things the way he grew up, with no compromise or creativity, and if you try to add something new, you get swatted down?
Right. He's the nice guy who wouldn't dare do something so evil as to abandon his parents on the holidays.
And I feel similarly, because their family is so small, it would be very lonely holiday if we are not there.
So even though I always feel sad that I didn't do what I felt like doing, I feel selfish for even wanting to do something different.

I'm sincerely hoping I'm wrong in my uncharitable reading of this... because if it's true, no wonder you've had so much trouble carving out some space for yourself as a couple. If your fiancee is unwilling to compromise and create some holiday couple traditions, separate a bit from his parents' celebrations... then this is a window into your future life together. And right now, you sound miserable, burned out, depressed and just stuck. It sounds like you might need to sit down and talk.
I don't even know if I want to bring this up to him. I don't want his family to think I'm taking him away from them. But something will have to happen anyway... Even if it was to leave a little earlier and do something else, he thinks we shouldn't do that. Or not being there or Christmas breakfast, do it with just us. I understand him. Even if I say, "well, you go to the breakfast, you're their son. I'll do something on my own", he still is not happy with that answer.


I'm unclear whether the real elephant in the room is that the relationship with your in-laws is the issue and you need some independence from them.
I wish I would see them more often. I actually want to move where they live just so we can see each other more often. I suppose I could just enjoy the holidays with them, but no matter what, I always come back home tearing up.


If you don't have time to take a walk in the woods, make some eggnog, and have a snowball fight on ANY Sunday in December, will you have time to do it on Christmas?
Yes, we would.

Also: "We don't have time to enjoy [the Christmas tree]. No one will enjoy it."
Because the time is spent at their house, and the rest of the month we are busy.

You could even put the tree up IN YOUR BEDROOM so you could look at it every night and go to sleep to the pretty lights every single night. It can even be a mini-tree if a full-sized tree is too much expense/hassle.

I was just thinking that! I'm so desperate, I was thinking I should put the Xmas tree in the bedroom. Hehe! I think I'll do that :-D
posted by midnightmoonlight at 11:56 AM on November 8, 2011


Just noticed this:

maybe I'll be a jerk this year and just do what I want. I did it once, they, and my fiance, still bug me about it.

Not ok. Even if you like your in-laws and you're willing to do most of the family holiday traditions with your in-laws, it's unreasonable for them or your fiance to expect you to do things 100% the same way their family does them. For them to bug you, a year or more later, for having--what, exactly? baked a pie? taken some holiday time to yourself to relax--is totally disrespectful.

I read your OP as being premised on the idea that holidays are all or nothing--either you get to dictate the terms completely or else they're not "your" traditions. I think I misread. I think that's the view your in-laws are taking, and I think it's a problem that your fiance goes along with them.

If you wanted to take a holiday to yourself, for instance by spending Thanksgiving at your in-laws and Christmas at home, you wouldn't "ruin their holiday." You are not responsible for their happiness, and if they choose to believe that they can only have a good Christmas if they spend it at their home with you in it, that's on them. I suggest you have a serious conversation with your fiance about family priorities, emphasizing that it's possible to love the family and enjoy their traditions but still not want to do things 100% their way every holiday, every year. This will not get better on its own.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:57 AM on November 8, 2011


because their family is so small, it would be very lonely holiday if we are not there

You've said this in a few different ways throughout the thread, and I must admit it's perplexing me. Small families aren't neccesarily sad, or lonely, or lacking traditions. My immediate family has three people in it and it would never occur to us that we couldn't have holidays, or happy holidays, or do whatever we want tradition-wise. In fact if 20 more people showed up we'd hate it! Also I know plenty of people who live alone and decorate their place all Christmasy with a tree and lights and decorations, because they enjoy it. That's their tradition. The fact that they are alone doesn't make it less festive. It seems to me that if you re-examined these notions you have about family size and happy holidays, that would help a lot. Both in terms of starting your own thing, and not worrying about appeasing your in-laws.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:08 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, for him he does what his family does, so he won't hurt them. He's a Nice Guy. What kind of evil person would hurt their family?

So, it's okay to hurt you instead?

I sympathize with your fiance, because I have divorced parents and the thought of them alone on random Saturday nights let alone holidays tears me up inside. But here's the thing: I don't insist that my partner and I spend EVERY HOLIDAY or EVERY WEEKEND with one of them. That would be totally unfair to my partner and also unfair to me--being a martyr may seem like a handy-dandy way to get out of those painful feelings but it's not.

