Don’t get me wrong; my husband is a loving, romantic man at heart who spoils me 365 days of the year. But Valentine’s Day is tough. Holidays in general are tough. Early into our dating relationship, we realized we didn’t speak the same language about holidays in general. Part of that could be cultural – my husband is Chinese American and I grew up in a primarily Dutch American home.
For me growing up, holidays were a big deal. We had family get-togethers for everything. We gave Hallmark cards for everything – even St. Patrick’s day. (I think maybe we should have had stock in Hallmark). Even Valentine’s Day was a big deal for us kids. We’d pick out our school Valentines, get mom flowers, and help dad make dinner or take mom out. With holidays, came a lot of expectation for something special, something unique, something grand. As kids, sometimes we would live in eagerness from one holiday to the next.
For my husband, holidays were not that big of a deal. They were more like just another day on the calendar. Celebrations were simple. Family lived far away, so most holidays were quieter days.
Soon into our dating relationship I realized I just didn’t get it. I thought, “Why was Christmas decorating not a bigger deal? Where was my Hallmark card, roses and romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day? Why didn’t he feel the need to plan our first holidays together more in advance? Doesn’t he know this is important?”
We are still learning to speak the same language when it comes to holidays, but here are some things we’ve learned along the way.
Ask each other, “What was _______________ (insert holiday) like for your growing up? Do you have a special memory of _________________________ (insert holiday) that you can remember from your childhood/adolescence?”
It’s common to assume that everyone else has the same experiences as you growing up. Talking about particular holidays in advance and asking these questions can help educate you about your spouse and also make great conversation starters.
2. Share your desires.
Ask each other, “What was most special or important to you at _______________ (insert holiday)? Is there a particular way you’d like me to show you love at ________________________ (insert holiday)?”
Be honest what is important to you at holidays, especially how you’d like to receive love. Early on in our relationship I expected my husband to know that I wanted to be surprised on my birthday – either with a small gift, a card/note, or an experience together. Even when it comes to this Valentine’s Day, I find myself expecting him to know that I’d like to receive words of encouragement and flowers as well as spend time with him.
Telling him how I’d like to receive love from him helps us both. I do not hide disappointment well and I can’t expect him to read my mind. On the flip side, knowing how he wants to experience love can help me create that for him rather going off of my own ideas of what he may like (although with time our ideas have been growing to be more accurate).
3. Make your own traditions.
Ask each other, “What traditions would you like to set for _______________ (insert holiday)? How can we make ________________________ (insert holiday) unique to us and our values?”
The great thing about dating and marriage is that you have the opportunity to create your own ways of celebrating, your own rhythms of life. You’re can take what is most important to both of you and create from there. This has been one of the most rewarding things about coming together. As time goes on we get to pick and choose what we want to include in the rhythm of our family life.
For example, a tradition we started this past year at Thanksgiving was not having a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving. Instead, the day of Thanksgiving we started spending the day serving at the Los Angeles Rescue Mission. Then later on that weekend, we hosted a Thanksgiving meal with our community of friends. Giving rather than gorging.
Another tradition has been our birthdays, instead of getting one another gifts; we’ve tried to create experiences for us to connect with others by using those resources instead on throwing parties. Relationships over stuff.
Above all else, being quick to admit our faults and quick to forgive has helped us approach each holiday with openness and love. It takes work, work, and more work. But it’s worth it and gets only sweeter with time!