When my husband and I got married, the major holidays were pretty easy to parse out between our two families. His family is in California, about two hours from where we live, so they are the obvious choice for Thanksgiving. Mine is in Texas, a four-hour plane ride away, so traveling that distance is better suited to Christmas. Seems simple enough, but my husband’s parents divorced after he graduated from college. Managing holidays with multiple families’ expectations was not something either of us grew up with, so our simple holiday division turned out to be… well, not so simple.
For our first Thanksgiving with his family, we had a super solid plan that would leave no feelings hurt: breakfast at his mom’s to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a light lunch with his dad’s extended family, followed by a small dinner back at his mom’s, just the three of us. Best-laid plans and all that. Breakfast turned out to be a multi-course brunch-like feast for three; the “light lunch” was a slightly scaled-back version of his family’s normal Thanksgiving feast, which it turns out is huge; and dinner with his mom included individual Cornish game hens and from-scratch everything. And I was the new girl who loves to eat, and I didn’t want to offend anyone. So I ate to show my love for my husband. I ate to show that I was a good sport and open to new things. I ate to show that I valued all of the work his family put into preparing food for this celebration of family and friends and gratitude. And, I mean, it was all delicious.
My people hail from Texas and New Orleans. I know how to eat. But this reached levels of absurdity. I could barely walk by the end of the night, and the next morning I was still fully full. In fact, I was still full when we went to his sister’s place for coffee, which turned into coffee and scratch buttermilk pancakes. I was still full when we met up with his dad after that for brunch at his favorite local diner. After brunch, I think I simply stopped eating for two days—a first and a last for me.
That first Thanksgiving together was, well, a full one, but we learned from it. With hindsight I can totally see that I compromised my comfort for what I perceived as my new family’s comfort. And sure, I continue to want to please my new family to some extent, but the reality is that we sacrificed a little something of ourselves—and they didn’t even ask us to. It was an obligation we made up. I think, during the holidays especially, it’s easy for this to happen. We can spend too much on over-the-top gifts when our presence is what truly matters to our loved ones; overcommit to DIY and baking projects on a short timeframe in a busy season; try new, complicated recipes for the first time while cooking for 20 people at a holiday meal; stay up until absurd hours of the night figuring out how to hack our home printers to print on untraditional media (see: not printer paper)… or maybe that’s just me.
While my husband and I have since figured out what meals happen where and when at Thanksgiving, and we are super lucky that his family is willing to accommodate us, we’re still navigating other situations and hard conversations with our families. And I’m still figuring out what realistic personal obligations look like, especially around heightened emotional times like the holidays. There’s bound to be some discomfort and growing pain, but now I’m increasingly aware of my boundaries. How many days we need to bake holiday cookies for our co-workers (hint: not just one night, starting after dinner). What level of political diatribe I’ll put up with at family gatherings. When I just need to steal off with the baby for a few minutes alone. When I need someone else to steal off with the baby so I can have a few moments alone or an uninterrupted adult conversation.
For me, the awareness started that first family Thanksgiving, somewhere between a parade and a stuffed turkey. It’s definitely still a practice—figuring out what to say no to, doing it in a way that honors my feelings but considers other people as well. It’s imperfect, it’s sometimes messy, but it’s full of good intention. Now if we could just leave super inflammatory political conversations out of it, that would make for a true holiday miracle.
WHAT are YOUR PLANS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON? WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR NEWLYWEDS WHO ARE FIGURING OUT THE HOLIDAYS? ARE YOU CELEBRATING ANY DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU HAVE IN THE PAST? Are you feeling STRESSED? EXCITED?