Newlywed Holiday Traditions (That Work)

Holiday Debrief

Surviving The Holidays | A Practical Wedding

Oh, hi! We’re back! After nearly three weeks of not publishing, the APW staff is so glad to be back at work, and so grateful to y’all for letting us have the much-needed time off to catch up and recover from last year. Much time was spent staring at the ceiling, eating cookies, drinking French 75’s, and watching the baby learn to walk.

Before we dive into wedding planning with a vengeance (congratulations to the newly engaged, cheers to those of you ready to gird your loins and wade into the depths of wedding planning), I wanted to take a moment to debrief about our holidays. We spend a lot of time in the fall talking about the challenges of creating holidays that work for us as young couples, newlyweds, young families, or just humans trying to map thoughtful lives for ourselves. But we rarely take time in  January to share stories about what newlywed holiday traditions worked, and to learn from each other.

Over the past five holiday seasons I’ve experienced as half of a married couple (and ten I’ve experienced as half of a couple), I’ve learned that there are three distinct stages to the holiday learning curve (your mileage may vary).

Stage One: Splitting Holidays. As part of a new family unit, your holidays can’t continue uninterrupted, same as they’ve ever been. In the first stage, you’re wrangling parental expectations and managing your own expectations.  If we do Thanksgiving with family A, we can do Christmas with family B. If we do Christmas Eve with family A, we can do Christmas Day with family B and family C and boxing day with family D. Fuck it, we’re staying home. Etc.

Stage Two: Owning The Holidays. This phase is crazy liberating. This is the moment where you realize that the holidays do not belong to your respective families. As a brand-new family, they belong to you, to share with your friends and loved ones. This is typically where you stop asking permission and start making independent decisions that work for you. No apologies.

Stage Three: Shaping the Holidays. This is where we’re at. Once you’ve claimed the shit out of the holidays, you have to figure out what they look like for you. What are your family traditions going to be anyway? Why?

This year, on Christmas Eve, I had a conversation with my friend Christina on Instagram. She posted a picture of her little girl opening an advent calendar, with the comment, “We aren’t really doing Santa and presents, but the anticipation is still fun.” And since, as an interfaith family we’re also not doing Santa, nor are we focused on presents, I rather hopefully asked, “What are you doing?” Turns out, they don’t have it figured out either. Christina told me, “That’s the problem, we’re not really sure what we are doing… Trying to find the spirit and magic, but still working out what the traditions will be for our family.”

So in that spirit of stumbling around and trying to find the magic, today we’ve scheduled a little APW holiday debrief. What did you do this year for the holidays that worked? (Think of this as giving yourself a holiday present for 2014, since in ten months or so, we’ll round up the best tips from this post, to give us all good ideas.)

Photo by Vivian Chen

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  • Hmm interesting timing! Christmas is hands and feet down my favorite time of the year, but this year it kind of sucked. My parents came out to LA to have Christmas with us ( they did this last year and it was great, but this is the year that we are getting married and my mom can’t deal) and there was huge family (aka mom) drama all week, and shit hit the fan on Christmas day – in our home- won’t go into detail but basically this holiday served as a wake up call. That we *have* to set boundaries, and even more than that, that I don’t *have* to put up with this anymore, that we don’t need to make apologies and walk on eggshells – ahem your stage number 2! I guess what I’m saying is, we’re at that stage, and that’s what we learned this year. We’re done playing other people’s games, our family is our own game.

    • Meg Keene

      “We’re done playing other people’s games, our family is our own game.”

      High fives.

      • Amy

        I seriously need to print this out in fancy letters and tape it to our new fridge.

    • Jess

      Congratulations! I hope next Christmas goes better.

    • Margret

      So much this. It dovetails so closely with what my husband and I learned this holiday season (our 3rd married): don’t let other people make your plans for you. We had already made plans to spend Christmas eve/day with close family friends when his mother called to tell us her and her boyfriend would be in our town December 23-26. Our original plans would have had us about 45 minutes away from her, and we probably would have spent the evening of Christmas with her. But the two of them made these plans without consulting with us first, with the expectation that we would host them for Christmas. We (mostly the husband) dealt with some guilt, but ultimately had to stand firm that our plans were our plans, and other people, no matter how much we love them, will not be making plans for us without prior consultation. You just put it so much more eloquently than I ever could have: our family is our own game.

