On December 16, 1961, twenty-one-year-old Aquiles Sanchez married nineteen-year-old Carmen Rodriguez. Six days later, just three days before Christmas Day, they had their first fight.
On that day the young couple moved into a small studio apartment and began setting up Christmas decorations. That’s when they discovered that the Christmas traditions held most dear in both their families were at odds with one another. In Carmen’s family, the Christmas tree was the most important symbol of the season. In Aquiles’s family, it was the nativity scene. And with little money between them, and even less space in their tiny apartment, Carmen and Aquiles simply could not have both. They would have to choose. But attempts to persuade each other to the other’s side quickly turned to bickering and resentment.
Then the couple did something it takes most couples years to learn.
They decided to look for a third option. In other words, they decided to compromise.
They spread out a set of old magazines on the kitchen table to look for ideas. Eventually, one picture caught Aquiles’s eye. It was a Christmas ornament that looked like both a Christmas tree and a nativity scene. It was basically a two-foot-tall triangular frame wrapped in evergreen branches, so it essentially resembled a short Christmas tree. In the center of the frame, however, was a nicely sculpted figure of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. It wasn’t a perfect Christmas tree. And it wasn’t a perfect nativity scene. But together, it was perfect.
Aquiles built a triangular frame from wood. Carmen picked up some fallen evergreen branches from the floor of a Christmas tree vendor. And she found small porcelain images of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus for the center of the triangle. Then together they decorated the frame with the branches, ribbons, balls, a few lights, and even a star on top. They couldn’t rightly call it a Christmas “tree” or a “nativity scene.” So they decided to call it their “little Christmas Triangle.” With still a few days before the 25th, a Sanchez Christmas tradition was born.
Every year for the past fifty-three years, Aquiles and Carmen have put up their Christmas Triangle. And during the years they had small children at home, the day the Christmas Triangle was set up and decorated was the most cherished day of the season. Aquiles and Carmen would tell the story of how the Triangle was born, first to their children, and years later to their grandchildren. So year after year, generations of the Sanchez family learned and relearned the value of compromise.
They learned that compromise isn’t something that happens by accident. It’s an intentional thing, a choice. As long as you’re fighting for whatever it is you want, you won’t make any progress finding a compromise. It was only when Aquiles and Carmen dropped their attempt to win the argument, and picked up some magazines to find a solution they would both be happy with, that any real compromise happened. So any time a conflict arose in the Sanchez house, they asked themselves, “What’s the ‘little Christmas Triangle’ solution?” Usually they found one. They just had to look for it.
On the day each of their children got married, Aquiles and Carmen gave each his or her own Christmas Triangle to keep the tradition alive. Their youngest son, Hector, and his new bride, Milagros, put that tradition to use within days of getting that wedding gift—on their honeymoon.
The couple spent their honeymoon in Las Vegas in October. An avid baseball fan, Hector wanted nothing more than to watch the World Series on TV. But for Milagros, wasting three hours in an amazing city watching baseball on television was the furthest thing from her mind. “We’re in Vegas! I don’t want to miss anything here. I want to see all the sights!” Like Hector’s parents thirty-six years earlier, he and his new bride were about to have their first fight only a few days into their marriage.
The couple quickly asked themselves, “What’s the ‘little Triangle’ solution here?” After a few minutes of thought, they came up with this creative solution: In just about every restaurant, bar, and casino, there is a TV where the game would be playing live. “Let’s bar-, hotel-, and restaurant-hop our way around Las Vegas. We’ll stop for a short while in each place and watch a little of the game. Then move on.” From the Bellagio, to Rio, to the New York-New York hotel, they took in all the must-see attractions. And at each one, Hector got to see a little of the game. His wife even commented when the night was over, “That’s the baseball game I have enjoyed the most. It was like a scavenger hunt!”
The spirit of compromise in the little Christmas Triangle had served them well and has continued to do so over their sixteen years of marriage. And it can serve you well, too, even if you don’t have one of your own. When conflict arises in your life, ask yourself, “What’s the ‘little Christmas Triangle’ solution here?”
[You can find this and 100 other character-building stories in my book, Parenting with a Story: Real-life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share. Sign up for my newsletter below to get a story a week delivered to your inbox.]