How my blended family created new holiday traditions

The holidays mean different things for every family — from yearly traditions and classic dishes, to must-see movies and misadventures. For me, the holidays have always been both special and extra emotional. When I was six years old, my mom passed away, and my dad remarried a few years later. In loss, I gained an amazing stepmom and two step-siblings. And through it all, I can’t imagine them not being a part of my life.

With a blended family comes an entirely new territory to navigate with various obstacles and joys along the way — so too comes the opportunity to make your own traditions.

Christmas at a young age was really about getting into the holiday spirit, especially around school plays. My late mom was always there to help with whatever creative endeavor my elementary school had planned that December. She was the brains behind it all, dreaming up creative and unforgettable costumes that I still think about today.


As a former only child, my Christmas mornings usually involved opening up my stocking alongside my parents. We were a small unit of three, but had our own precious moments in the wee hours of Christmas morning. And looking up at our tree, it was so us. My mom, with her own creative eye, had re-worked paper fans in an even more fantastic way, spray painting them gold and silver. It was truly her signature mark, with each beautiful fan adorning the tree like nothing else could.

Those fans have stayed with me through it all, from one family unit to another.


The reality of starting a new life with a blended family is really just that — “starting”: You have to begin somewhere.

Like a mash-up song, it’s about creating something entirely new and authentic by drawing on the best parts of the originals.

You collectively get to write the next chapter of your life on your own terms while needing to be open to change in whatever form it takes. Sometimes it might get messy (and there will be tears), but isn’t that the case for every family?

Fast forward to 10-year-old me: Christmas morning in our newly formed family was something else. I wondered what opening up stockings would be like now. Did I have to wait for my brother and sister? (The answer was yes). Who was in charge of leaving out cookies for Santa? (Honestly it’s still a lazy group effort). There were so many questions and, in time, we’d figure out what worked for us. Learning to be patient while opening presents also took time.

Sixteen years later, I think we’ve finally figured out a way to have our own moments of present-opening that allow for the perfect photo opportunity without driving each other crazy.


Patience was also needed when staging the photo we’d use for our annual Christmas card. When I was young, it seemed that I was the only fidgety one. But trying to take the perfect photo of a family of five different personalities is a true production — especially during my and my step-siblings’  angsty high school years, when we smiled with our mouths closed to hide our braces.

It’s hard to please everyone, but I’ve learned that sometimes you need to sacrifice your own happiness for the happiness of your family. Sure, I’ve looked confused in plenty of photos, but there’s always another shot the next year.

Holidays in a blended family can be tricky at first, but the thing is, everyone is in the same boat together. We each brought something to the Christmas Eve dinner table and, in turn, made something of our own. In building our own traditions, we never forgot the past and those we lost because the holidays are really a time to remember.

And when we decorate the tree every year, I love to put up my late mom’s silver and gold fans, even if some of them have seen better days.

To me, they still glimmer next to the string lights, just like when I was little.

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