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The Holiday Talk


Now that we’re officially in the thick of the holiday season (how was everyone’s Thanksgiving?), this week seemed like the perfect time to talk about the tricky beast that is navigating families, both new and old, around the holidays. Because no matter how much time passes in my relationship, the holidays are when forming a baby family feels like the most work. (Seriously, how are we still going to four or five Christmases each year?) And yet, as I’ve written before, there is no time of year I love more. So this week we’re talking about the mess and the joy that comes from blending baby family and family of origin around the holiday table, starting with a post from KB that sums up this time of year with a kind of transitional grace I can only hope to muster one of these days myself.

–Maddie for Maternity Leave

The Holiday Talk | A Practical Wedding

There comes a time in every relationship where you need to have The Talk. Actually, depending on where you are in the relationship, there can be several Talks. The DTR Talk (aka, Defining the Relationship). The Sex Talk (Tested? Birth control? Whips and chains?). The Marriage Talk (Ooh, shiny!). And—The Holiday Talk. Otherwise known as opening negotiations on whether you will spend the holidays with your family or your partner’s. In one conversation, you can potentially establish a pattern for years of shuttling back and forth between families, whether it’s across the street, state, country, or the world.

So far, I have managed to avoid The Talk. My strategy has always been, simply—it’s not happening. We’re not engaged, we’re not married, so you spend the holidays with your family, I will spend the holidays with mine. No drama. No hauling gifts back and forth. No running madly through airports. No strange holiday rituals involving sauerkraut and charades. And, most importantly, no whining from any family member.

Sure, your parents might say, “Oh, so we won’t be seeing your girl/boyfriend for Christmas? That’s such a shame.” Yet you know that the real guilt-trip would rain down if you were the one missing the festivities. As in, “But this could be Grandpa’s last holiday…” And, despite the fact that Grandpa can do more one-armed push-ups than John Cena, you capitulate. However, with his-and-hers holidays, I avoided all that and spent my Oh Holy Nights happily eating Moose Munch on my parents’ couch. Yes, it was lonely at times—but more Moose Munch for me!

It wasn’t until September, roughly six months after my fiancé and I got engaged that I realized that my strategy had now officially expired. We were sitting on the couch and I was watching Ghost Hunters on TV while my fiancé slaughtered dragons (or vampires? elves? I don’t know) on his laptop. Without looking up from his screen, he casually said, “Hey, we should probably get plane tickets soon—I mean, assuming we’re going to Michigan for Christmas.”

Crap. I hummed something non-committal.

As he pumped another magical creature full of lead, he glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and quietly said, “You know, we’re going to have to do it sometime.”

Crap—no, sh*t. He was right. I mean, I could put it off another year, make some noise that we shouldn’t do the holiday-splitting thing until we were married. But that wasn’t fair.

So we engaged in a negotiation that resembled what I imagine organizing a professional baseball team’s game calendar must be like. We played mix-and-match, debating how many days we should spend at home and how many away. I suggested that we should just do our own Christmas in the Caribbean or something like that, which was vetoed quickly as another (warmer, coconut-scented) version of putting off this decision yet again. We hopscotched around work calendars and personal obligations. After a while, we agreed that his parents would get the “Engaged Christmas” and, next year, mine would get the “First Married Christmas.” Thereafter, we would trade holidays on an annual basis unless and until extenuating circumstances prompted a renewed negotiation.

Done and done. Right?

Not quite. Because now I had to actually break it to my parents that I would, in fact, be spending the holidays away from them for the very first time. Crap—no, sh*t. (Again.)

I had no idea how this could go. Would there be tears? Would there be anger? Would there be disownment? It was this uncertainty (ok, cowardice) that made me avoid this issue with every single boyfriend before my fiancé.

I put it off for weeks and weeks, until I realized that if I put it off any longer, there weren’t going to be any plane tickets left that cost less than one billion dollars. “Hey, that would make the decision for us!” I brightly said to my fiancé, who responded, with full-throated exasperation, “JUST CALL THEM!”

So I finally called my mom.

As I dialed, I mentally listed the ways in which I could bring up our travel plans. Gentle, subtle ways. But when she answered, I did the verbal equivalent of ripping off the band-aid:

“SoweareprobablygoingtoMichiganforChristmasIhopethatsokay!”

I braced myself, holding the phone slightly away from my ear. Silence.

“Oh,” she said. “Will you be doing Thanksgiving with us, then?”

“Uh-huh.” I winced.

“Well,” she sighed. “That’s ok, I guess.”

“Really??”

“Yes—we’ll miss you, of course.”

I exhaled audibly. This apparently annoyed my mother because she then asked, “What did you think I was going to say?”

“I don’t know,” I stuttered, “Just—okay, then.”

I wish I could tell her the truth. That I’m afraid of hurting feelings. That I know that she’s sad I won’t be there. That it makes me sad, too, the thought of Mom going to Midnight Mass without me or Dad snoring in his chair while Die Hard blares at volume eleven in the background. That I wish I wasn’t an only child so that I could call up a brother or sister and strategize so that one of us would at least be there. That I’m not “picking” his family over anybody and that I wish that they lived down the street so we could make everybody happy. That I love this man who has a family that he loves. That I love her and Dad.

But I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, I asked whether we should try a turducken this year for Thanksgiving.

So that was The Talk. Definitely better than I thought it would go. I know that this may not be the case forever, that when the actual holidays themselves come around, there might be some drama. There will be hauling gifts back and forth, probably while dashing through an airport (and a train station). There will be unfamiliar religious rites and weird holiday food staples, like stroopwaffel and anise-flavored licorice. And there will be some sadness.

But I hope that, in the end, there is also more love and more happiness to spread from the East Coast to the Midwest. And I hope that we look back fondly on this first holiday season together as a charmed time, when we added one more link in the connection between his family and my family—making it our family.

Photo by: Kelly Benvenuto Photography (APW Sponsor)

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  • Amy March

    I am so thankful for my mom, who has always reminded us that at some point traditions change, that she expects we will spend some holidays with our husbands’ families, that children should get Christmas at home and that it isnt our job to take care of her and Dad’s Christmas.

    Not that I think I will cry any less when it comes to pass!

    • Kara

      You have a good mom. Really good mom. I have a similar one.

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    Stroopwafel and licorice? I take it there is some Dutch family there? I still can’t get used to the drop (licorice), but stroopwafels are addictive.
    Anyhow, thanks for writing this, this really struck home in many ways and I teared up remembering that we won’t be going home (to my parents’ country) this year… again.
    We will spend Christmas at our place, with my brother in law and his girlfriend, and a friend of mine that just came to study in Europe. So it will be 5 of us… since my Mother-in-law won’t be here this year. My father’s side of the family is in Switzerland, and we wanted to go there as well (maybe before/after the 24), but for several reasons we just decided to postpone that trip for another time as well.
    I will be baking a lot, trying to recreate my mom’s recipes and decorating the house like crazy, actually I just got a small wooden christmas tree (since husband does not really like the mess involved with natural trees, I don’t feel like having one cut for us, and the artificial-ones-that-look-real are super pricey and take up lots of space. Sorry for the rambling here, what I want to say is that it is the small things and traditions that you instaurate that will make your holidays truly yours.

    • Laura

      I love stroopwaffels too!!!!

    • KB

      You betcha there’s some Dutch there! Yeah, I hate that black licorice taste as well (and always will) but I’m now addicted to stroopwaffels and search them out in every specialty grocer that we ever visit :-) And you’re right, it IS the small things that make a holiday unique and your’s – I think that’s what’s going to take some getting used to, the dual notion of being dropped into someone else’s holiday with its own madness and weirdness, and taking the time to slow-grow your own authentic traditions.

    • http://landlockedlove.blogspot.com Kelly

      Stroopwafel love! It was like magic when my coworker introduced me to them.

  • Laura

    Argh, yes, I relate to this so much. My parents understand that I may not be able to be there every Christmas, and they don’t lay any guilt trips on me like, “This could be your grandmother’s last Christmas…” although there’s a real chance that it could be. Arguing that this was my last “single Christmas,” I told my fiancé that I wanted to spend it with my parents while he stayed with his mom. He was totally fine with this, but I know that it is the last year I will be able to manage it. The particular issue in this case is that his mom is single and has no family members she is particularly close to…so even on Christmases when it is our turn to spend the holidays with my family, I will be feeling guilty that my mother-in-law will be all by herself. I’d just invite her along, but unfortunately, my parents don’t have the space for her to stay when they’re also hosting the two of us.

    No easy answers.

    • http://spaceysteph.blogspot.com Stephanie

      I actually did miss my great grandmother’s last Thanksgiving (Fiance and I are interfaith, so Thanksgiving is the only holiday we have to split between families), when I choose to go to visit my fiance’s family last Thanksgiving instead of go home.
      Nobody said anything guilt-tripping then (or after she died unexpectedly- as much as it can be unexpected for a 95 year old woman to die- this September) but I feel a world of guilt about it. There really are no right answers.

    • Not Sarah

      My mom’s mom was widowed somewhat young (before my parents were married) and there are many Christmas photos of her coming with us to my Dad’s family’s Christmas dinner. Then again, she could stay with us and then just go to the dinner with us, which wasn’t super inconvenient overall.

      If you can swing it, I would consider offering to pay for her to stay in a hotel or something if there aren’t enough beds at your in-laws’ place.

      • MDBethann

        I grew up about 5 minutes from my dad’s parents, and since my dad is a pastor and had to work on Christmas Eve, we always did Christmas Day dinners with my dad’s family. My maternal grandmother was also widowed young, so she just alternated Christmases between my family and my aunt’s family. The years she was at our house, she joined in the dinner with my dad’s family.