    • C

      Sigh. I dealt with a family meltdown this Christmas also, only it was my future mother-in-law melting down, not my own mother. My fiance is an only child and his mom is having a verrrry tough time with the whole he’s-getting-married thing. I’ve been saying since I first met his parents (almost 2 years ago) that he with his mom. Finally, this Christmas, he got it. So as stressful as the meltdown was on him (and me!) it was the wake-up call that he needed. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who went through something like this over the holidays!

      • Wow, C, it sounds exactly like my story! But I’m the one that needs to set boundaries. Seriously, identical!

  • Laura C

    Please, someone have wonderful new ideas that solve all my problems! I’m really hoping to skip stage one but profoundly pessimistic about how anything we think of will work out.

    • Laura C

      (Like, how bad is it, on a scale from 1 to you shouldn’t be getting married, that I thought spending Christmas apart to be with our respective families was really not such a bad solution to the problem.)

      • Mezza

        Why is that bad if it works for both of you? I just got married this year but have been in the relationship for 10 years, and that’s basically what we’ve done for every Christmas. Our families live in the same city (we live several states away), and when we go home to visit, we tend to just stay with our respective families! This year we made a few steps towards not doing that anymore, like both of us having Christmas lunch with my family and Christmas dinner with hers, but the rest of the time we were mostly apart and it was completely fine.

        • Laura C

          I’m not sure how much it works for me and how much it works for both of us (something to investigate, I guess), but I really appreciate hearing that I’m not the only one!

          • CJ

            Last year (before we were engaged), we did this. And it was okay, except for the part where we hated it because we just wanted to spend Christmas together. We did our family Christmases separately and had a mini-Christmas together that night.

            This year, we had
            12/24 early PM: Our Christmas
            12/24 PM: My extended family
            12/25 AM: My family
            12/25 PM: His family
            12/26 PM: His extended family

            AND I worked every morning except Christmas. It. Was. Exhausting.

            But we liked it better than the alternative.

            I don’t know yet what we’ll do next year, but likely the same until kids come along. Then we’ll just do extended (mine), OUR CHRISTMAS, then extended (his).

          • Lizzie C.

            You’re definitely not the only one! My mom and siblings live in the same metro area as my in-laws, so we rarely have to choose between them for entire holidays, but whenever my Mr. suggests doing holidays separately, I’m relieved…because I don’t like his parents very much. Don’t tell.

        • Yvonne

          We are in the same situation. We both attend each other’s family get-togethers, but we stay at our respective mothers’ houses. It’s the best thing we’ve come up with. My husband is working on my mother-in-law’s house so she can downsize, so it’s better for him to get work done that ay.

      • Meg Keene

        My perspective (please take this with a grain of salt as a person with an opinion, not as an EIC) is that the spending holidays apart works while it works. But it’s not something that works long term, generally. First, if you have kids, it’s pretty much out. Second, if you don’t have kids things change, parents age, etc, and you need to have the two of you holding each other up during the emotionally loaded holiday period. I’ve found that building holiday traditions, of one sort or another, is one of those things that cements that you ARE the family, that you’re not two people with respective families.

        That said, A) You might totally disagree, and B) You don’t have to be there now. You can take time to work towards that feeling of family wholeness, whatever that looks like for you. And maybe you decide you don’t give a shit about Christmas, and you just do whatever, but Thanksgiving is your real family holiday.

        My point, I guess is, that the process of getting engaged and married is a process of your loyalties slowly changing. Instead of your family of origin coming first, your new family comes first. One year I told my mom, “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for David, and I have to put him first now.” And bless her, she was like, “Of course. Those are your marriage vows.”

        • Laura C

          I totally agree with this as a long-term perspective. It’s where I want to be, I’m just stuck on how to get there. I think this is why I really hope to skip stage one: I don’t want to let everything be a holiday-by-holiday thing. I want to figure out how to be us without negotiating each individual event. And given the dynamics of our families, I worry that if we start off with any kind of set alternating schedule, it will be taken as a promise that’s used against us when we try to move past it — and, thinking of this for the first time as I type, maybe it’s easier to get there by starting with an arrangement that is very clearly only temporary. Or maybe I’m rationalizing my conflict avoidance!