It's so common as to be cliche in American culture that sometimes sons can have a hard time detaching from their parents and starting to relate to them as adults with their own needs, and that this can be a real source of marital friction when sons get caught between their new wife and their mother. You may think this is about the holidays and that stuffing down your needs is the best way to deal with this but I think you should give serious thought to the fact that this is NOT going to be the only time in your life that your needs and his parents' needs (or even your wants and their wants) conflict. You need to talk to your fiance about this because you want to make sure he's willing to stand up for you two as a marital unit at some point, and it's going to be easier if he does that over a relatively low-stakes thing like where you spend Christmas every other year.
posted by iminurmefi at 12:28 PM on November 8, 2011


Dude, you sound tired. I think what you really need is a day where you both play hooky and sleep in, go eat ice cream, and not do a single necessary thing.

Meanwhile, here are some perspective shifts.

because their family is so small, it would be very lonely holiday if we are not there.

You and your fiance are parts of other family, but you are also a family, a family of two (or you will be very soon). A small family, that, from what you're saying, would not be lonely celebrating together. Just putting that out there. Other people's loneliness is not your problem. When we're not home for holidays, our parents come visit us or other family, celebrate with friends, go to church, or enjoy the Macy's parade in their pj's with the dog. Not lonely. And if they laid guilt trips on us we would be much LESS likely to come visit.

You two are a family. That's really important to emphasize. It's how we got our independent holidays.

we used up all the time we had at his parents.

Here's another thing: you have very limited time and funds. They are asking a lot for you to travel for every. single. holiday. Any way that they can come to you, or you all can meet on some more neutral ground? That would give you a tiny bit more time on your own that day. Less travel at least, and an easier way of heading out a little early. Can you, at the very least, open your own presents in your own home?
posted by tchemgrrl at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What kind of evil person would hurt their family?

It's not evil to disagree with your parents about how best to spend a holiday, even if they feel hurt as a result. It's not evil to consider your parents' preferences and ultimately decide to do some of what they want and some of what you want, even if they feel hurt as a result. And it's certainly not evil to prioritize your partner's needs over your parents' wishes, even if they feel hurt as a result. It is--I won't say evil, but certainly wrong to expect your partner to suppress her own feelings, wishes, and needs in order to accommodate your parents.

Are you in premarital counseling? This is something to discuss there--because this is common, and painful, and you need to learn how to talk about it if you're going to create a family and life together.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:19 PM on November 8, 2011


When I moved down to my out of the way place in the UK in 2005, lots of other people did at the same time and we all ended up friends. We ended up organising a place to visit and stay as a group once our Christmas term was over. We have ended up doing this every year since, and 'Christmas House' this year will have 16 adults, 2 toddlers and 2 babies. Its cheap as December is super low season (the first year we stayed in a 13th century church - £14pppn), we all chuck in £50-60 for food and booze which is generally enough and you can have a lovely weekend to get yourself in a Chrsitmas mood.
posted by biffa at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2011


Because the time is spent at their house, and the rest of the month we are busy.

How busy? Really?

I have a kid, and for a long time I worked two jobs (a full time day job and an evening job). Having a Christmas tree was super important to me, because it represented a reminder that I should stop, take a moment, and reflect on it being the holiday season - if if that just meant turning on some Christmas Carols when I got home at 10 pm and sitting quietly in front of the tree for a half hour before I went to bed.

I feel like you're really hung up on carving out your own traditions on the day of the holiday and no other time. By all means, play in the snow on Christmas day if you want, but I promise you that your most meaningful holiday traditions don't have to take place directly on the holiday.

Look, I have a very small family (just my mom and me), my husband has a big family, and now we have our own family too. Let me tell you about one of our holidays:

Thanksgiving:
Thursday: We go to my husband's mother's house for dinner with (most of) his siblings.
Friday: My family (husband, son, me) goes to my mom's house, we eat turkey pot pie for lunch, then we cut down her Christmas tree at a "cut your own" lot.
Saturday: My SIL has to go to her husband's house for T'giving, so on Saturday she has us all over for what is called "T2" - not a second Thanksgiving, exactly, but a second big meal.
Sunday: We invite all our friends over for a "leftovers potluck" and spend the afternoon/early evening eating good food and laughing with our friends.

Is it a lot? Sure. But you'll notice how each of those things has it's own time, and a different focus.