        This will be my 4th Christmas (1st married) with my DH, but we established a pattern on our first Christmas of going to church on Christmas Eve with my family, then going to his sister’s house so we could spend Christmas morning watching the kids open presents. We typically go to my parents’ house in the afternoon to open presents and have dinner. It really helps that my parents, parents-in-law, and sister-in-law all live within about an hour of each other.

        We decided early on though that once we have kids, at our house we stay for Christmas Day. There’s plenty of time afterwards to drive 2-3 hours to see our families, and if they really want to see us on Christmas Day, they are more than welcome at our home. I always had Christmas morning at my home growing up with my presents under my family’s tree and I want to make sure my future kids have that too.

  • Jess

    What happens when your parents cut the cord first?

    My husband and I have never really had “The Holiday Talk” because we are from the same hometown – so managing two holiday get-togethers in one day just involves a 15 minute drive between families. And leaving enough room for two holiday dinners! We’ve been doing it for almost a decade now. It’s crazy, but we love it.

    This year, however, my mom announced that she will not be hosting a Christmas dinner – my dad’s birthday is the day after Christmas, and they usually head north for a week of skiing. Rather than spend his birthday driving, they’ll drive up on Christmas day so he can enjoy a full day of skiing on his birthday.

    This all makes sense – and I knew it was coming. My Grandpa passed away this year, and I think my mom just doesn’t want to host a holiday dinner without him there. But now, for the first time in forever, we’re left trying to figure out what our holiday will look like…

    • Moe

      I’m kind of excited for your mom! Although it’s tinted with some sadness on losing her dad she gets a season off from cooking and hosting to be with her sweetheart.

    • Maddie

      My family did this to us one year and it ended up being awesome. (They went to Disney with my younger siblings). They had a great time, and we had a less hectic holiday. It meant our days could look however we wanted them to.

      • Kara

        Mine decided they were all going to Tahoe this year – without me (I guess that should be us). I’m bummed to be missing out.

  • http://www.laughterinthelou.com Emma

    We are very thankful that our parents have merged forces for joint Thanksgivings the last 3 years! It’s a new tradition and we don’t have to make hard decisions. Christmas is still a scramble but we all get to be together just a month prior, so whatever happens feels okay. Loving that so far.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

      We’ve had joint Thanksgiving in the past (our parents are long time next door neighbours) and it’s certainly made the holiday scramble much easier! It’s actually pretty special to get to sit down with your partner, your parents AND your in laws to share the holiday.

    • Steph

      Hooray for combining thanksgiving!!! I’m soooo grateful this has worked for us. The year we got married was the year his grandma stopped hosting, leaving my in law’s open to the idea of trying a new tradition. This is our 4th year doing it and it’s awesome for us. I highly recommend this if you have parents and in laws who live close enough and like each other.
      My cousin and his wife are every other year ppl and that also works well for them (though we miss them when it’s not their year to be w our family)

      We licked out w Christmas since I’m jewish, I just tag along w his family. I got them to eat Chinese on Xmas day last year and hopeful I can convince them to see a movie on Xmas day this year too ;)

      • Brittany

        I really wish this would work for us! We live in NY, but both of our families are in the same Midwestern town, actually just five minutes from each other, but our families are so big, there’s not a good way to combine them without making the host family crazy. (If we were really combining, we’d be talking my siblings, three of which have significant others and one set of in laws there, plus my sister in law’s only brother and his wife, their parents, my parents, my husband’s parents, his grandparents, his aunt, his sister and her fiancé, his mother and brother, me and my fiancé, and my baby niece and those are just the immediate family members of those in a ten minute radius of my parents’ house) But alas, we are still doing the holiday shuffle between families.
        The pressure is really heavy too, since the holidays are basically the only time we make it home. Our parents and even our extended family are so near each other, they tend not to be sympathetic to us doing any limiting of holiday plans, so once again this year we have his mom’s extended family party (aunts, uncles, cousins) Christmas Eve, my immediate family Christmas Eve for Mass and presents, his dad’s extended family on Christmas Day for Mass and lunch, my Dad’s extended family on Christmas Day for dinner, his immediate family for presents in the evening on Christmas Day, my mom’s extended family on Boxing Day, my grandparents’ birthdays on New Year’s Eve day, the other half of my dad’s extended family on New Year’s Day, and a party at a friend’s on New Year’s Eve. And in all of that, we have no time for our own holiday, just us two and our new family. It’s hard to know what to say though, when you’re only in town a few days and rarely, and you’re staying with family (yet another debate-whose family do we stay with!). I know everyone wants to see us, but it’s completely overwhelming. I feel like I’m in the middle of a multi-family game of tug-of-war, or maybe a multi family Mideval quartering.

        • R

          Two ideas- one, if possible, de-couple your once a year trip from the holidays (personally, I like to go visit the mid-west component of my sprawled family during tomato season…). Just because you can only see them once a year doesn’t mean that that trip has to be during the most expensive and inclement weather prone time of year.

          Unless, of course, it does (hooray family politics), in which case you might try claiming an entirely different holiday for your baby family. My guy and I make July 4th ours- we pack a giant fancy picnic and camp out at the park where the city fireworks happen for the entire afternoon. Makes it a little easier to share other holidays.

    • http://spaceysteph.blogspot.com Stephanie

      We’ve done this two years in a row. Last year my parents flew to Virginia to Thanksgiving with my fiance’s family and this year his parents flew to Florida to Thanksgiving with our family.

      It’s nice to get everyone together, but I am pretty sure it’s not a tradition that’s meant for the long haul. Too expensive! Plus both our parents have other children who have moved out. Gotta save some Thanksgivings for them.

  • Kess

    While I don’t know what exactly this will look like in the future, I know my mom and my SO’s mom are quite ok with ‘Christmas’ not being on Christmas. So while we will have to fly somewhere to get to them in the Christmas season (my parents are in Michigan, his are in Florida) we at least don’t have to worry about the particular day being important.

    My paternal grandma was always very insistent that Christmas be on Christmas. Thing is, we lived 3 hours away and my mother, being a choir director at a church, had responsibilities until 1am on Christmas eve. It wasn’t very fun having to get up really early and drive there after staying up quite late the previous evening.

    My mom has specifically told me that if she ever starts to act like Grandma V, I should let her know!

    • http://www.alacartealbums.com Jane

      Christmas-not-on-Christmas has been the rule in my family since I was little (amicable divorces plus various half-siblings scattered across two countries and several states meant 5 possible Christmas locations, only two within an hour of each other, and some of us also celebrate Yule) and while it was occasionally ridiculous, like the year when Chistmas with the Canadian sisters happened in June, it has generally made the holidays really mellow.

      Also, we totally would buy presents at the after-Christmas sales, which are still even better than “Black Friday.”

    • Kirsten

      My family are all within a few hours’ drive of each other, yet we still occasionally do holidays on other days just due to schedules. It’s not the date that matters–it’s the feeling.

  • Danielle

    Yes! Oh, the holiday visiting. I still struggle to compromise on this, even though my husband and I have been together for four years (married for just four months of that). It doesn’t help that my parents, who are divorced, live in two different states halfway across the country from one another — so I have already spent much of my life working out elaborate systems to share holidays between the two of them and avoid as many guilt trips as possible. It has been, very, very difficult for me to add a third family (and a third location, also very inconveniently located in another corner of the country) to my mostly functional holiday visitation schedule.

    One thing I have discovered that helps: When possible, make them come to you! This is one way that you can get family members from all sides together, without you having the hassle of travel. (Just make sure you don’t let them all stay with you.) I’ve found that it’s easier to do this once you’re engaged and married, and I’m guessing it’s even easier once kids come into the picture.

    • MDBethann

      That’s exactly what we plan to do when kids enter the picture for us, especially since we live about a 3 hour drive (in the same direction) from both of our families, so they get to see us fairly often anyway.

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    Ahhhh, God. I just had that talk with my mom a few weeks ago. It was a little wrenching for both of us.

  • KW

    We are both from big families, and they live 2000 miles apart so it has to be one or the other (or neither, but we aren’t choosing that option). Christmas is a big deal in his family, where there is a huge party on Christmas Eve where everyone including aunts, uncles, cousins and close friends all come for hours of fun, food, presents, and caroling. In my family, Christmas has been a bit scattered for years, with people making it in as they can. One of my brothers usually isn’t in at all because he lives several states away and has small children.

    Thanksgiving is opposite. It isn’t very big in his family, most of his sibs go to their in-laws. Our family? It is a whole weekend event. My brother and his family usually can come, all the rest of my sibs are there, cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends, and my mom’s motto is “the more the merrier”.

    We decided in our 1st year of dating that we would do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his and it is working out well. Since there are no big Christmas Day family celebrations, we claim that day for ourselves. His family lives in the SF Bay area so we had fun wandering the city that day, and plan to do the same again this year.

    • Ana

      We do this! Before my parents got divorced, they hosted Thanksgiving at our house. It’s everyone in my family’s favorite holiday and after the divorce (pre-fiance) my sister and I agreed that we would switch every other Thanksgiving with our mom and dad. Christmas got weird for my family once my parents got remarried – my stepdad is Jewish, and my stepmom comes from her own big extended family so my dad ended up swallowed by her traditions. The year after my (now) fiance and I moved in together I called her from my stepmom’s yard crying on Christmas Eve and she suggested we start doing the holidays together – Thanksgiving with my family, Christmas with hers. It’s been that way ever since and will remain that way until our life circumstances change (we move, our families move, we buy a house/have kids).

      I’d be curious to hear more about how home ownership and having kids plays into the holiday equation. Did it? Should it?

  • http://anniecardi.com Annie

    My husband and I have done the rotating holiday thing over the last few years, and it’s worked well in terms of keeping family drama at bay. But my mom would say things like “We wish you could be here,” and “Everyone was asking for you,” which made me feel guilt-tripped. A few days before Thanksgiving I finally told her that things like that made me feel guilty and we were trying to make everyone happy. She said she hadn’t meant to guilt-trip at all–she was saying these things to make sure we knew that we were loved and missed and all that, but she understood that my husband’s family loves and misses us too. Just a heads up that the Holiday Talk might have to happen a few times, not just once.