          • Meg Keene

            No, I think you’re totally right. It’s dangerous to make long term pronouncements that don’t give you room to change, and grow into your relationship. “We’ll do every other Christmas with you.” Well, really? What about the Christmas where one of you is sick and the other has to work? What about the Christmas where you have two kids under five which you never thought would happen and holy FUCK you agreed to travel forever eight years ago and now you’re being held to it?

            I think it’s, “This year, we’ll do Thanksgiving with you, and Christmas with his family. I’m sorry if it’s not your first choice, we love you, and obviously things will change year to year.*”

            *vague, and true.

          • Lynsey

            Exactly. Things absolutely change year to year. After the last few years, we thought we had solidly entered phase 1 and had the alternating thing down. This year, a new job and required court appearances on Christmas Eve meant that spending the holiday apart worked better for us. Next year, who knows! The only long term pronouncement we can make is to continue to love and have respect for our families of origin and to make plans that feel right for us.

          • BreckW

            I also wanted to skip stage one because I lean conflict-avoidant and because we both find our families of origin kind of… exhausting? We do love them and couldn’t figure out a kind way to bail on everyone, so we did the deed. The thing that saved my sanity was filling little pieces of us into each holiday. We stood our ground on a few issues, created some baby family traditions, and were pretty vague about any kind of future holiday schedule. I also went in with really low expectations, which helped.

        • lottie

          I don’t know, I think you can be a family and be 2 people with families. It seems to me a lot of this may depend on how old you are when you meet, as there are plenty of people who work things out with their families as single adults first and then enter relationships, rather than the relationship being the reason to work out the relationship with the family. It may be more typical or conventional to do it when partnered but thinking about what the relationship an individual wants or needs with family is important too. Because, as you say, circumstances change, so knowing what’s important for individuals and for a unit seems wise.

          • Meg Keene

            I agree with all of that, I just think at the end of the day marriage is about not just being two individuals. For me, it’s about a form of collectivism, or socialism, really. So what we’re talking about is really more a philosophical question. And I’m saying that sure, you are a son or a daughter and have an independent relationship with your family, and that manifests a lot of different ways. But you’re also part of this other thing, which is a marriage, which is sort of it’s own thing with it’s own needs. And usually the holidays are a place where you have to carve out some space for your marriage (or family), as an entity.

      • Ella

        I don’t think that’s a bad sign at all! I kind of agree…haha. I mean, it makes sense — that’s how it used to be and it worked out fine then!

        But I will say, there was something really special about waking up the morning of the holiday (watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, opening Christmas presents, what have you….) and sitting around in my pajamas with my husband before we left to visit our family. We split our time three ways this year between my parents in Florida and his divorced parents in Maryland while sticking together. It actually worked out just fine in that we had a chance to share each other’s holiday traditions and make some new ones.

      • Katherine

        I just want to second the idea that spending holidays apart is okay…if it works for both of you. My new husband & I spent Thanksgiving apart. Although, to Meg’s point, Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal to my husband. Being with family on Thanksgiving was important to me, but not to my husband, so I want out of town while he stayed home to work.

        I’m the product of an interfaith marriage, and my mother has said that not having to negotiate some of the major holidays was a big bonus. Christmas was always with my father’s side of the family because they’re the ones who celebrate Christmas.

        Thankfully, my husband & I haven’t had a hard time negotiating Christmas so far. His family always celebrates on a weekend near the actual date, and my family always celebrates on the actual day. Living in Chicago, visiting his family in Ft. Wayne on the way to visiting my family in Cleveland (or on the way home) actually works out really well.

      • chaos

        We had our first married Passover last year dividing days with families and it was perfect.

        Unfortunately this year, due to geography, the plan that worked so well last year will not work this year. We’re stuck with Passover seder options that are either spiritually good for him and bad for me or spiritually good for me and bad for him. Hosting and creating a seder of our own is not an option this year because geographically, neither of us will be home.

        There’s a part of me that thinks that spending our second married Passover apart – he in one country with a spiritually satisfying option for him and me quite possibly in another country with a spiritually satisfying option for me, is actually a good idea. To me, splitting up certainly sounds better than one of us getting stuck with something that makes one of us really uncomfortable for the sake of doing things as a coupled unit.

