Embracing Holiday Traditions with Our Changing Family


Over the years our family has changed, as all families do. It has grown and lost members and moved around. We’ve tried to adjust our family holiday traditions embracing the changes.

Being all together isn’t as straight forward as it once was! The family and extended family is now spread out over eight time zones, four states and two countries. And our losses will always add elements of sadness.

So how do we continue to enjoy our family holiday traditions? I have a few ideas.

Family outside sitting at a table, toasting one another with wine glasses, celebrating Thanksgiving dinner.

Keep the holiday traditions you love

Every family has a different set of beloved traditions. For example, I love to decorate and fully celebrate each season. I have a collection of turkeys that make an appearance every Thanksgiving, Santas and lots of mood lighting for Christmas. I still decorate all-out even if just my husband and I enjoy it most of the time.

We hang everyone’s stocking every year, regardless if they will physically be with us on Christmas. We have a Swedish smorgasbord during Christmas week, continuing the tradition of my mother-in-law. And since my mom passed away I’m the only one who likes eggnog. But I still toast her with it every year.

Thinking about your favorite holiday traditions what comes to mind? What brings you joy, without an inkling of stress or ‘I should do this..’? Those traditions are the keepers!

Give up the holiday traditions you don’t enjoy

This one seems so straightforward and I’d argue that families should do this anytime! Why continue traditions that you don’t enjoy? Life really is short; it isn’t worth spending time on traditions that you don’t love.

Many years ago I stopped sending holiday cards. As much as I enjoy receiving them I never enjoyed the process of sending piles of them. So now I send just a handful, to loved ones I don’t see often. Friends and family with empty mailboxes, I hope you understand that I still love you!

Any traditions that don’t, in the words of Marie Kondo, “spark joy”, are ones you should think about giving up.

Create new holiday traditions embracing your family as it is now

This Thanksgiving marks my 26th year cooking the big meal. We’ve hosted Thanksgiving for family and friends with more than 20 guests but this year, it’s just three of us. (Writer Laura has a list of 14 Thanksgiving traditions for a small family you should check out). 

The year when both my mother and mother-in-law passed away I was too sad to consider anything but the smallest of Thanksgivings. Instead of roasting a whole turkey that year, I made a stuffed turkey breast. We loved it and it is perfect for our now smaller Thanksgiving celebrations. We haven’t roasted a whole turkey since.

Instead of all of us heading out to cut down a Christmas tree now it’s just my husband and me. We pick out a great tree in record time, then decorate it while watching the movie “Elf.” It’s a festive and peaceful way to continue this tradition, without any arguments about which tree is best.

We’ve added new Portuguese traditions to our holidays with the addition of our new son-in-law. In Portugal it is customary on New Year’s Eve to eat 12 raisins at midnight for good luck, one for each month ahead in the new year. If our daughter and son-in-law are here we do this together at midnight and if they’re not, don’t tell them but we probably did this a couple hours earlier!

It’s really always been about being together

What makes holidays special has everything to do with just being together. And that’s not always possible anymore. But we figure out ways to celebrate and connect, and honor those who have passed.

Whether it’s through long phone calls, Zoom, postponed holidays or best of all, in-person, we still gather. And we will always celebrate the holidays and each other.

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Hello, I’m Nancy! I’m a New Hampshire native and have enjoyed living in the Seacoast with my husband, stepdaughter and son for quite a while, decades in fact! I’ve been a software engineer, home stager, a school and community volunteer and a stay-at-home mom. I wrote a weekly running column for Seacoast Sunday/Foster’s Daily Democrat/Portsmouth Herald for many years and reported on road races including my dream assignments at the Boston Marathon. Not surprisingly, I’m an avid runner and am happiest outdoors! Nothing beats the sweet exhaustion after a long and active day spent outside in every season. Our nest is now generally empty with both kids navigating their own adult lives and my husband and I are enjoying our time together and with our two great cats. Motherhood (and life) is ever-changing and I’m adjusting to this new stage and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been.


  1. Loved this article Nancy. A good reminder that although our families change, if we are flexible we will find that holiday joy in new ways. For me it is through the eyes of my grandchildren.

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