  • sarahmrose

    This made me realize something that I hadn’t thought about…even though usually distance just creates trouble, sometimes multi-culture, multi-continent families make it easier, at least on this topic.

    This isn’t really about distance, but culture: my dad’s Jewish and my mom is Swedish (with Christian traditions), so Christmas was always pretty straightforward growing up.

    And I went ahead and married a Swede, so Thanksgiving is never a problem since it doesn’t exist there!

    Christmas is now the tricky one, but we’ve basically got into a rhythm of that one year, my husband and I and my brother and his girlfriend go to my parents, and the next year we both go to our significant others. I find it interesting that some people think it would be better to swap off with siblings, so parents aren’t alone in any given year — it’s nicer for the parents, I guess, but maybe I’m a little selfish — when I go for Christmas at home, I want the whole thing, including my brother, and even if that means the next year my parent’s are on their own!

    • Kess

      Yeah, the possibility of not seeing siblings is what really has me worried. There’s 4 of us, and while I’m currently the only one in a long term relationship, I can see how it will get quite difficult in the end. I love my parents, but I also love my siblings – they really are my best friends even if we don’t see each other much. But schedules are fairly limiting sometimes, so often it will be pretty much just Christmas that everyone can be there.

      Thankfully my SO’s side has a bit more flexibility with schedules (and less people overall) so there’s not quite that huge of a headache.

    • One More Sara

      I wasn’t going to comment because I didn’t want to brag, but this is actually the biggest plus point of living in another country than my family of origin. We get back to the States when we can, but during the holidays we celebrate with the family closest by (usually his).

      The Talk that really sucked was the I’m Moving to Another Country Talk. I think it’s like having all the Holiday Talks rolled up into one unpleasant package because all at once my parents (mostly mom) realized that they (she) wouldn’t see me on every birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Tuesday, etc. and it went over like a fart in church (not well).

      Thankfully, we are all adjusting, but the holidays tend to bring back all those otherwise dormant feelings.

      • sarahmrose

        Basically laughed through your entire second paragraph from recognition — I totally understand, both my partner and I have had to do the I’m Moving to Another Country Talk…yeah, when it comes down to it, being far away from family is tough.

        • alicia

          My husband and I move abroad in two weeks. The fact that is has to be two weeks before the holidays was a little uncomfortable.

      • Not Sarah

        If that other country is the US and you live in Washington State and your parents live in southwestern Canada (British Columbia), moving to another country means nothing! In fact, I now go to far more family stuff than I did when I live in the same country, but on the other coast. I love it though – I’m two hours driving away, which means driving instead of expensive plane tickets, but the international border means my parents are less likely to just show up at my place randomly and that makes it long distance for them to call me.

        On the other hand, that means we get two Thanksgivings – the Canadian one with my family and the American one flying to be with his! Christmas will be a completely different beast though…

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        Yep, the “I am moving to another country” talk is hard! (Also related is the “I’m Marrying Someone from Another Country” because it often increases the chances of the other talk.)

    • Kay

      Having one side of the family who doesn’t recognize Thanksgiving comes with some downsides as well however. I’m Canadian, so Thanksgiving is generally less of a big deal here than in the States, but my French Canadian sweety’s family doesn’t celebrate it at all. That means if we decide to spend Christmas with my family, there’s no other holiday we can give to them to help cushion the blow.

      • Kat

        Kay you could invite the French Canadian family over for a “it’s not a Thanksgiving turkey” meal around Thanksgiving time. Do it the weekend after Canadian Thanksgiving which means all the Thanksgiving related supplies are on sale!

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.com/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

        I’ve started celebrating (U.S.) Thanksgiving with my husband’s Québécois family over the past 3 Thanksgivings since I moved here. I think they like the new tradition.

  • http://safarimama.blog.com Anon for this one!

    Ooooh, yeah. Holiday travel.

    We did the first one with my husband’s family last year. They live in BFE NOWHERE and it took us a bazillion years/dollars to get there. I was so jet-lagged for 7 of the 10 days of our visit that my personality was totally replaced by that of a just-washed/drugged cat, and his parents made baiting political comments the entire time (except for the times they were making passive aggressive comments about how we never come to see them). All the things I LOVE/NEED to do in the US–including buying new bras and getting tweenager clothes for my tween could not get done (all that’s in their town of 500 people is a big house–theirs–and a bar–not theirs, thankfully). It was hard. I missed EVERYTHING about my family Christmas, which somehow in 37 years I had only missed about 3 times. My sweetie came to us each year, then went to see his fam. I really had to do it. And it made him SO SO HAPPY that it was worth it. Also, I bonded with his sister, who is awesome, and got to see my niece who is my spiritual child. But it was so much harder than I had expected!

    • Maddie

      I adore my husband’s family and I’m still surprised at how hard it is to spend the holidays with his family. They are just different enough to make me homesick, and it catches me by surprise every time.

  • AK

    One tip – how you set things up for the first couple holiday will probably be how it will be for years to come so if you think you might at all want to stay at a hotel (instead of the in-laws/parents) or rent a car (to be a bit more mobile) do it the first time! We stay in a hotel near my in-laws and rent a car and it is awesome for all involved. So much less stress but just as much quality time but I think it would have been hard to do if we hadn’t done it for our first Christmas all together.

    • kclaw

      I have heard this advice a LOT since all the thanksgiving stuff started, and I’m really starting to see the sense in it. My husband is the baby in the family, and I think the fact that we’re married now, and that this is our first christmas for our baby family, is really empowering him to put his foot down with the crazy holiday-sharing plans that usually leave us hating the holidays. Neither of us particularly think our 5 year old relationship is more legitimate than it was before we were hitched, but if he’s able to trade on his family’s perception that it is in order to end the madness (the humanity!) and claim some breathing room during the holidays, then I am ALL FOR IT. The degree of grace with which we pulls this off, of course, remains to be seen.

    • Rowan

      I agree, what you do at the beginning can really be set in stone and become “THE WAY IT IS DONE.” I’m trying really hard to mix things up the first five years or so to avoid this. So far it is working (with minimal complaining).

    • anon for this

      I wish we’d taken this step the first time we visited my partner’s dad’s side, because now if I ask to stay somewhere else it’ll look like a rejection, and given that my desire to was triggered by a major meltdown on the part of his family, I will have some trouble denying that. It’s not that I don’t want to get along, it’s just that I’m a bit timid about hanging out with people who have their relatives taking out restraining orders against them.

  • http://www.stitch-witch.net Christina McPants

    Gods bless my mother, once I proposed to my wife, she gave me the ‘we don’t need to have you for Christmas, the holidays are so fraught, you can always come visit in the summer’ speech. Still, last year we did Christmas with the wife’s family and it was really hard for me to be away from my family. Hopefully the wife won’t have the same problem, because we’re going to see mine in California this year (and I am EXCITED!).

    • Maddie

      I want to hug your mother.

      Also, YES TO THIS. The hardest part for me isn’t that my family makes me feel bad (though, ahem, parts of them certainly do). It’s that I miss them like crazy, even though I know they understand we have a zillion people to visit and limited time to do so.

  • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

    We split the holidays last year – three days in San Antonio, three days in Albuquerque. We did it to try to make everybody happy and it ended up feeling like we disappointed everyone instead. This year, we’re getting around it by getting married four days after Christmas. Our parents are coming here early for Christmas and our siblings get in a day or two after. I suppose this plan will only work once though.

    • sarahmrose

      Anniversary parties every five and ten years? :)

  • http://cubicalmouse.blogspot.com Stephanie

    We are lucky – our parents are only about 75 miles apart, and my family always does lunch, and his family always does dinner. OK, not lucky in the sense that Thanksgiving was hell this year, since we had to be at my parents at 5 AM to put the turkey in, and we live 40 miles from THEM. And I was operating on 2 hours sleep. And I had to make stuffing and cupcake turkeys that morning. So that part was not lucky.

    But at least we get to celebrate with each family on the same day. This Christmas, we will do Christmas breakfast and lunch with my family, and go on over to DH’s family for dinner, and hopefully it will not be too terribly hectic.

  • http://www.sarahhoppes.com Sarah

    We are doing the shuffle, because our families each live in different states. So there’s a New England holiday and a Midwest holiday. We did the shuffle a year ago, when we were dating, and we did round 1 of the shuffle last week, newly married. Our very small wedding ceremony necessitated a party each family could attend so that everyone is included, so our first married holiday season is punctuated with these celebrations. (We are hoping we aren’t setting a precedent that we will spend insane amounts of time and money each year on the same shuffle!)

    To avoid going crazy, NEXT year is when we are setting up our own, new “baby family” holiday traditions. We are staying in NYC for thanksgiving, where we will find somewhere to volunteer in the city during the day. In the evening, we’ll get together with whatever friends are not leaving the city for the holiday for a big thanksgiving dinner. For Christmas, we are flipping a coin next year on which family has us, and the other side will get us the following year. This system will continue until some circumstance changes that makes us re-evaluate.

  • Copper

    Future husband and I have done holidays together from the beginning (last year his parents got T-day, mine Xmas, this year we’re managing to make both of each), and something that’s been interesting is what people say about that. Yeah, people decided they needed to comment on my relationship based on how we handle the holidays. What, isn’t EVERYTHING an excuse to judge you to your friends? Cause it is to mine, apparently. Anyway, it was declared that “wow, you two are really serious!” because we always spend holidays together, and of course this brought up a comparison to a previous bf whom I lived with for five years and we always went our own ways at holidays, as “well, that’s a sign he wasn’t serious about you.” And I want to tell them to fuck off, because I hate these arbitrary measures of relationship success, but in this particular comparison they’re not wrong. I’m happy to hear you ladies giving me some ammunition to argue the point on in the future though.