        I know this is an old post, but I’m thinking about it now because this is the holiday that will pose issues for us, not Thanksgiving (which was beautifully painless to work out) or Christmas (which we don’t celebrate)

    • Jess

      Take a trip on the holiday? Rent a house somewhere awesome and decorate a tiny tree with origami ornaments? Go on a cruise? Backpack in New Zealand? Say “I don’t effing care if you like it!” to people who don’t approve of your awesome new plans!*

      *I am so not ready to do this.

      • Meg Keene

        We travel on Thanksgiving, and are past inquiring what people think. It’s WONDERFUL. We call people and say hello. This year we went to Stonehenge.

        • KimBee

          Agreed. We went to Istanbul this year, and it was great!

    • MDBethann

      We went to Germany for the first 2 weeks in December to see the Christmas markets. It was FANTASTIC!
      (1) We left the Saturday after Thanksgiving & with the help of my SIL talked both sets of parents into a shared Thanksgiving since they live near one another (usually Thanksgiving with my in-laws is that Saturday, but we were flying to Europe that day)
      (2) Told everyone all of our Christmas shopping was being done in Europe. While we scoured Christmas markets for gifts, it made Christmas shopping more fun for me & meant people got unique gifts (it also meant I had a good excuse to buy souvenirs because they were automatically gifts – WIN!)
      (3) Being in Europe for most of Advent meant we got to celebrate the holiday season without the American crass commercialization, which annoys the heck out of both of us. Germany, Switzerland, & France were so pretty & the focus seemed to be on Advent & St. Nicholas Day, the Gluhwein (hot, mulled wine – delicious), & food. Even the TV commercials weren’t about Christmas shopping & “stuff,” which was wonderful.
      (4) It made it easier to set boundaries for the holiday break, especially since the holidays were in the middle of the week. We stayed up through the Sunday after Christmas & then drove home. We missed seeing some of my cousins, but that was because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get together earlier in the week. That’s fine, but then you don’t see us.

      Granted, this was our 5th Christmas together & we established a pattern early on – the family with kids (my SIL’s) gets Christmas morning, and then we spend the evening with my family. His family isn’t huge on going to church & my dad is a pastor, so Christmas Eve is with my family & then we drive to my SIL’s. It works for now, and we’ve made it clear that once we have our own children, Christmas Eve & Day will be at our house & we’ll come up to visit during one of the other 12 days of Christmas.

      Vacation at the holidays though – wonderful. I will definitely consider doing it again. Yes, it’s cold, but places aren’t crowded & lodging is cheaper. You also get beautiful views if there is snow (Bavaria covered in snow is breathtaking!!)

  • One More Poster

    I had to work Christmas Eve, so the husband and I just invited another couple over for Christmas dinner. With only 5 of us (including another family member), I got to pull out all my fun “grown up” serving pieces but still h ave a low stress day. We planned the food to be as easy as possible. After the meal, we played a great game of Scrabble and relaxed.

  • Rachel

    I’m still in Stage 1…but, baby steps! Instead of splitting Christmas Eve and Day up, we split up the families between before Christmas, Christmas holidays, and after. I have to say ::: So much progress from previous years.

  • springday123

    We had plenty of holiday running around, which we’ll hopefully reduce a bit each year, but something we did this year, which I hope we’ll keep, is doing a night with a fire in the firepit, and some good beer and tasty cheese a few days before everything. We had a quiet night where we exchanged gifts and enjoyed the fire, which gave some welcome calm before the hectic next few days. We also played “A fireplace for your home” that night on Netflix– so, fires inside and out!

  • Lindsey d.

    My Interfaith family Christmas wish would be for Christmas to frequently look like it did in 2013. We spent time with my side of the family (the Christmas celebrating side) from the 20th – 24th, which was perfect because the run-up to Christmas is my favorite part anyway. And then we did the Chinese food and movies with my fiance’s parents on the 25th, which was so lovely and low key and perfect. I really want this to be the way it continues. We’ve decided to “go Jewish,” as I keep describing it, and won’t do the Christmas thing directly with our kids. So enjoying it with family before the presents get opened and then hanging with the Jewish grandparents (or doing movies and popcorn and hot chocolate at home) seems like a perfect way to get in family time on both sides. Crossing my fingers over here….

  • Meaghan

    In our 8 (9, maybe?) holidays together we’ve gone from spending them separately with our respective families, to jumping frantically between families, to alternating holidays… and then we moved across the world and spent this christmas watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in our PJs and drinking homemade eggnog (ps – eggnog haters, try it from scratch!), eating cookies we baked from his family’s recipe and cake from mine.