I understand busy, I really do - but I think you've become so wrapped up in what you feel you can't do that you're reluctant to make space in your life for the things you can do. That doesn't mean going off by yourself on the holiday and doing your own thing. It means finding some space in your life for your own traditions that can peacefully coexist with the ones his family already has. It does not have to be either/or. It can be "this ... and then this, too."

Start by calling up his mom, and saying you'd like to make something to bring to Thanksgiving. Then make that thing and bring it.
posted by anastasiav at 1:33 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wholeheartedly agree with the idea that traditions don't have to take place directly on the holiday. I have a personal tradition of taking a variety of homemade chocolate fudge to work the week before Christmas. I look forward to it all year, and thankfully I'm good enough at it that after my first year on a job I'll get co-workers asking me if I'm going to be bringing my fudge as early as July(!).

Every year I buy a little wooden nutcracker and "surprise" my wife with it. I say "surprise" because she knows it's coming, but not what the theme will be.

As for the actual holiday, my wife and I(small family of two people) stay home. Thanksgiving, Christmas - home. I cook an entirely too big meal for the two of us and we eat it for a week. Family members and friends get phone calls, if they're local they get invites, but as often as not it's just the two of us sharing our happy little holiday - this is the tradition we established for ourselves, and our families respect that, even though they are sure to invite us to their gatherings as well.

What I'm getting at is that if you want a tradition, you just have to do it, and make it a priority. Given that you're engaged to be married, it's probably a good idea to get your fiance on board, since you're planning to spend your lives together. This may require compromise, which is also good practice for the rest of your lives together.
posted by owtytrof at 2:27 PM on November 8, 2011


This is actually really, really easy! You need to look for something that would make you happy, that someone else isn't already doing.

I don't want to be a downer, but someday the people who are holding up the traditions in your family will pass on, and as that happens, the younger set like yourself will pick up and carry on the traditions. That is how traditions work, generally.

So, if you want traditions now, they have to be new ones -- as mentioned above, finding things nobody else is doing that you want to see done, and doing it consistently -- or they have to be traditions that you start with a new group of people. For instance: I belong to a large group of friends, two of whom hold a specific kind of party once a year. They started doing it nearly a decade ago, and it has grown from a small "something to do when there's nothing to do" thing into a much-anticipated event, one that we all wouldn't miss. A tradition. Another couple did the same thing with another kind of party, and when they moved away, they took the tradition with them, and we didn't hold our own version.
posted by davejay at 3:53 PM on November 8, 2011


Have another Christmas at home. You have to have your own Christmas. Don't think about 'what's the point' etc.
posted by Not Supplied at 5:11 PM on November 8, 2011


Find what you like about the holiday and get REALLY HYPED UP about it.

For example, I adore alternative Christmas music and "discovering" new songs every year. I also like listening to some of the instrumental holiday classics. So I gather up those songs about this time every year and randomly listen to them. I also buy an interesting kind of hot cocoa, get excited about snow, pull out my winter gear and check it over for readiness, usually make some sort of unneeded Christmas lights or ornaments purchase, watch some claymation Christmas movies on Hulu, and just let myself get feisty and dumb-giggle-happy about the holidays.

And I'm an atheist! I don't even care about the religious side of things.

Just let yourself get wrapped up in the holidays, in whatever part of it that you enjoy.

I mean, a friend and I are going to deep fry a turkey and watch My Little Pony episodes non stop for Thanksgiving weekend pretty much. It's probably going to involve vodka and cranberry (tradition, right?) and so much turkey that we'll become sick. S'gonna be awesome.

Tradition is what _you_ invent, times however many years you do it. It's that simple.
posted by DisreputableDog at 6:18 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't had a chance to read all the responses yet, but my husband have had some similar conflicts--worse, really, because our respective sides of our family tend to fight a bit over who gets to see us. We've come to celebrate the solstice as our own holiday. It's close enough to Christmas that we can both usually get time off, but neither family cares about seeing us on that particular day--unlike Hannukah or Christmas (we're agnostic halfsies, both). Our method has been to take all the holiday traditions that we love--favorite holiday movies, egg nog and mulled wine, a yule ham, lights, trees--and invite our friends over. We usually try to stay up to see the dawn, but three years in and we've never quite made it, between too much food and alcohol and cozy happiness. Still, I really adore the celebration and look forward to it as something uniquely ours. Feel free to steal it if you'd like.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:33 PM on November 8, 2011


I really sympathise. My partner and I are (sort of) in the same boat. We both live a long way from our respective families, and we travel to visit them every year. Because it’s so far (at least an entire day’s air travel, one way, to each one, sigh) and we fit in both sets, we don’t have much time and we’re pretty tired. And of course, Christmas is at other people’s homes.