  • http://gfpumpkins.wordpress.com Alissa

    This is where being a poor grad student helps (I think )! We don’t travel for the holidays. Period. The money just isn’t there. We make it out, usually in the summer, to see my parents in middle-of-nowhere VA, once a year. And we make it (generally) out to my fiance’s family once a year. I’m so glad that this is the precedent we’ve set for the holidays because we’re so much calmer during this time of year. It also avoids the awkward conversation that we don’t actually celebrate Christmas, and no one gets mad at us for not participating in anything religious that we aren’t comfortable with. As an only child, do I worry about how my parents are doing? Of course. But much like they realize I’m an adult now who makes my own choices, I also realize that they are adults who were taking care of themselves long before I came long.

    • Emily

      I could learn a lesson from you, fellow poor grad student. We’ve tried to trade off holidays as fairly as possible over the last 5-6 years (even going separately to see families to save money and tears, but that sucked). This year, we still haven’t bought plane tickets to fly from the Midwest to New England to see my family for Christmas, mostly because holiday travel is terrible and expensive and we’d rather go in the summer. I need to toughen up and put my foot down (maybe next year?).

    • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

      We don’t travel either for the same reason. It just costs double than any other time, and as a family of 4…well, it’s just too much money

    • Jen

      Same here! Well, we’re a little less poor now that we’re just out of grad school and working, but we sure don’t have an extra $1,000 to blow on plane tickets. The past few years we’ve split the holidays between 3 different places, trying to optimize our time between family in 4 different states hours apart by plane, often being separated in at least one of those places. As much as I look back fondly on the memories of being present for the holidays and sharing in traditions, it truly sucked to travel so much, often through snow storms and all that holiday stress. This is our first married holidays and we’ve stayed home for Thanksgiving and will do the same for Christmas and New Year’s. Thanksgiving and Christmas in particular are a big deal for his family, who are all about the traditions, and we totally got guilt tripped for not being there this year. I love his family to bits, but the guilt tripping does make me resentful, especially when we just saw them in the fall and earlier in the year for the wedding. Like someone’s mom said above (please hug her for me!), traditions change. And we need to start our own thing, and make our own home feel cozy and festive. And we will visit in the spring, when the airports are less crazy and the weather’s nicer. That’s gotta be ok, right?

  • Ashley

    So I have a different kind of holiday issue. We live super close to all of our families (furthest is my parents who are 25 minutes away, closest is his sister who is about a 2 minute walk!) and yes I know we’re super lucky in this way and I really appreciate and love both my and R’s family. We’re actually really close. Most of the time I am thrilled that I can see any one of them at the drop of a hat. The things is, sometimes I feel like not having the excuse of travel means it’s tricky to carve out time for our baby family. How do you say we don’t want to come next door for breakfast this year? or to Chirstmas dinner at all. I mean really, it’s just going to be insulting like we don’t want to spend time with them but the thing is we see them all the time. I want to make sure we make the time to build traditions for the two of us, to recognize that our baby family exists ourside the two larger families that we are apart of. I think this is hightened because we’re not planning to have chidlren which means we loose the excuse of wanting to spend christmas morning at home “for the kids” the truth is I want to spent it at home for us. I know we talk a lot about advocating with our families on behalf of our baby families and I know I have the right to say it and I don’t even know that they would take it that badly but somehow I just feel really guilty. Maybe it’s because we haven’t gone through the process of getting married yet, maybe that will teach me to advocate without guilt. I don’t know, I just don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Any suggestions on how to get past the guilt?

    • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

      The problem is that when we avoid hurting everybody else, sometimes we hurt ourselves…Have a nice, quiet talk with your loved ones, tell them what you want and ask them if that would be a very big deal. They love you and it may be easier than you think!
      Also, a trick from my former boss (an amazing lawyer and negotiator): when she had to give bad news, she baked cookies and offered tea and hot chocolate. When the person was munching happily, she broke the news and the sweetness of the food made it easier to “swallow” the news…(so bake some cookies ;)

      • Ashley

        Thanks for your advice. I think I will plan to make the change next Christmas. I know it’s putting it off but we can handle one more year this way and that way I have time to prepare them before Christmas season hits. We already had a talk (just the two of us) about how we’re going to handle Thanksgiving (we’re Canadian so it was a while ago) next year so maybe next year will be the year for change :)

        I think it’s really hard because we are so close to them, it feels like a big rejection to say they’re not my number one priority during the holidays but at the same time, it makes total sense that we should be each other’s number one priority at all times. Growing up is HARD.

        • One More Sara

          Growing up IS hard. Solidarity fist bump.

    • Lynn

      Years ago, I dated a guy who’s sister laid down the law to the family. Christmas Eve could be spent with the mother. Christmas afternoon could be spent with the father. But Christmas morning? That was solely for their family. It was for the kids to wake up and open presents, to have whatever they wanted for breakfast, etc. Everyone knew that those times were non-negotiable for her baby family. Any other member of the family could have them for whatever time…just not Christmas morning. Because there was plenty of time to honor other family traditions (like mom getting a picture of all the grandkids in their new Christmas PJs, or dad’s famous dessert bar), everyone was willing to honor that time for the new families (because it spread to other brothers and sisters and their children).

      • Kirsten

        This is what my brother and sis-in-law did for themselves and their kids–Christmas Day is for them and them alone. It’s lovely for them, and oddly relieves the pressure on everyone else too, since we all already know where they’ll be and at what time we’re welcome to come over.

    • Alexandra

      Funny enough, I was going to advocate just “dropping by” for a chat with some cookies, then making a reason why you can’t stay long (Maybe to drop of cookies elsewhere!). That way, it’s not that your parents didn’t get to see you on Christmas, it’s more just that you didn’t stay for dinner.

      Though personally, I’m still trying to work out a strategy that doesn’t involve driving halfway across the province twice in 3 days. We’ve done it previous years, but it’s tough.

    • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

      My husband and I are going to be in a similar boat in a few years, when get our living situation a little more in order. Right now we live with my mom and his parents live next door so we spend the day wandering back and forth (not always together – it’s not unusual to find me at his mom’s house and him at my mom’s house for no real reason) which is really, really convenient.

      When we move out we plan on having our “own” holiday and doing the no-travel, no even across town deal. We’ve already been pretty communicative with our parents so far about this but we know it’s still going to be awkward and hard at times. All I can say is to set the boundaries beforehand and make sure your families know what to expect before the holidays come along.

  • http://thecelebrationgirl.com Marcela

    I haven’t spent a holiday at home since 2004… We live very far away (it takes us 36 hs to get to my home town from where we live) and travelling in this time of the year is way too expensive for a family of 4. We don’t go to my husband’s home country either because it’s too cold, too expensive and flights keep getting cancelled around this time. Our friends, also expats, normally travel back home for the holidays, so most years it’s just the 4 of us. But we love it. We have surrounded these days with so many traditions and we add new ones every year, as our children grow and are able to understand more and more…it’s the life we chose and we know that, even if we miss our family, with every life choice we win some and we lose some…it’s just the way life is…

  • Lynn

    We had The Talk before we got married because it came up in our Daily Devotional…and because the PA’s brother and his wife had managed to get it all wrong (spending a week with her family and then spending 2 hours with his….and the families are literally 30 minutes apart). There have been a lot of hurt feelings because of his brother’s decisions, and we wanted to avoid creating that same hurtful drama with our decisions.

    Which is not to say that we’ve managed it perfectly. The best laid plans fall apart. We were supposed to spend Thanksgiving with my family, but that was before we both were terribly ill. At the last minute, we decided that it would be better for everyone if we stayed home and rested, keeping our germs to ourselves, which was a really hard decision for me to make because there really may not be too many more Thanksgivings with Grandma. We were with the PA’s family instead because they’re an hour and a half away from us, and they like to take care of us.

    My mom and her husband will be coming to spend Christmas with us and the PA’s family, and this will be the first Christmas I’ve spent with my mom in probably 10 years. It’s a good compromise since our families get along really well, and I think it may be one that continues, particularly if there are grandchildren added to the mix.

    • Karen

      Just curious: what is PA?

      • Lynn

        It’s what I call my husband (long story that involves my being irritated with all of the men in my life and renaming them in my phone with some version of “ass”).

  • http://www.mollyeverafter.com/ Molly

    Other than the only child thing, I could’ve written this. We did our engaged Christmas separately, and now that we’re married, we’ve decided to spend Christmas with his family. We split Thanksgiving, which is a lot of driving, but I think it makes it easier. Sometimes, marriage is no fun at all.

  • Class of 1980

    The latest bride I know, was given the advice to alternate which family they spent the holidays with each year.

    So far, so good. It’s fair, so no one complains.

    • Alexandra

      This is a great solution, provided you don’t run into the issue I did. Both my family and his arrange to have a big get together every other year. Both those “on” years happen to overlap.

      Bah humbug, I say.

    • Anon

      As long as you can get the respective siblings on the same schedule! It’s a bit of a beast, but it’s been working thus far for our families, and worked for my folks’ families when I was young. Set that schedule up early! We basically fell into the schedule based on which sibling got married/had a child first, and then the subsequent siblings followed suit. Let’s hope no one needs to re-arrange a year, as it’ll throw the whole thing off!

  • Meredith

    Perhaps it’s my specific set of circumstances, but I don’t feel the need to spend the holidays with my partner or his family, nor does he with me or my family (I’m not at all questioning/ attacking other families/ couple’s desires to be together, just offering a different perspective). In the 7 years we’ve been together, I’ve never seen his family over Christmas, nor has he seen mine. And I don’t mind. At. All. (My family lives where we live, his is 1000 miles away). He flies out a few days before Christmas and comes back a few days after. I see his family during the Summer and sometimes in the Fall.

