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Are You Juggling New Family For The Holidays?

Two families? Four families? Chosen family?

My husband and I married in late October, and Thanksgiving was only a few weeks later. I remember feeling emotionally and socially exhausted from planning, paying for, and being the center of attention at our wedding, plus dealing with my parent’s fresh divorce. So I basically told my brand-new husband “I’m tapping out this year—I can’t holiday.” So we didn’t. My feelings on Thanksgiving are, uh, complicated, even in a normal year, so that year we opted out entirely. We went to a friend’s house and drank Boulevardiers and too much red wine and it was great. We don’t get to do that every year, but DAMN was it the right thing that year. In short, no one tells you when you get married (or really, engaged) that A) now you have to figure out the holidays! and B) You might be too tired to speak to anyone ever again.

But a couple years ago, fully recovered from our first year of marriage, we looked at each other and realized it was time for us to host the holidays. My husband’s father passed away when he was young; mine now lives in Indiana and goes to his partner’s family’s homes for the holidays. Our moms are wonderful (and live in the same town), so we’d long tried to figure out a way to go to their houses, visiting them both or trying to talk one or the other into (or out of) hosting. But that wasn’t working, and it’s all further complicated by my husband’s schedule: he’s a fire captain for the State of California, which means he often ends up working holidays.

So we’ve discovered that if we generally plan to host everyone for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we can dictate the terms, and build in some flexibility. Sometimes that means celebrating not-on-the-actual holiday, but that works well for us. Our families might have some feelings about this, but they keep showing up and don’t complain (to my face) so I’ve decided that means it’s fine 🤷🏻‍♀️. And it doesn’t work out the same way every year: one Christmas I spent at the firehouse with my husband and his co-workers’ families, another at a Chinese restaurant with my mom and a friend. But we’ve always described our style and “traditional-ish with a healthy dose of improvisation,” so it fits us. And we’ve found ways to let certain traditions go, which often means we get to have more fun, like making a giant Rice Krispie Treat cheeseburger for dessert one year, because why not? It was a hit.

It turns out I love our hybrid traditions. We invite all of our extended families, of course, but also all of our friends. Many work in the food service industry and don’t get enough time off to travel to their hometowns, or are from far enough away that traveling is too complicated. We usually end up with a mix of family, friends, neighbors, and anyone else who can make it. Cooking for groups is my great joy, and usually involves some elaborate lists and spreadsheets (another great joy of mine). Our friend group knows about food and wine and never shows up empty-handed, which one year resulted in the world’s most epic cheese board. As I write this, I realize that in many ways we’ve taken APW’s advice on weddings and made it our holiday philosophy as well: focus on the things that bring you joy, eliminate as much of the rest as you can, accept imperfection, and focus on your people.

So we do Christmas morning: pajamas, stockings, coffee cake, Bloody Marys. We do dinner later, too, but watching all of my adult family members and whatever friends are around tap into childhood delight when they unpack their stockings? Pure gold. We still have the usual family dramas; people are who they are, and you love them anyway. But fitting twenty people (or more) into our tiny San Francisco dining room and toasting to happiness, health, and community with them is one of the times I look around and realize maybe adulting isn’t so bad.

This year, Thanksgiving will be at home, in the city, on actual Thanksgiving Day. Christmas will be celebrated a day late, in the mountains, and everyone is invited to stick around for the long weekend (hopefully with snow). My husband’s grandfather passed away in April, and these will be our first holidays without him, so there will also be sadness and grief. But we’ll be together, we’ll be ready to improvise, and we’ll be finding joy where we can.

We’ve kind of figured it out at this point, but it took six years and it’s not perfect—and probably won’t ever be. The holidays are hard, especially with a newly-formed family and partnership. You’re likely now juggling at least two new sets of families and traditions (as if your family of origin wasn’t complicated enough). You find yourself confronting decisions you didn’t even know you had to make, and making compromises you didn’t know would be painful. Not to mention the disappointments and grief that can surface when you least expect them—and of course, there’s the potential for politics at the dinner table, which seems to get more and more painful every year. So let’s get through this together.

What do you need this holiday season? How are you navigating the complexities of it all? Do you travel? Host? What kinds of challenges are you anticipating? What are you looking forward to? anything you just need to get off your chest?

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