    Our families win big trophies for never being demanding or crazy-pants when we were trying out all those other ways of doing things. But it was nice to just be us (and the dog) and know that this was still family.

    • Laura C

      I have never wanted to move across the world, but you make it sound real good.

    • HannahESmith

      Homemade eggnog is incredible!

    • clairekfromtheuk

      Homemade eggnog is the BOMB!!

    • EF

      I also live halfway across the world from my family (who HAVE been crazy-pants) and boy is it a relief to have the automatic excuse, ‘sorry, but it’s an 8-hour plan ride and that’s just too much’. And really, getting time to spend on your own terms, with your own person, and with hopefully VERY rum-filled eggnog, is the best.

    • steffanyf

      My husband and I ALSO live halfway across the world from our families and our holidays sound a lot like yours! American Thanksgiving was celebrated with many work mates who filled our apartment with laughter and food and booze, many of whom had never celebrated Thanksgiving but relished in the opportunity and were amazing. (Aside from the occasional American/gun/bourbon joke). Christmas was spent just the two of us, fancy waffle breakfast, fancy homemade dinner, and the cat. Perfect.

  • Two things that worked for me this holiday season – but they both came out of the same life change: asking for what I want.

    – I asked my husband for a gift that cost him time, thought and energy versus money. This ended up being the best present I’ve probably ever received.

    – Asked local friends who also don’t have family/family they like whether we could all celebrate together. This ended up being the most amazing Christmas I’ve probably ever had.

    • Meg Keene


      Actually, I think I want more of my local friends to have babies (wait, not for the reason you think). After having a kid, we’re now pretty firmly in the “our family is our family, and we’re already at home” camp, and the holidays. IE, we might travel, but it’s not assumed. As far as I can tell from my social circles, people seem to cross over from traveling to family to being home for the holidays around the kids marker, if they have kids. SO. In short. I want more people to be in town over the holidays, so we can be here, not be mostly alone, and have a big open house.

      I’ll take babies crawling around if that’s what it takes, but they’re not mandatory ;)

      • BreckW

        This is what we want, too! I come from an orphan family (there are, uh, 3 of us), so I’m used to holidays that are a big mash up of friends, family, and other strays. We’ve already wrangled our friends who are nurses and will have to work Christmas Eve next year into coming over the next day for Friendsmas.

        • Jennifer

          We did Friendsgiving this year and I have to admit, though it was SUPER unconventional, it was also a lot less stressful and more fun. Meeting new people! Other people’s parents loving us! LOTS of fun and games (my family doesn’t really do games). Winning in my book.

      • I found it sadly shocking how when you build your holidays to include only people you like and who make you feel good, your holidays become amazing. I’ve learned my lesson now, and from now on all celebrations in my life, will be ones where I can actually celebrate because I’m surrounded by love.

      • Ali

        I wish we could get an easier pass to skip the exhausting holiday traveling shebang that didn’t require babies, cause we aren’t going to have babies.

        But it seems like it doing it without hurt feelings usually requires babies, cause otherwise some people think they own you for the holidays (at least in my family they do).

        Eventually we’re going to have to shuffle this around somewhat, b/c this year was a killer.

        • BreckW

          Sorry this year was tough. May I suggest a llama or other large animal as a pet?

          • Meg Keene

            Or a llama AND less sleep. Obvs.

          • lady brett

            at worst, if it doesn’t fix a thing, you’ll still have a llama.

          • BreckW

            This was precisely my train of thought.

        • Meg Keene

          I think you have to just do it. The truth is, babies don’t stop people from getting their feeling hurt (in fact, sometimes the opposite, everyone wants a piece of those babies). Babies just give you a spine of steel… partially because you’re too tired to care.

          What I’m saying is maybe just sleep less in the lead up to the holidays.

        • Here’s what I ask myself: what’s more important, my happiness or someone else’s hurt feelings? Guess which wins?

          We all get our feelings hurt in life. No one tip toes around you I’m sure to protect you from ever getting sad. So why do it for others. We are all responsible for our own happiness. So make yourself happy next year and celebrate as you choose.

          • Meg Keene


        • Rachael

          Oh boy, my husband and I are feeling this way as well. The past two years have been a crazy “exhausting holiday traveling shebang” for us also and I don’t think I can do the six major family functions over two days that we are expected to participate in another year.