    Is it sad that I don’t see him on Christmas Day? Not really. We celebrate with our own Christmas, just the two of us, either a few days before or after.

    For me (and my partner), Christmas is the ONLY time during the year when my entire immediate family is together (and sometimes the only opportunity I have to see my brothers). With my brothers living on the opposite coast in the US and in the Middle East, these 3-5 days are very important to me. My partner faces similar circumstances. So we split up for those 5-ish days. I get to see him virtually every other day of the year so really, it’s no big deal.

  • Moe

    I’m a horrible, horrible person. This is my first holiday season with my new husband. The Thanksgiving holiday was spent split between his mother’s family and his father’s. (They’re divorced and remarried now) I had a fabulous time and it was all the things I always hoped the holidays would become when I was younger.

    Both families are great, they’ve accepted me as their own. I love them all dearly.

    I didn’t see my own family. Now I am experiencing this different type of guilt because I don’t care that I’ve been freed from years of horrible holiday experiences.

    My father has been gone almost 10 years. For as long as I could remember I spent the holidays under the rule of a perfectionist mother who resented everyone who couldn’t help her make The Perfect Holiday. She was stressed and overwelmed by all the projects she would take on and never finished or did any of them as well as she hoped.

    Now without my dad she lives with a lot of depression and regret for the years she belittled everyone. Before I even met my husband I was already backing out of holiday gatherings and taking extended vacations. For Thanksgiving I got the “This might be mom’s last Thanksgiving” speech from my sister which prompted to to snap back: “This might be your last holiday, or mine, we don’t know. So I’m going to do what makes me happy and if mom really wants to be happy she needs to take responsibilty for her own happiness and change.”

    Without any apologies or hesitation I felt like I took what I needed for myself and only now do I feel some remorse about it that I’ll have to unpack and examine.

    • http://www.snippetsof.blogspot.com Sarah E

      You are not a horrible person. In fact, I say kudos to you for taking charge of your own happiness and discharging responsibility for everyone else’s.

      Similarly, my partner’s family, whom I love dearly, is an escape from my own. My parents divorced about five years ago and I have a hard time spending time with each of them without feeling guilty and stressed over every minute spent away from the other parent. I’m only just now- and very slowly- learning to set boundaries. It’s not a sin to live your life the best way you can.

      • KH_Tas

        I’m in the situation where my partner sees my family as an escape from his own at times (they are separated and there is the whole issue of who gets more time, especially as they live a 7 hour drive apart). It’s kind of awkward for us, as I think it has stirred up a bit of wistfulness on his part that his family doesn’t have the same level of peace that mine does.

  • http://metamorphocity.com/ Sarah

    Oh this is such fraught territory! I gingerly tried to broach the subject with my already stressed-out law student fiance a few weeks ago, only to have him suffer a complete meltdown of the “I can’t do this” variety and move out of our apartment (clearly not just because I asked him what his thoughts on us spending the holidays together were, it just seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back). So for any of you finding these negotiations tough, just think! It could be worse!

    Anyway, great post!I hope one day I get the chance to try and negotiate the holiday talk with this much poise and thoughtfullness.

    • Ana

      Internet hugs to you!

      • http://metamorphocity.com/ Sarah

        Aw, thanks! At least I know if we can get through this, holiday talks will feel like a breeze! (Haha, I’m probably kidding myself, I know, this stuff is never easy to negotiate, but it’s great to hear from everyone here about how they’ve handled it so at least the rest of us who’ve yet to really go through it at least know we won’t be alone!)

  • Jennifer

    I spend months worrying about this issue every year. Since every year his parents bring us on vacation to the carribean, my mother assumes every christmas will be hers…and it has been that way. However, my parents are divorced, so then christmas time needs to be futher divided. Every other year, we have done christmas morning with mom, christmas dinner with dad. This year, my mom decided she was “hosting christmas dinner!!!”hence, taking away dad’s time.
    I hate feeling guilty about disappointing everyone one, his family, my dad, maybe even me, just to please mom. Talking with her about it goes no where and now we’re stuck in a rut. Im glad to know other people struggle with this, and if anyone has found a way to break free, let me know!!

    • Ana

      I have two suggestions. First, maybe remove yourself from Christmas entirely for a year? Take your man and go on a vacation, just the two of you? I haven’t tried this but my older sister does whenever our divorced parents are driving her nuts. I guess I do something similar, which is retreat to my fiance’s house/family when I don’t want to deal with the family drama. Second, no matter what, stick to your guns. Tell your mom that’s nice that she’s hosting Christmas dinner, but that you and your love will be at your dad’s, per usual. Tell her you’d like to come see her on Christmas morning, if you’re still invited, otherwise you won’t have time to see her that day. I did this to my dad when he decided me, my fiance and sister should spend Christmas Eve with my stepmom’s extended family instead of our extended family (we’re Italian and the Eve is the Thing in my family). I told him I’d be going about my plans per usual and we’d stop by and say hello if our party ended before theirs.

  • KateM

    Our parents are both close, his are a mile away, mine are 1 hour. we have done the juggling thing, but now that we are married I want to do at home Christmas morning with just the two of us.
    We are asking our parents to change the family traditions a little to accommodate us, we normally do a big Christmas Eve dinner and midnight mass in my family. I am asking that we exchange gifts with those who won’t be there in the morning. I have nieces and nephews who are really little and I don’t want to miss out on the fun of watching them open gifts. Traditions can change as well as new ones being made, I think that is important to remember too.

  • http://www.kandisebrown.com Kandise

    My parents divorced when I was very young, so I’ve grown up with holiday splitting for family, so now adding my partner’s (thankfully still married) still the mix wasn’t too difficult, as we conveniently live about halfway between the two. My family is also does more Christmas Eve-centric celebrating, while his does Christmas night and Boxing Day gatherings, so suffice to say, we got lucky with how things have worked out. Christmas involves a 400 mile drive, where 200 of those happen on Christmas day, but it works. Our own private celebration around the 21st, 2-3 nights with my family(ies), have turkey dinner-for-lunch with my mom on Christmas morning, drive to his family (stopping at home to feed the cats), arriving just in time for turkey dinner-for-dinner.

  • Ali

    Thankfully my husband and I both have a month off from work Dec 15th – Jan 14th. I know!!! Its awesome!! We are doing 2 weeks with my family (including Christmas) who we live in a different country from us. Then we are spending about 5 days at the beach with his family (including New Years) who live in the same city as us. Then we have about a week more that we are still trying to figure out what to do – Boat from Cartagena to Panama or Lost City Trek in Colombia. Last year was our first engaged Christmas and New Years (for him New Years is just as important as Christmas). It was the first time we spent it together and it was pretty weird for me not being with my family at Christmas (only the 2nd time ever). It was also weird because we celebrate it in such different ways. His family has been going to the beach for 15 years and don´t even really make a big deal out of presents. This year will be his first Christmas away from his family and while I am really excited that he gets to experience an “American” Christmas, I know he will miss his family A LOT. It is really important to me that he experience this Christmas with my family as we try to work out what traditions we want for our own family.

  • JC

    This is very appropriately timed! Fiance and I have been talking about this a lot recently, as this is our “engaged holiday season’ and we are working toward spending the holidays together. We are from the same town, so we CAN see both of our families on the same day (really nice in that neither of us has to give up holidays with our own families, not-so-nice in the juggling) but both of our families fill Christmas (and Thanksgiving) with traditions that are important to both of us. It has been quite the negotiation to determine which parts of our holiday traditions are MOST important. The most recent plan involves shuttling back and forth between my parents’ and his grandparents’ and maybe missing mass (a taboo subject in his SUPER catholic family) in order to be present for the important things. It gives me anxiety thinking about the things we will miss, and also about the (his) family’s reaction to having to truly split us (him) for the first time.

    Luckily next year I will have to stay at school for Christmas so we can eliminate the shuffling without having to tell them that we just don’t want to deal with it :)

  • http://www.advancedlivingforbeginners.com Jen W

    This year is looking a bit weird for us– my husband, J, is a freelancer and super booked through March (hooray, money!) and he probably won’t be able to travel anywhere over the holidays. On my side, my father works overseas and is only home every 10-ish weeks*, and all 3 of my grandparents have been dealing with health issues recently, so I feel like I should see my family for Christmas, but hate the idea of leaving J alone. Then there’s J’s mom, a really lovely lady who only lives 4 hours away from my family (not that far, really, if I’m already in upstate NY seeing my family). She very rarely gets to see us, but if we/I try to see both families, it means double the travel time and half the time spent with family. Argh.

    The solution we’ve come up with (for now) is December 24th and 25th together, then I’ll leave to see my family for a few days and come back in time to kiss him on New Year’s. He’ll most likely have to stay behind to work, but if he doesn’t have to, he’ll go see his mom. If he can’t make it upstate or she laments not being ale to see me, we’ll invite her to visit us after the holidays. Not a perfect solution, but it’ll work for this year.

    *Yep–my dad and my mom are still together. Wish I could get her to write something about being married to an ex-pat while still living in the states.

    • MDBethann

      Not necessarily unusual about your parents. The man I dated before I met my DH had parents with that arrangement – his mom lived at home in Texas and his dad, who worked for an oil company, spend a huge chunk of the year in Saudi Arabia. His mom taught at a college and when she wasn’t teaching, she’d go over to Saudi Arabia to be with him (she was an anthropologist or something) it seemed to work for them.

      I also have a co-worker whose parents do something similar, though it’s just between two neighboring states (one of which happens to be TX).

      I would be interested to hear your mom’s story though!