My partner isn’t too worried about traditions, but I love (loooooove) Christmas in all its kitschy glory and after we moved in together, I loved the idea of us having traditions that were new, and just for us.

What we did was to talk about it, and some things we decided on definitely (we’ll listen to Christmas music and decorate the tree together and have a special Christmas dinner before we go away for just the two of us where we open presents under our tree) and some of them evolved organically (watching a different Muppets movie every year after we open presents, going for a Christmas light tour after the movie).

We also have a big pre-Christmas party for all our friends and do a Kris Kringle at that. I force encourage everyone to listen to terrible Christmas music and we open the awful $5 present s and get tipsy. It’s boozy and silly and SO MUCH FUN and I can’t wait to do it again.

I really feel you on the ‘too tired’ thing though. The way we dealt with that, is on ‘our’ Christmas celebration days, we work on stuff a little bit each through the week, then on the celebration day I book a half-day of holiday leave, and my partner comes home as early as he can. And we ease up on stuff like the dishes and cleaning. Because there’s only so much we can do! Be gentle and see if you can cut yourself a bit of slack.

Also: my partner’s family are coming to visit *us* next year. Is there a reason you can’t host one year? This depends on the family involved, and how much space you have, but could be worth at least exploring? Perhaps phrase it along the lines of how much you’d like to repay them for their hospitality and kindness, how much you love them, and how much it would mean to you to welcome them into *your* home?

And I love your ideas for traditions – tiramisu, egg nog, comedy and walking in the woods sound like such a beautiful Christmas.
posted by t0astie at 7:09 PM on November 8, 2011


I love Christmas. I love being around my insane family and participating in all sorts of activities even though I normally feel exhausted by the end of it. That being said, the best Christmas I ever had, and the one that's come to define Christmas for me was the one I celebrated while working in the field.

I was in Central America, with coworkers instead of family, in a climate that didn't feel or smell like the winter wonderland that Christmas had always been before. We worked exhausting hours: 12-14 days chasing after monkeys followed by data cleaning and chores. Our Christmas tree was a rat -eaten fake someone had brought down from the States years before, and most of our Christmas lights didn't work.

Since we couldn't have the Christmas we wanted to have, we made our own Christmas. We played Christmas songs while cooking and belted them out in the forest. We made hot apple cider with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and orange peels so the whole house smelled like Christmas. We cooked every single dish that was Christmasy that we could make. We decorated our tree with our 'ornaments': interesting bits of bones, dried flowers, seeds, and flagging tape. We constructed stockings out of old clothes and paper. Although only one of us believed in Christianity, a coworker had her relatives send us an advent calendar and wreath. My Jewish coworkers introduced us to Hanukkah, which we ended up celebrating three times due to delays with the postal service. On our last day before our holiday break, we got riproaringly drunk and watched cheesy Christmas movies while exchanging gifts. Even though I'll be spending this Christmas with my family and husband, I will still include in my Christmas some aspects of Hanukkah, that delicious apple cider, and put up a tree with character. Look through traditions, old and new, pick what you like and celebrate!

Christmas is about friends and family, but it's also up to you and your family unit how you want to celebrate (or not celebrate) Christmas. You and your husband will soon be a family. You are not required to spend Christmas with your future in-laws. If it makes you miserable, don't go or set firm limits. Being with his family means a lot to your fiance, but being with you should mean a lot too. What you need to do is find a happy compromise - something that leaves you both fulfilled. This may mean that you might have to spend a little bit more time with his family than you'd like, but not to the point where the holiday leaves you exhausted.

When bringing this up with your partner, speak more about building traditions with him than avoiding his family. If you must spend Christmas with his family, then find ways to ease the pain such as visiting for shorter periods or staying outside the family home. Although my husband and I don't have a lot of money, he'd go insane if he had to stay in my parent's house, so we either rent or stay with friends/other relatives. We also make sure we have plenty of alone time during our trip where we can build those little traditions.
posted by avagoyle at 8:38 PM on November 8, 2011


OK, so you want to start your own traditions, but you feel guilty going off on your own and not spending every holiday with your family? Adapt one of your own family's traditions to all your new holiday friend-groups! I've made my dad's WORLD-FAMOUS apple pie for friends, for homeless folks I knew, for other friends, and taught my ex's niece to make it too... There's a lovely (hilarious) story around his apple pie that communicates my family's sense of togetherness and my dad's amazing creativity.

