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When Holiday Traditions Have to Change




After hosting Christmas Day feasts for 33 years straight, Elizabeth Bange of Huntington is passing the torch.

"I did it up royal," recalls Bange, 63, a retired school librarian, of the lavish brunches, afternoon hors d'oeuvres and sit-down dinners she served for 20 to 30 family members and friends, including the Jewish relatives of her first husband, Morty Levy.

"There were people coming and going. My sister's family came from Connecticut on their way to see her husband's family in Rockville Centre," she says. "It was great, but things are changing."

Her daughters grew up, moved away and started families of their own. Her sister's children did the same. Grandparents passed away. Her first husband died in 1999, and in 2003 she married Robert Bange, 67, a retired IBM executive.

"When it got down to a small group and one of my own children wasn't going to come this year, I said it was time to pass the torch," Bange says.

Holiday traditions are important parts of family life, but, as Bange says, sometimes they have to change. A death, a divorce or a new marriage can precipitate changes. Grandparents downsizing from the family home to a small condo can force the celebration to relocate. Children moving away and grandchildren growing up can alter family dynamics. When change happens, it can throw a family tradition into a tailspin, leaving relatives wondering if a longtime custom will go by the wayside or if someone else will carry it forth. And sometimes, it's best to let the old way of doing things go and find a whole new way to celebrate.

If you're faced with trying to maintain old family traditions or create new ones, remember that it will require thought, care and preparation.

For example, if the family matriarch still wants to host the holiday feast, but it's becoming more difficult - because of her advancing age or ill health, or because the festivities have outgrown her home - it may be time to talk about changing the venue.

Transition time

The transition is easier when someone in the family volunteers to carry on the traditions, says Marion Somers, who operates a Brooklyn-based elder-care management practice and is the author of "Elder Care Made Easier: Doctor Marion's 10 Steps to Help You Care for an Aging Loved One" (Addicus Books, $16.95).

If a switch is necessary, proceed with caution, she adds. For example, if you need to move the celebration from Grandma's house to a new location, she recommends taking along the heirloom turkey platter she's used at every holiday dinner for the past 30 years, "so she feels something of hers is there."

A family member also should help Grandma get to the new place and ensure that she's not shunted aside but rather feels like an honored guest while she's there.

Be careful how you broach the idea, too, so the person doesn't feel as if an important part of her life and identity is being taken away.

"I find old people can change and can be more accepting of new ideas and new trends, but it can't be thrust upon them. You have to tell them the rationale and discuss it with them," Somers says. "Make sure the older person's feelings are never hurt and that they're never, never excluded."

Downsizing from a large home to a smaller place can also upend your holiday festivities.

In October, after Walter Gizze, 64, and his wife Barbara, 63, moved from their four-bedroom ranch in Dix Hills to a two-bedroom townhouse in Melville, they decided they didn't have enough room to host Thanksgiving dinner.

"Everybody, for 31 years, came to us," says Walter Gizze, co-owner of Gizay Michaels Hair Salon in Huntington. "Downsizing from a big house to a smaller place, we weren't sure this year if we were able to work this out and have as many people."

In addition, some very important family members would be missing: Gizze's father, 91, was planning to stay home in Bensonhurst with his wife, 87, who doesn't travel, and Gizze's mother-in-law, 97, in Mount Vernon is in poor health. So, along with other relatives, the Gizzes traveled to a nephew's home in Scarsdale with dishes in tow, including Barbara's crowd-pleasing sweet potatoes and stuffed artichokes. The next day, they took plates of food to their parents.

Although the change was a challenge, "I try to look at the glass half full instead of half empty," Walter Gizze says. With all the changes, he cherishes that their parents, though advancing in age, are still with them, even if they can't come to the celebrations. Those who do attend can focus on memories of their good times together and share those memories around the table.

"The young ones listen, and they carry on from there," he says. "We always say a prayer, and we always toast the people who couldn't be with us. That's very key in our family."

Barbara Gizze says the change hit her even harder than giving up her longtime home. "We love so much to all be together, and I love everyone to be at my house. That part was the hardest for me," she says, praising her nephew, a "tremendous chef," for taking it on. "I'm happy for less work and the physical exhaustion that was always part of it. But it's like passing a baton. It would be awfully sad if I had no one who wanted to continue the tradition. That would have made all of this way harder."