  • Teresa

    This is our first year married, so our first year sharing holidays. We had THE TALK months ago, so that we wouldn’t be feeling all holiday-nostalgic when we made our choices. We each got to choose one holiday that means the most to us, that is always our holiday. My husband chose Easter and I chose Christmas Eve. Then, we decided we would alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. This year we spent Thanksgiving with his family and we will spend Christmas with mine…next year we’ll switch. Though we live close enough to do both in one day, I think it’s nicer to spend our day with one family instead of spending the day driving and sitting in traffic! I think it’s the fairest way to work things and luckily, both of our families are being supportive. I will say, as enjoyable as our Thanksgiving was, I did miss my mom a lot! Every year, I think I will get more and more used to it!

  • Talia

    The significant other and I are luckily navigating this holiday season easily. We did Thanksgiving at his folks house since they are here locally. We are both in school, and with final exams within two weeks of Thanksgiving, it makes zero sense to go out of town during this time.

    However, when school ends, its going to have to be negotiated. I know my mother is going to be traumatized. My parents are 1200 miles away and Christmas is an absolute at their house this year. He wont be coming with me, which I understand, but I am semi-upset about. Ive indicated this to him, but its one of those “choose your battles” type situations where I suck it up and deal with the fact that Ill be without him on Christmas, and smile my way through it.

    Just as the author, I too am an only child. I wish that I had siblings to take on some of the obligations, but I love being an only child. Its a love-hate relationship.

    Thanks for writing this! It really has opened my eyes up to the fact that I am going to have to communicate this to my folks sooner than later.

  • Carrie

    It’s still a bit of a thing for us, and our parents live literally 2 miles apart.

    My family has lots of holiday traditions, which I love doing. On Thanksgiving, the family usually gets together at my aunt’s house (30 minutes away from my parents) for a mid- to late-afternoon dinner and then hangs out. On Christmas, we have a special brunch in the morning, then open presents. Then we have a homemade lasagna dinner in the evening.

    My husband’s family actively does NOT have these kinds of holiday traditions, due to bad experiences with extended family where holiday traditions meant huge family drama every year, usually with multiple people getting drunk and screaming/crying because something wasn’t perfect. So their holiday tradition is to go see a movie together and order a pizza, avoiding all decorating, big dinners, anything traditionally Christmasy.

    For a while, my husband was grumpy about the fact that we were eating both brunch and dinner at my parents’ house on Christmas, because it felt like we weren’t spending equal time with his parents. That was true. But I didn’t want to give up the traditions and celebrations I love in order to do nothing much over at their place. I’m happy to go see a movie with them and hang out for a while, but I’d really rather eat homemade lasagna than delivery pizza.

    The last couple of years, my parents have asked his parents to join in the lasagna dinner. This is starting to work well. The first year both of his parents seemed really ill-at-ease, probably worrying that they were intruding on some private family tradition (which they were not). Last year his parents seemed generally more relaxed and willing to enjoy themselves. Hopefully we can continue the trend this year.

  • Sarah

    I really can’t wait to get to the point where this stops sucking. My family is big on holiday traditions. I love all of it from waking up at 6 am to start cooking on Thanksgiving to eating my grandma’s sauerbraten on Christmas Day. Aside from simply missing my family on holidays, my husband’s family flat out hates me. Thanksgiving this year was choking down poorly made food while listening to thinly veiled comments to my husband about how he shouldn’t be afraid to stand up to me. It definitely is building some resentment in our relationship.

  • Remy

    My sweetie and I just celebrated our first married Thanksgiving — and Thanksgiving is a Big Deal in my family. Thankfully, my grandmother set it up on Friday 30 years ago: “You go wherever you want on Thursday — but on Friday you come here.” 40 people, 2 turkeys, and a ham in the heyday; last week we had 23 (with a few usual folks absent — it happens, like when I was away at college or my sister was out of the country for a year). She worked on Thursday (holiday pay!) and we spent Thursday evening with some local friends who were hosting visiting parents; then on Friday we drove about an hour and a half to my family’s gathering.

    The one Thanksgiving we were separated, she had a miserable time with her family — they didn’t have enough plates despite her offer to bring extras, and they made her eat out of a bowl, which only underscored the feeling of “you don’t belong here” — and decided that she wouldn’t subject either of us to that in the future. My family is very used to the large crowd and has always made her (and anyone else visiting — roommates, friends, random children) welcome.

    My mom asked about Xmas, and I told her that Xmas Eve with the clan was a condition of our marriage. Less necessary (but still desirable, particularly since my sweetie’s family is most of a day’s drive away and we can’t stay with them) is Xmas morning at my parents’, with my sister. We’ve also taken to having a late dinner with our local friends, who uphold the urban Jewish tradition of celebrating Christmas with Chinese food. And karaoke, but I think that’s just them. Once we have kids, we’ll probably adjust a bit and might stay home that night to celebrate as a small family.

    Now that her family is halfway onboard with our relationship, we might try spending some time with them (400 miles away), but it will probably be during the summer when we are already in the area for another annual event. The last time we tried that was just after we were engaged (after having dated for 2 years), and to say it did not go well would be an understatement. Thankfully it was a matter of minutes, not hours or days. We definitely need to have our own space and set boundaries if we visit for any length of time.

    tl;dr: I called my family’s special holidays in advance, which was easy because they’ve been nicer to us as a couple, but we’re flexible about the other celebrations.

  • http://www.fiveseven.typepad.com Heather

    Every Christmas we separated to be with our own families. Even our engaged Christmas, I ate with my family, he ate with his. The blessing is that our parents only live 40 minutes apart. The downfall is that we both have small families and our presence is noticed. As well, we have the same traditions. It is the supper meal that counts. Last year was our first married Christmas and we flew the coop, ditching everyone and all traditions. This year will be our last Christmas without a baby. My mom suggested that since both families are small, she could host for everyone. I don’t think my MIL is going to go for it. And my husband doesn’t really like the combo idea either. So we will alternate. I even suggested that this year we separate, because I really don’t want to leave my family. It makes me terribly sad.

  • Kirsten

    We elected to “call” Christmas Eve for ourselves. We’ll be doing that at home, by ourselves, thankyouverymuch, because we’re a family now and want to have space to be a family even at this time of year. But the rest is negotiable, and likely will have to be renegotiated anew each year as people grow up, pass on, move, etc.

    It also helps, I think, that we’re older (I’m 38, he’s 50) and so have had our own traditions changed over the years, whether by design or necessity. So we’re having a lot of fun in this first year of being engaged making our traditions as a couple. Some are borrowed from our pasts, while others are new to us both, and we love them all because they’re now ours.

  • http://www.xwebseries.com Cali

    Fortunately, our Holiday Talk was pretty painless. Our families are on opposite sides of the country, and we are not local to either of them, so we have to choose one of the other. Last holiday season, before we were even engaged (but had discussed it and both understood that it was coming soon), we decided to alternate holidays. Last year, we went to visit his family for Christmas, and this year we’re visiting mine. We agreed that this is how we’ll do it until something changes that requires a renegotiation of how we do things (i.e. we have a kid). I’m hoping that, once kids are in the picture, we’ll either be able to start doing the holidays with our own little family or convince the families to visit us at least once in a while.

    We always do a Friendsgiving with our local friend “family,” so Thanksgiving has never been a traveling/family issue. Fortunately, it’s all been pretty painless aside from the occasional, “Well, we’ll sure miss you!” from one of our mothers.

    • http://www.xwebseries.com Cali

      I should add that I also have previously missed Christmases while I was in college and when I used to have a job that required working holidays… so it was less of a sudden apron-string-cutting for me. I was already accustomed to celebrating away from my family of origin, which helped a lot to make alternating feel easy and natural.

  • Anonymous

    Soo, what happens when your family is the one that has long-standing traditions (and super fun celebrations), and your partner’s family has celebrations everyone dreads (which have also gone on for awhile) ? My boyfriend and I have been together for almost 9 years, and basically have The Holiday Talk every year. Our immediate families live close by, but it’s Complicated…

    My parents are divorced, and the only member left in my mom’s family is my grandma, who lives 2 hours away. The only time of year my family is able to go to my grandma’s house together is at Thanksgiving, so that has become a non-negotiable holiday situation for me. We don’t see my dad at Thanksgiving since the divorce, but he accepts that because he has siblings to spend it with. With the exception of one year, my boyfriend and I spend Thanksgiving seperately with our respective families.

    My dad’s side of the family has a lot of people, to whom there has always been an open invitation on Christmas Eve for pork chops and pierogies, a dinner tradition which dates back to before my dad was born. He hosted it for most of my life, and last year the hosting duties were passed on to me, so that is a non-negotiable holiday situation for me too. (Now that I host, I can invite my mom, so she’s not alone on Christmas Eve, which has removed that discussion.) My boyfriend’s family goes to his aunt’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve every year (for many years), which no one seems to particularly enjoy. I would invite them to join my family’s dinner, but there isn’t enough room in my tiny house to accomodate 11 more people on top of the 11-16 we already have. His parents stopped by briefly on Christmas Eve last year for dessert, but that’s all I saw of them at Christmas. Christmas is really big in my family and both my parents want to see us kids on Christmas day. (Hello…our last name is Holliday…we celebrate pretty big.) Neither is particularly happy about only getting half the day with us and neither wants to move the celebration to the day after Christmas. We’ve been alternating who gets the morning and who gets the evening, which seems to work, even though my parents remain selfishly grumpy about their ‘lack of time’ with us. I tell them to deal with it. My boyfriend has breakfast and gifts with his family then joins me for the rest of the day.

    Among all of this, my boyfriend, usually skips out on Christmas Eve, then spends Christmas night with us. This year he will be spending Christmas Eve with us as well. The real problem is….I feel like he’s making the effort to see my family at the holidays and I feel unwilling to give up my family’s longstanding (and complicated and more fun) traditions to spend time with his. Although I’m close with his immediate family (his parents live 2 min away), neither of us is particularly excited about going to his aunt’s house at the holidays (an hour away), and the celebrations are pretty boring. I feel like this is going to have to change at some point, because I can’t just expect him to spend all the holiday festivities with my family once we are married. However, with engagement on the horizon, we are going to need to figure out a way to spend the holidays together as a baby family, while also sharing them with our siblings and parents in a way that doesn’t completely cut out his family and doesn’t completely neglect one of my parents.

