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Out of Sync Holidays—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Our holiday plans didn’t work out as we would have liked.

Due to an unexpected hospital stay for one family member, and an unavoidable work commitment for another, my mother-in-law has offered to host a dinner and gift exchange at her home in late January. Do you think this will confuse our children, ages 3 and 7, and their cousins, ranging from 2 to 12-years-old?

That’s Not What the Calendar Says

Dear TNWtCS,

Public events related to holidays generally conform to dates on the calendar. These would include decorations in and around public buildings, shows and concerts related to the holiday, perhaps parades and fireworks, and religious services at a church, mosque, or synagogue. Conveniently, school and work schedules generally accommodate down time when most people are planning family get togethers or family get-aways. Likewise, when companies market to the masses, shopping, dining, and travel “specials” are timed to add excitement to your holiday fun. Many holiday traditions are practiced en masse in public places, however others are carried out at home or elsewhere – just for the family.

Family celebrations are where you have a lot of leeway for scheduling a time to be together. And for considering the diverse needs of each member of the family.

The More We Get Together
If you decided to go ahead with a celebration with your immediate family according to the calendar, a second celebration with cousins and others is sure to be well-received. You said that gifts would be exchanged? I don’t think any of the children will have a problem with that.

In some families, repeating holidays with different family members is the norm. Guest lists are split between two gatherings because of divorce or other continuing animosities. Sometimes Thanksgiving is observed more than one belt-loosening time, house-hopping on a fourth Thursday in November. Or divided between Thursday for one side of the family and Friday for the other. Or Saturday. Or Sunday. If your family participates in a Friendsgiving as well, you’ll find that the number of meals among people who are happy to be together makes one no less thankful.

Time Stands Still
A preschooler may be able to recite the days of the week in order, but does she really grasp the concept of a calendar? A child isn’t concerned with ordering her days or even her hours around the needs of others. Willingly or unwillingly, she goes where she is supposed to go when her grown-ups take her there. The present moment is the only time she can be expected to deal with. You tell her that dinner will be ready soon, and sure enough, here you come to steer her toward cleaning up and getting to the table. You tell her that we are all going to Grandma’s on Sunday, and she certainly expects this to happen, because you said so, even though she may be surprised to realize when the time comes and she’s busy playing, “You mean now?” Children who are old enough to question the new date are old enough to learn that in families there are often compromises in order to meet everyone’s needs.

Families have gathered early or late for birthdays and holidays for various reasons including military deployment, illness, birth, and death. The time to come together is when everyone can.

A charming tale of time shifting was told to me by a grandmother who was expecting her grandchildren to spend Christmas with her and her husband. The nine-year-old called to ask, “Grandma, did you hide the eggs?” Because they lived far apart and only got together occasionally, the children associated a visit to Grandma’s house with a prior Easter egg hunt – originally on Easter. Although subsequent visits were not always for Easter, when Grandma understood that the children expected to repeat this tradition, she happily complied and has done so for every visit since.

Whose Calendar is It Anyway?
Coordinating calendars has become a thing. In simpler times, work was done in daylight hours. A community observed the same Sabbath and similar holiday traditions. Family members lived close to one another. Now we can click a keyboard to communicate with people in any time zone and, more readily than before, welcome family members with different religious beliefs and practices.

We gather for holidays to acknowledge the significant people in our lives. The meaning and traditions of a holiday will vary from family to family, sometimes blending traditions from different cultures.

If you are postponing New Year’s Eve, for example, consider celebrating with a festive meal and fireworks during Chinese New Year, also known as Tet in VietNam, or Spring Festival, anytime from January 25 to February 8, 2020. Gifts, especially for children, are appropriate, too. Planning ahead, this holiday will occur February 12, in 2021.

The Christian holiday of Three Kings’ Day, also known as Twelfth Night or Epiphany, on January 6  is an opportunity to gather the extended family for sharing food and gifts, particularly if you had to postpone Christmas. In some families, Twelfth Night is the traditional date to have one last party before taking down the Christmas decorations. Just get it in before Lent begins on February 26 to accommodate those who are abstaining from meat, wine, chocolate, or something else essential to the celebration.

Other religions also leave room for alternative days, and alternative ways, for celebrating.

The Jewish holiday of Passover lasts for a week, giving more than one chance for the family to hold its seder. There are two dates for celebrating Purim, depending on where the celebration takes place, but there is also precedent in Jewish history to add extra Purims around the year. Just to complicate things, or provide more options, the Hebrew month in which Purim occurs is Adar, which is repeated as a Leap Month seven times in a 19-year cycle. In a leap year, everyone can celebrate “Little Purim” in the first Adar, and regular Purim a month later. Pick the Purim date that best fits the family’s schedules!

If you have family members who practice the Muslim faith, you need to coordinate calendars around the dates of Ramadan each year. Ramadan is a 29 to 30-day period of introspection and prayer observed by fasting during daylight. Since this lunar calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the start and end dates of Ramadan shift backward each year. In 2020 this could affect your Mothers’ Day plans in May. Family breakfast at 5 am or dinner at 8 pm?

In 2022, Easter Sunday falls within Ramadan, and Passover is from the Friday before Easter through the Friday after. Actually, a roasted lamb, consumed after sunset, would be the perfect dish to honor all three holidays.

Holiday family gatherings are wonderful and memorable. But it’s nice if the whole family can participate.

Dr. Debbie

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.

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