In my opinion, the best way to start your own traditions is to take what you love from both of your family's traditions and leave the rest. If anyone gives you a hard time about not being there (or to assuage your own guilt) you can say, "I taught so-and-so daddy's WORLD-FAMOUS apple pie recipe." You get to put your own spin on your own history and build your own tradition all at once.
posted by bendy at 1:22 AM on November 9, 2011


I doubt anyone is still reading this, but I've been thinking about this. I always have lots of trouble explaining how I 'feel', so, sorry again....

Like I said, I really don't mind spending the holidays at his parents, I don't even mind spending every holiday there.

We do have the Christmas tree, and we do have Christmas stockings. We also have more stockings at his parents, both of us.
These 2 things, for example, make me sad, because we're not doing it out of heart, but because it's That Thing You're Supposed To Do.
In my mind I always feel "oh, okay, whatever, let's open our stockings, I guess". So we open our stockings. Ok, we did it. We can cross it off the To-Do list. Now what. Back to regular schedule.

One year we made an igloo, but it's just... we made an igloo. Not "we made an igloo while we laughed, and joked, and shared a warm drink, etc).

Same with the Oreo milkshake for new years. *monotone voice* Oh, let's make Oreo milkshake. Drink milkshake. Now it's time to go to bed. Back to schedule. There's no joy, excitement, no feeling.

One time we went for a walk. I don't mind going on my own, but he says it's not safe for a girl to go walk at a trail in the woods by herself. So he came with me (as a bodyguard?). I was making conversation about things around us (weather, trees, nice smell, terrain), but he wouldn't chat back... After a half hour or so I gave up and put my headphones on, for music. He got upset that I did that, like I was ignoring him.

So I CAN start things, but that's what part of what I mean when I say they don't mean anything. I can put the Christmas tree up, but I miss the happiness, the music, the giggling and goofing off. It doesn't happen. I CAN make my Tiramisu, but I'll do it, alone, and we will eat it. Without comment.

The Christmases I remember, every little thing was done with joy... or am I fooling myself? Do adults only do these things because they're supposed to?

So I guess I feel more lonely than anything. :-( How lame.
Blah.

I think I will go see friends instead, this year. I'll bring up some tasty things and presents. (My friends live far away so we don't see each other often since I can't drive. How I miss them...)
posted by midnightmoonlight at 3:05 PM on November 10, 2011


Another example, we bring dessert for the holidays. Actually, he makes it. I'm a great cook but horrible at baking. ;-)

But it's just "productivity" based. He makes it alone, because it has to be done, but not because "it's something we can both do together while having a good time".

Break-up time? :-P Ugh...!
posted by midnightmoonlight at 3:09 PM on November 10, 2011


"The Christmases I remember, every little thing was done with joy... or am I fooling myself? Do adults only do these things because they're supposed to?"

Sometimes. I mean, first, you're remembering through rose-colored glasses because that's what we do; and second, you're remembering through child-colored glasses. I didn't know until I was 30 that my mom finds tree-decorating-day (the day after Thanksgiving) a giant hassle. I always thought it was like HER FAVORITE THING because it was A GIANT BIG DEAL.

An awful lot of Christmas traditions are mostly fun for children or for the joy they bring children. I sort-of hate wrapping but I look forward to it now because I know how excited my toddler will be to see all those mysterious packages magically appear. The years between when my parents ran out of small children and acquired grandchildren were a lot more low key. Now that there are children again, everyone is excited to do the big stuff again.

Whether there are compatibility issues in your relationship is a different question, but it isn't unusual for all-adult Christmasses to be lower-key.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2011


The more you post, the more it sounds like the issue is less about your inlaws, and more between you and your partner.

It sounds like you're wanting feelings of shared warmth and meaning around these traditions, and that you're not finding those with him.

I just want to say that emotional warmth and resonance is a really important thing in a partnership. Please don't invalidate or ignore what you are really saying here.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:01 AM on November 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Break-up time? :-P Ugh...!

Well, have you talked with him about this? Not "in the moment" but just have a conversation (or a series of conversations) with him now... maybe start by talking about how your holidays were when you were growing up and going on from there to talk about how you wish your holiday was now (or what you wish you had more of). But give him room to talk about his expectations from the holiday season as well. You may find that you are simply operating from different points of the compass.