Uniting traditions

Creating new traditions can be just as challenging as altering old ones. If you're newly married, you'll need to discuss how you will celebrate the holidays as a couple, and with your families and in-laws.

Will you spend Christmas at his folks' house for dinner and New Year's Eve with your family? Will you spend the holidays with both sets of families at their homes or invite them to yours?

"You should discuss what your expectations are and decide what aspects from each religion and upbringing you will incorporate in your own celebrations going forward," says Diane Forden, editor in chief of Bridal Guide Magazine. "By integrating aspects from each of your backgrounds, you will embrace the new union and establish your own core of family traditions and values."

Celebrating the holidays with your families and new in-laws is important, but also remember to save time to be alone together, Forden says. "Vow to spend at least one celebration [with] just the two of you, to begin your own family traditions."

After a divorce

Newly divorced parents need to help their kids make the adjustment to a celebration that won't include the other parent.

"Take your kids to buy their other parent a gift," suggests April Masini, an online dating and relationship advice columnist.

"No matter how bloody the battle between you and your ex, use the holidays to take your children out to the mall to buy the other parent a present from all of you.... Open your heart and stretch your own love to include people who are different from you - including your ex. You have no idea how good this will make your children feel."

If you're newly separated or divorced, try to maintain some happy, long-standing traditions and don't be afraid to start some new ones, says Jennifer Coleman, a counselor and life transition coach at the Rosen Law Firm in Raleigh, N.C.

For example, if you've always picked out your Christmas tree as a family, make separate celebrations at Mom's house and Dad's house. If Mom got the angel tree-topper, in the divorce, Dad could ask the kids to help him make or buy a tree-topper and then plan a date to help him decorate his tree.

"Your child really wants time with you," Coleman says. "Instead of buying new ornaments, you can string popcorn or rent movies, and sit around and make a garland."

And if Mom or Dad is dating someone new during the holidays, make sure to plan time alone with your child, so they know they don't have to compete for your time, she says. Show your children that there will be more people to celebrate the holidays with, not less time with you.

New perspectives

On Saturday, Elizabeth Bange hosted a holiday brunch for her daughters Jennifer, 35, and Carolyn, 32, their husbands and children, and volunteered to baby-sit while the adults went shopping.

This Saturday, she'll host a dinner for about 20 members of her husband Robert's family for the fourth year in a row.

And for the first time on Christmas day, she's looking forward to having dinner at her sister's house in Connecticut.

"I've been there for Thanksgiving but not for Christmas. I've never seen her tree or all her decorations because it's always been down here," Bange says. "She has always wanted to have Christmas up there, but she always had to come to Long Island to see her husband's family.... I finally made it there after 33 years."

Bange recently broke the news to her first husband's family, whom she continued inviting to Christmas dinner after he died.

"My first husband's family is very sad that they're not coming to Christmas [dinner] after 30 years, but it had to end some time," she says. "I felt very guilty, but what can I do? I will miss it, but it really is a lot of work. I'm sort of looking forward to being a guest."


Recognize when old traditions are no longer working. If they're causing more stress than they're worth, abandon them.

As far as possible, include the affected family members in the discussion of how traditions will change.

If you've felt constrained in the past by rigid family customs, take joy in creating new ones that are meaningful to you.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.


Your rating: None Average: 3.5 (2 votes)


I think that's a bit wrong. I

I think that's a bit wrong. I mean yeah, hosting 30+ hungry relatives at a time is quite challenging, but it's not a good reason to break the traditions. In our egoistic society where nobody cares about each other, family is the only fortress of hope. You don't have to arrange dull sit-down dinners where you are in charge of everything, but you can alternate the process a little bit and involve all the family members into preparation: cook together, watch family videos, and do whatever your family loves the most and just have fun.

I think personally I'm

I think personally I'm incapable of establishing new traditions. I've tried to do it several times, but no ritual stayed within the family...I don't know what it is connected with, but it upsets me a bit. I have lots of ideas, but I don't know how to make everything properly, to create a celebrating tradition of my own

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