    Any advice? I need some serious help. (Sorry, this was practically a post in itself!)

    • Rowan

      Yes, this doesn’t seem fair to your boyfriend’s family. Your family can’t claim both Thanksgiving and Christmas as nonnegotiable. You could either alternate or pick one to go to every year. How do your parents react when you tell them to deal with sharing with each other? I assume they got over it (missed you of course but otherwise dealt with it) They will probably react the same way to news that you are sharing the holidays with your boyfriend’s family too. Change is hard, but when people form their own families (married or not) things have to change. Good luck!

      • Anonymous

        I agree that it is unfair – and it’s not just my family that makes Thanksgiving non-negotiable, but me as well, which I know is selfish, even though my boyfriend doesn’t have a problem with it. It would be different if Thanksgiving was in town, but it’s the only time we visit my grandma and we are her only family. No one else in my family has the space to host Christmas Eve dinner, so that is why it was given to me and I can’t pass it on to someone else to skip out on (nor do I want to be the one to call it quits on a 60-year old tradition). On the other hand, my boyfriend and his parents have never voiced any concerns about us not doing a lot with his family, and seem content to join us for dessert on Christmas Eve. It helps that they celebrate Chanukah too, which I spend with them. However, I’m sure they will have concerns if in the future my boyfriend is ok with spending all of Christmas day and Thanksgiving with my family. I used to go my mom’s, dad’s and boyfriend’s parent’s houses on Christmas Day, but that doesn’t work out anymore because of where we live. Maybe taking one of my parents out of the equation could work, I just feel terrible knowing that if it was my mom, she would be sitting home alone on Christmas.

    • R

      Just a thought- there are holidays other than Christmas and Thanksgiving. Depending on family politics, it may be possible to negotiate, say, Thanksgiving for Easter, or Christmas Eve for a July 4 blow out. Also, birthdays count in the holiday equation (especially if travel is involved).

      For example, my brother-in law’s family are terrible cooks, so they get July 4 (grilling is safe), my dad and stepmom, who are awesome cooks but not interested in Christmas get Thanksgiving, and my mom, who throws the most awesomely laid-back Christmases ever, gets Christmas.

      It’s trickier for me and my guy, since his parents are also majorly into Christmas. So we’ve been alternating Christmases with his parents and my mom, keeping Thanksgiving for ourselves since travel is a) awful and b) totally not possible for me while in grad school. Then we split up August/ September-ish, and I go see my dad and stepmom sometime near my dad’s birthday at the same time he goes to see his parents (on non Christmas years). Usually if we don’t make it out to see my mom, she comes and visits us.

      • Anonymous

        This is a really good point – thanks! I know Easter is important to my dad, and my mom has had to miss out before in lieu of me sharing the day between my dad and boyfriend’s family….so maybe if my boyfriend’s family is ok with him spending Thanksgiving with me, I will spend Easter with them (at his aunt’s house, of course) and skip out on my parents altogether.

        The cooking definitely plays a part in it, which I didn’t mention – I don’t like his aunt’s cooking, and I/we love both my mom’s and dad’s cooking (and I cook at my grandma’s on Thanksgiving), so that just adds another level of difficulty.

        I also didn’t mention that my parents each live about 30 minutes from us , so I sometimes go weeks without seeing them, and my siblings are spread out (sister an hour away, brother #1 in college 2 hours away, brother #2 in the Navy in another country). On the other hand, we see my boyfriend’s parents all the time because they are right down the street, and both his siblings are local. This year was also the first year of a weekend family trip that they want to make an annual thing, and my family doesn’t do anything like that. I suppose I should consider those factors into the rationale for why it’s ok to spend more holiday time with with my family and not as much with his.

        It sounds like you have quite a mess to figure out too, but seem to be doing a good job with it!

    • MDBethann

      Just remember, there really are 12 DAYS of Christmas, despite what most people think, so it might help to try and convince your family that Christmas isn’t just one day. OR, alternatively, since you’re hosting the Christmas Eve dinner, maybe you could convince your family to make it a Christmas night dinner or even a Boxing Day dinner or a Christmas Eve lunch. That way, you still have it (it’s the same gathering, even on a different day or time) and you can still accommodate your boyfriend’s family.

      Unless your boyfriend really hates going to his family events and doesn’t want to go anymore, I think it would be a really good idea to try to accommodate them.

  • http://www.funnysmartandimportant.blogspot.com Lindsay

    I think the truth of this is that sometimes it’s not the conversations with your spouse that are the hardest, but instead the ones with your family and parents. We settled pretty easily on alternating holidays, but we had to have the conversation of “I’m not coming home for Christmas” twice – one with each set of families.

    I wish there was a day around Christmas that we could claim as just our own, and do our own Christmas thing of ordering Chinese food, watching holiday movies and making brunch the next morning. Maybe we’ll do that one weekend in December and have it be our own yearly tradition.

    • p.

      My cousin and her husband use New Years Day in this manner. They do stockings for each other that they open that day.

  • Rowan

    This is so hard. The funny thing is that it generally happens every generation. For the most part, our parents got to set their own traditions (at least on both sides of my family they did). Their parents had a tough time with it. Now our parents are similarly having a tough time with it.

    I’ve decided to take a hard line and not have any guilt about it. Because my husband is in the health care field, we can’t simply alternate every other holiday. We will be taking every holiday as it comes and asking (1) what is best for us, as a baby family and then (2) what is most fair to our extended families (so who got the holiday last time?). Our families are just going to have to get over it. On one hand it is nice that we have families who want us (and we generally want to be with them, although at my MIL’s holiday dinner the jello is my favorite dish and jello is not something I exactly love). The other hand is that it is a day on the calendar, and if we can’t make it we will see them another time. No discussion, no guilt.

    Kind of harsh but otherwise we are a tangled mess.

  • Christina

    We had the TALK when we were still engaged and agreed to alternate holidays, Thanksgiving with his family, Christmas with mine, the following year the exact opposite. I was fine with it last year, my family was really nice about it. We live really far from my family and really close by his. We go to every birthday, Sunday dinners with his folks pretty often. I make it home a fair amount usually but with wedding planning and our wedding this past September other than showers and the wedding itself I didn’t get to see my family much this past year, haven’t seen them at all since our wedding.

    So this fall I was feeling pretty sad and questioning why this plan we had was so concrete. Husband and I talked and still agreed to it for this year. And then, I got the GUILT trip. From my sister. 5 days before Thanksgiving. And I had a complete meltdown. My husband and I ended up still doing Thanksgiving with his family on the principle we had already planned on it and I had already agreed I was OK with it, so I plastered a smile on my face and went but was still pretty sad.

    So now we are looking forward to a full week of Christmas in my hometown. And we have agreed that our holiday plan is no longer set in stone for the ages to come, it will totally depend on the circumstances and how much we have made it home over the course of the preceding year. This TALK was one of the toughest ones we have had, I think we resolved a lot but I worry it is starting to become a recurring theme and I don’t know HOW we will ever resolve it fully seeing as the me missing my family feeling is not one that is going away….

    • Rowan

      I agree that flexibility is the key. And it sucks that your sister gave you a guilt trip (um, when you are coming home for a week for Christmas – seems way out of line).

      I’m in a similar situation where we live far from my family (a day’s drive) and in the same town as my in-laws. What I struggle with is that when we decide we are just going to be home for Christmas, does that mean we automatically do Christmas with my inlaws every year? That is what my brother-in-law and his family does and it doesn’t seem fair.

      • Christina

        Yea that does sound similar, I think Christmas with the in-laws every year would be totally unfair, what is your sister-in-law’s situation that makes her OK with this? My advice based on my experience is don’t ever agree to a plan that starts with “every year we will do it X way” and make it clear to all involved that just because you will stick around for Christmas this year does not mean you are OK with never seeing your own family on Christmas.

        And yea sister is freaking out because she isn’t free at all the week we are home, has to work crazy hours, will be lucky to have Christmas day– but she had this whole past week off. And she laid it on pretty thick, apparently the reason she has to work so hard during Christmas was all the time she took off for our wedding. Mother of all guilt trips, and totally out of line but still really stung. Good news is my mom has been really nice and understanding, having also had the experience in her life of a husband and in-laws she knows how it goes.

        • Rowan

          Your sister sounds like my sister! If she is like mine, she’ll be upset, make you know she’s upset, and then get over it. It usually takes a week. I’m glad your mom is being understanding and supportive. My dad has actually been the most supportive – he’s been saying for years (long before a husband was on the horizon) that he knows that I won’t always be around for the holidays.

          My brother and sister-in-law are really financially dependent on my MIL so basically do whatever she wants, all the time. I am very thankful that we are not so have a bit more independence. Once they had kids they started staying home (we all live in the same town) and just follow the traditions my MIL set up. I know my sister in law would like to do something else but won’t stand up to our MIL. She is going to be jealous when we have a kid and I declare xmas eve and xmas morning ours and only go to xmas dinner.

          • MDBethann

            Rowan, that declaration by you though could open things up for your sis-in-law to make a similar declaration herself, so you all just go to dinner at your MIL’s. I know one of my girlfriends and her sis-in-law have done some similar back-getting with their shared MIL.