          And yep, I also get this feeling that it will expected of us unless we have kids – actually, I think it will be expected of us beyond that point, if it happens, but at least I’ll feel like we’ll have a solid reason.

        • Jo

          So with you here. And wondering if maybe a dog would be a good stand-in excuse? A dog who doesn’t travel well?

      • emfish

        Start a trend, babies or no! We have spent a number of holidays at home over the last few years, and loved every one of them. Sometimes, when we tell people we’re staying home, they’ll get all sad faced about it. That’s our cue to expound upon everything we love about staying at home. We don’t get stressed about traveling, and we get to save our travel pennies for family visits at less expensive times of the year. We get to share the best of both our family traditions instead of forcing one of us to be subsumed by a family they’ve only known for five years. We get to enjoy the city when it’s empty because everyone else went home for the holidays — less traffic, fewer crowds.

        Somehow, magically, more and more of our friends (including the single ones, and the ones without kids) have started sticking around for the holidays. Maybe it’s not due to our stellar advertising skills, but they can’t hurt, right?

        • Meg Keene

          Oh, to be clear, we have a small child. We do stay home sometimes. But we’re among the oldest in our friend group, and the most settled, so it’s normally just us, and a few other awesome people.

    • Guest

      It is sadly shocking how when you build your holidays to include only people you like and who make you feel good, your holidays become amazing. I’ve learned my lesson now, and from now on all celebrations in my life, will be ones where I can actually celebrate because I’m surrounded by love.

  • SM

    Hmm… This is something we are still figuring out after four years. My partner and his family have always celebrated Christmas Eve, whereas my family has always celebrated Christmas day. This appears to make things easier (spend the 24th doing his stuff and the 25th doing my stuff) but it is not that simple as doing things for one still seems to impact on the other which causes some tension. This Christmas turned out to be nice but it was tinged with a lot of sadness. Earlier in the year my partner had a big falling out with his family and had virtually decided that it is better not to associate with them anymore. Celebrating his family’s traditions and keeping up some of their cultural practices is super important to him (and me) but difficult to negotiate when you can no longer bear to do it with said family. Hears hoping we get closer to stages 2 and 3 next year.

  • Jess

    Stage 1 here, second year running. Switching things around from last year, we did Thanksgiving with my whole family (extended), Christmas with his immediate family and sister’s bf’s parents, and in a few weeks will do a “post-new years Christmas” with my immediate family. Next year we’ll switch again. We have to travel for any family, so we can’t split up holidays.

    So far, it’s gone well. Different family attitudes, different traditions, different feel to the holidays. I’m an emotional wreck around family in general, so having two of them to panic about is loads of fun (probably even more so for him). Nobody’s family seems to be too upset about the arrangement as it stands now.

    We have pretty much claimed New Years as ours though – This year I threw a rocking “bartender” party with 20 of our friends in an apartment. Complete with a sparkly gold dress on my part. It was awesome, and I’ll probably keep doing it. Tradition in the making!

  • Meg O’Donnell

    The Christmas holidays marked the end of a big, huge year for us. Especially the final months.

    We got married at the beginning of October, took a honeymoon and two weeks later took a family vacation with my husband’s side of the fam – the first they’d taken in well over a decade. So much fun, love and excitement! An October for the record books!

    November tipped the scales in the exact opposite direction of all that joy as my father-in-law, who’d had cancer for about 2 years, went downhill fast. Our newlywed hearts which had been full to bursting with happiness, shattered with grief. We lost Lou at the start of December.

    So, needless to say, Christmas was tough. We focused on keeping things small and trying to appreciate the magic of the season. My mother-in-law encouraged us to focus on our baby family and start making our own traditions. We rose to the occasion with the following traditions that we’d like to continue in future years. What we like about them is that they’re easy to replicate no matter who’s family were with for the holiday.

    1. Christmas Lights appreciation drives, full of opinion, commentary and plans for our own decorated lawn-of-the-future.

    2. Lots of Christmas Carols. Lou loved to sing and these remind us of him, so they are bittersweet but so special.

    3. New ornaments for our tiny Ikea cardboard tree*. On which we inscribed the year. *Including a handmade Just Married ornament :)

    4. Binging on Christmas Specials. Charlie Brown, South Park, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Elf are perennial favorites.