"The Christmases I remember, every little thing was done with joy... or am I fooling myself? Do adults only do these things because they're supposed to?"

Christmas can be a pretty stressful time for adults. (You note above that "I do have plenty of dreams :-) But there's time, money, fatigue, constraints"... and that holds true for just about every family in America.) Most kids don't see that. We celebrate the holiday season pretty heavily around here (I mean, my wedding was held on Dec 23rd, in front of my mom's Christmas tree) but there are absolutely things that are not done with joy ... things that are simply done because they must be done. But we do try to find ways to make even more mundane things (like wrapping presents) fun. But we don't always succeed. I would absolutely say that to some extent you're fooling yourself. My kid is five, though, and I would never, ever let that part (time, money, fatigue) show to him. I want him to feel like the season is magical. And magic takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes.

In my mind I always feel "oh, okay, whatever, let's open our stockings, I guess". So we open our stockings. Ok, we did it. We can cross it off the To-Do list. Now what. Back to regular schedule.

I'm not sure from what you've written if that is your boyfriend's reaction ... "back to regular schedule" ... or if it's the way you feel about it, or if it's some combination of his reaction (or lack thereof) that is driving that feeling in you.

FWIW, I found that a lot of the magic of stockings went out if it once I was the one filling the stockings. Because I have to fill mine as well. Last year I quite literally went around the house to find enough "little things" to fill up my stocking (and my husbands) - we didn't have the budget to do stockings for everyone, but didn't want my son wondering why his stocking was full of wonders and ours were empty. Nobody fills your stocking once you're Santa. :-)

I wonder, though, how much of your wish for the way the holiday was is a wish to reclaim your childhood and how much is a wish to recreate a kind of Norman Rockwell mythic holiday that never really existed anywhere at all. This is something that I personally struggled with for a long time ... holidays had to be a certain kind of warm and joyful because that's what they showed in the Hallmark and Kraft foods ads, right? A lot of what you talk about (playing in the snow, eggnog and funny movies, opening gifts at midnight under a sparkling tree) that has a very mythic quality to it. So, you may want to examine where those wishes come from. It's possible that you're trying to hold your holiday to a media-created standard that doesn't really exist anywhere.

So: Talk to your partner about this - but not in a confrontational way. Just in a "hey, what are your expectations for this" kind of way. That's the first step. But also, try and figure out if the measuring stick you're using is realistic or not. Because it's pretty easy to fall into the trap of thinking things are supposed to be a certain way, just because it's what we see in the media. And the reality is, for most of us, the holidays are a heck of a lot of work interspersed with a few magical moments that make the work worthwhile.
posted by anastasiav at 10:21 PM on November 11, 2011


Hmm... I don't think I'm being unrealistic, I didn't grow up in a materialistic way.

When I grew up, besides presents, holidays seemed to be more for the adults. Very grown-up type of partying. The kids were more of an aside, besides the presents (adults did not trade presents at all between each other, also, children only got one present per adult couple). The adults would do all the partying, and the kids and teenagers would go and play by themselves. Ofcourse, nowadays things are different, children are more often than not, kept under a very tight watch. So I suppose nowadays Christmas is for children, since parents don't have the freedom to let children off their radar... Grr!

A lot of the joy really was for the season. Since a little kid (5?) I would do the baking, house and tree decorating, My mom didn't have much work besides the Christmas Eve dinner. Even us kids picked what present we wanted, and we'd go buy it together. The boys would cut a tree, go find moss, those sort of things. But the children did the cleaning, setting the table, etc, dusting, all that stuff. I even wrapped the presents, once my older sister taught me how. So, yes, I'd even wrap my own present, as weird as that may sound to many! Just all the preparation was exciting enough!

But today I'm an adult, not a child. It's very strange for me to decorate the apartment when no one will visit (friends and family live far away). So I think I might go and visit friends this time around, with some tasty drinks and snacks.

I'm not sure about Kraft/Hallmark, where I grew up we didn't even have snow (or eggnog, though we certainly had tiramisu ;D).

I think it's really about lack of shared warmth... loneliness. Well I'm glad I figured this one out, even if in the process I pissed people off with my frustration (Sorry, and thank you, Mefites <3 It's amazing how something so simple can be buried so deep)
posted by midnightmoonlight at 2:14 PM on November 13, 2011


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