  • http://www.breakingdownthebank.blogspot.com EmilyF

    I’m also an only child, and really attached to my parents. My new husband has a strained (at best) relationship with his parents, who are divorced and not on speaking terms. We used to live less than an hour from them in DC, and spent holidays shuttling between them or with his brother. I usually flew home in early January to celebrate with my parents (also in Michigan!) when flights were cheaper.
    This year, we just moved to the midwest and are only (only…) about 8 hours drive from my family, and over 15 hours or a flight from his. We hosted my parents and grandparents for Thanksgiving, and I was really excited to actually go home for Christmas. However, after a painful talk, we agreed to forgo the trip and spend Christmas with just the two of us, so as to prevent any hurt feelings from his family. At first I was upset that we were so much closer to my family and were skipping the trip for what, in my opinion, was no good reason. We’d already decided to skip east coast holidays indefinitely because they’re so emotionally frustrating.
    After some reflection (and an exhausting time hosting over Thanksgiving), I am actually looking forward to the freedom spending this first holiday alone will give us. I’m excited to start our own traditions and to set the precedent of doing what we feel like, instead of feeling obligated by a schedule. But I suppose we’ll see how it goes, I’m sure my parents will have a hard time understanding how we could decide to just be alone instead of making the trip to be with them.

  • Catherine

    awww i just cried a little, I am an only child too which definitely sucks around holidays!! This is my first Christmas not being home because I am staying at MY home with my partner. Loved reading this…such a hard talk!

  • Em

    Ah, I totally need help with this! My fiance and I are spending this year the same way we did last year -Thanksgiving at his family’s in the Midwest and Christmas at mine in the Northeast. I’m an only child and I just can’t bear to be away at Christmas, and I don’t know if my mom can bear it either. My fiance has a hot and cold relationship with his family – some parts of visiting them are great, some parts are extremely stressful. Plus, we both have divorced parents, so we do a fair amount of travel for each holiday. I know at some point I’ll have to pony up and spend Christmas with his fam out of fairness, but it’s just not something I want to do. Any advice?

    • Rowan

      Two things come to mind: part of being married and being a grownup is doing some stuff you don’t want to do out of fairness. Your parents will be okay. Really. If you aren’t there at Christmas they will go to other family or friends. It will be sad for all, but all will be okay.

      The other thought is whether there is a way to have everyone come to you? You could start a new tradition.

  • XO

    Oh, I want to Exactly this post so hard (especially the Die Hard reference– it’s my favorite Christmas movie!). My fiance’s family and my family live about 5 hours from each other. Just close enough that last year, we decided we could visit everyone, including my aunts and uncles who live in between! We did a 9-day, 4-city tour that took up all our vacation time and left us exhausted. Never again.

    This year, we did Thanksgiving with his family (at his aunt and uncle’s in Miami, a getaway for us as well as his parents) and we’ll do Christmas with mine. Will we switch next year? Maybe… we now have a standing invitation to Miami that’s awfully tempting in late November!

  • Bethany

    Oh, the holiday talk. My husband and I have had these talks every year for the past four years, since we moved to NYC together. Although everyone lives in New York (state, that is) his family is in Buffalo, while mine is only 2 hours away from the city. We used to do crazy back and forth – we’d go to Buffalo for a few days before Christmas, then I’d go to my parent’s for Christmas Day, then he’d come meet me and spend time with my family in between Christmas and New Year’s. It sucked hard. Since we got engaged, we decided to switch off Thanksgiving and Christmas every year…except that I still can’t bear to not be at home for Christmas, so this is the second (but the first married) time we did Thanksgiving with his family, and xmas with mine. I know I’ll have to eventually spend xmas with his family, but I honestly can’t imagine it. Plus my parents are divorced, so when I tell my family I’m not coming, I get to do it TWICE!

  • http://penn.typepad.com Leah

    I am grateful that my MIL LOVES thanksgiving, and my mom can’t live without everyone home for Christmas. It makes the holiday splitting simple for now. We were apart for our first Christmas, but we’re flying to my parents’ place together this year. I’m excited but also apprehensive that he’ll think our holidays plans are kind of kooky.

    We had talked about doing a separate thing until we have kids, but my husband really wanted to come with me this year, so this is what we’ll do. And we’ll re-evaluate when kids enter the picture in a few years. Not sure what to do, but we just told our families that we’ll figure it out when we get there. Until then, his mom gets Thanksgiving (and sometimes a random weekend in December, since they live within driving distance), and my mom gets Christmas.

  • Brenda

    This is when I’m grateful for being interfaith (inter-traditional, really, as neither of us is religious but we do like holidays) – his family is Catholic/atheist, mine is Jewish/atheist. We go to his family’s for Christmas, which is still exciting to me having grown up without Christmas, and we either do Hanukkah at the same time or on our own. Being intercontinental as well, we see my family when we can and if it happens to be on a holiday (as it was on Passover this year) then that’s a nice bonus.

    I love it – I get to have all the holidays! And my English boyfriend and his family enjoy getting participate in my American and Jewish traditions.

    • Rowan

      I was really serious about a Jewish boyfriend for awhile in my 20s and my mom was REALLY excited. She liked him well enough but she was really excited that she may not have to split Xmas, ever! I ended up marrying a (lapsed) catholic with really religious parents so… we have to split. She is still wistful about that guy (although does like my husband a lot).

  • Ally

    I just broke that news to my family yesterday. We decided to go to my new husband’s place for Christmas… it was hard. You captured so well how I feel about it… even my Dad playing Die Hard! I know his family will NOT be doing any such thing :P There’s a part of me that doesn’t want new Christmas traditions – I want my husband to come be a part of MY Christmas, without admitting that means I should also become part of his. I hate that our families live on opposite sides of the country, and that we can’t even go to my parents’ place some other holiday because we live in the middle (stupid Canada is way too big, and also our Thanksgiving is in October anyway). I’m not an only child, but the rest of my siblings still live at home and some of them are still young enough to be adorable and wake you up first thing Christmas morning because they want to go look at the stockings. I hate that I’m going to miss that. It was hard to explain to my husband how I felt about it – I told him it was hard for me, so he said ‘we don’t have to go to the same place’ … so I tried to explain that I have to sacrifice something – Christmas with my family, or Christmas with him. I was home not that long ago, and he’s not used to not seeing his family, and now hasn’t seen them in months, so of course he’s going home. It’s also much cheaper to go to his family’s place, and any money saved right now is a big deal. So, of course we’re going to his family… and mostly, I’m really excited about that… I was sad to miss Christmas with him last year, and I like his family too! But there’s that little girl part of me that’s having a very hard time letting go of spending Christmas with my family. Mostly, I’m trying to convince my family that if they move to the East Coast, we won’t have this problem, at least not to the same level (we’d at least be able to spend some of the holiday time with both families!). They haven’t taken the bait yet :-P

  • Kate

    The holiday problem for my husband and I is compounded by the fact that we’re both nurses who work in different units in a hospital. This means that we don’t always get the same holiday days off (I’ll work Christmas Eve this year, but he’s off for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day), which means that whatever time we do have off is sacred and needs to be doled out very carefully. We both worked Thanksgiving this year, which took that out of the equation, but what happens when we can’t spend Christmas with either family? Which family gets the year after that?
    Although it’s really difficult sometimes to try to split the time up and not hurt anyone’s feelings, ultimately, to us, Christmas is all about family, even when we have a baby family. For us, the tough part is communicating between the two of us what we want to do and compromising fairly. Easier said than done. The Holidays can be like a minefield with bits of guilt, resentment, and homesickness. But I have to remember that a baby family is part of a greater whole of TWO families, not just one. I think once children become a part of the equation it will get a lot trickier, but for now we just try to soak up all the family Christmassy-ness we can.

    • MDBethann

      Maybe your families can come to you this Christmas and you can all spend Christmas Day together?

  • Rachel

    I was definitely sad the first year I celebrated Christmas without my family and instead with my soon to be in-laws, but I realized that I would have missed my fiance much more if I hadn’t celebrated with him. We have been together almost 7 years, and after the first two years we celebrated the holidays together. Something seemed so odd when we were calling each other on Christmas morning instead of waking up together. My mom assured me from the beginning that we can celebrate the holidays any day, it doesn’t have to be on the exact calendar day designated for it, and how true that is! Holidays are about family, food, love and togetherness, and why can’t we do that a few days before or after the marked holiday? Over the years, we have truly enjoyed making our own traditions and doing what is best for us as a couple, and isn’t that what marriage is all about? It’s certainly hard to give up traditions you have grown up with and practiced year to year, but I think of it more as creating new traditions that our future children will grow up with and will one day eventually have to amend to accommodate their new family.

    • MDBethann

      Exactly! And Christmas is 12 days anyway, not just 1!

  • Aly

    This is my exact dilemma, especially since I’m an only child. We’re engaged and did Thanksgiving together and Christmas apart (since we’re not technically married and my fiance’s parents are divorced and holidays are hell for him anyway). Good to know I’m not the only one feeling really guilty and sad leaving my parents to celebrate the holidays without me. :)

  • Gina

    I know this post is old but I just found it and it is so relevant to my life right now. My boyfriend of 3 years and I got engaged 3 months ago and this is the first Christmas I will be spending with his family—we are finally going to Michigan so I can meet his relatives. In the past we’ve either spent holidays separately or he’s come to my parents (he’s also met the majority of my extended family, and I’ve only met his parents & siblings). I told my mom at least a month ago that we were planning on taking this trip and I wouldn’t be home for Christmas, but that we would come to visit either before or after (they only live about an hour & a half away).

    However, when I mentioned this to her again last week, she got really depressed and then flipped out, to the point where she has been really unfair about my fiance’s family and thinks they are forcing me into going (which is not the case). I told her that it was my decision, and that this trip is optional for me, but when I tried to explain she literally hung up on me. Now she is refusing to speak to me, and told me via email (a long, snarky email) that she will not discuss anything wedding related with me until six months before my wedding.

    My mom & I are really close so this is kind of a shock. I usually have to already balance holidays because my parents are divorced, so I’ve had to go back & forth between my mom’s & my dad’s families for years. For once I don’t have to decide between the two of them, and it’s completely backfired. At this point I am just not going to talk to her for a while and hope she calms down.