Widower Wednesday: Making New Holiday Traditions


From the emails in my inbox this last week, appears that one of the big holiday stressors for women dating widowers is being involved in holiday traditions that the widower and the late wife shared. It could be small things like where to buy a Christmas tree and what Christmas party to attend to bigger issues like where they spend the holidays or when to open Christmas presents. Of course, the big commonality (and stressor) is that these women share is that the widowers insist that these traditions must be maintained and refuses to compromise or consider doing something different.

Committed relationships bring a lot of adjustments for widowers. Some adjustments are hard to make if they’ve become accustomed to doing things one way or another year after year. I was only married just shy of three years to the late wife but had already become used to the way we did things. I didn’t realize this until my first holiday season with Marathon Girl when she started making suggestions on what she wanted to do during the holidays. It was so unlike how the late wife that most of the holiday season felt different. I don’t mean to imply that the holiday season was worse. It wasn’t. Instead there were a lot of mental and internal changes I had to make in order to enjoy the new season. I share this because a lot of these widowers might be having a hard time doing things differently during the holidays—especially if they’ve spent 20 years or more so doing things a certain way. Change is harder for some than for others.

What concerns me is when the widower refuses to compromise or doesn’t see why he should have to spend the holidays doing something different.  For example one woman wrote to me and talked about how the widower wanted to spend Christmas in California because that’s what they, meaning he and the late wife, always did. While she wasn’t opposed to spending the holidays away from home, she suggested that they go somewhere just as sunny and warm as California, he refused and said that it wouldn’t be Christmas unless they spent a week in a certain town.

My first suggestion in these situations is, as always, to talk to the widower and see why he feels strongly about uphlding certain holiday traditions. Hopefully he’ll be willing to at least add some of yours to the list or create one or two new ones that the two of you can call your own. If he refuses to budge, it indicates a larger problem like not being ready to move on or having difficulty adjusting to the new life. Whatever the reason for his refusal to compromise, it doesn’t bode well for your relationship. You may want to consider spending the holidays with friends and family who can make this time of year more enjoyable.

On a side note, I’m more tolerant of keeping traditions when there are minor children at home—especially if their mom is recently deceased—since traditions can give them some sort of normalcy to hold on too without their mom at Christmas time. I’m a lot less open to traditions just for the sake of traditions. Even then, he should be willing to do something that makes you feel like part of the holidays instead of someone who’s intruding on family rituals.