    Now we’re looking forward to adding more traditions. The important one for us is being together on Christmas Eve and morning.

    • jashshea

      I’m so sorry for your loss, but am glad to hear that you were able to forge your own traditions during what had to be an emotional time.

  • Annie

    Even though we actually do celebrate Christmas in the present-opening, tree-having sense, I like to embrace my Jewish half. We always make sure to do Jewish Christmas, either on Christmas day proper or Christmas eve. Lots of Chinese food + the movies. It’s honestly my favorite “holiday.”

    • Amy

      My mister isn’t Jewish, but grew up in a strongly Jewish neighborhood, so Chinese food and the movies is what his family does on Christmas day. At first I thought it was weird, because my family is all about the ‘traditional’ celebrations, but the longer I’ve known him, the more I look forward to incorporating his traditions with mine. Maybe midnight movies instead of midnight mass? Who knows!

  • BD

    Oh wow, this year was rough for me… my first holiday season married, but also my first Christmas not spent with my family of origin. We had the bright idea of moving to a new city (and halfway across the state of Texas!) in the month of December, and between that and work we barely had time to exchange gifts with each other on the morning of the 25th. In a way it was nice to spend our first married Christmas together, just the two of us, without having to deal with Stage One at all. But it also caused me a lot of guilt. I can tell this is something that will take some time for us to work out, but I’m glad for the respite we got this year.

  • Erin E

    I found that this year (our first year married but our fifth year together) we seemed to have a more legitimate claim to doing what we wanted as a couple. Somehow our recent marriage made it OK to say “we won’t be traveling this year”… people accepted that we had a “right” to make decisions as a new family and that we might choose to just celebrate with the two of us. That same decision would have been met with resistance in the past in my family, but being married gave us some form of legitimacy that we didn’t have before. I don’t agree with this fundamentally (I feel like my partner and I were just as much a family last year as this year), but it it was interesting to notice (and kind of nice to feel) that we were somehow more “recognized” as a couple.

  • Amy

    Splitting time with our families over our first set of holidays as an engaged couple Did Not Work Well, and I am a little ashamed to admit I threw a fit worthy of a twelve-year-old on Christmas Eve. But — what I AM proud of is that a few days later my mister and I regrouped and talked calmly and like the adults we are supposed to be about how things went wrong and what we can do better for next year. And in between Christmas Eve and the weekend after, I managed to act like a lady instead of a child and have fun with him even though I was still kind of mad at him. Last year’s Amy would have sulked and ruined the entire week we had together. Look ma, progress!

    • Winny the Elephant

      I’ve had tantrums that a 2 year old would be ashamed of due to family overload. Stay strong <3

      • Amy

        I am SO GLAD it’s not just me. Family is exhausting, man.

        • Meg Keene

          Who HASN’T cried on Christmas? I mean, really.

    • Shiri

      I hid upstairs and cried on the bed Christmas Eve. I feel you.

    • Jennifer

      I cried on Christmas Eve as well! The fiance and I decided to do Christmas Eve dinner with his family, then go to the evening service at our church, which meant we would have to drive to my parents’ house on Christmas Day. Which I was totally ok with until Christmas Eve actually rolled around and I realized it would be the first time I ever woke up somewhere other than my parents’ house on Christmas morning. I broke down on our way to church and the fiance offered to skip church and head straight down to my parents. I loved that he was willing to do whatever to make me happy, but I decided to just suck it up and power through – things are changing, and I might as well get used to it now! I’m so glad I did too, because we ended up starting our own little Christmas Eve tradition now :)

    • Apples

      Oh my goodness! My first Christmas away from home, spent entire week at his parents (first Christmas there, engaged this past year), bit of socializing overload. That was paired with no big celebration on Christmas Day, which is when my family always does a big thing. I was seriously antisocial by the end of it, plus sad for missing Christmas for the first time ever. But his side is worried that since he’s moved 10 hours away to live w/ me and very near my family, so they thought I was basically putting up with them and making plans to never come back, and steal their son while I’m at it. To the point where his mom asked 3 times when he was visiting again and his sister said she didn’t want to be a bridesmaid if I don’t want to “put in more effort”. So afterward, I cried, we talked, and in 2 years when we’re back for Christmas, we’re scheduling some “get out of this damn house for an entire day” activities so I can recharge. I’m not proud of how worn-out I got w/o any good coping method, and the crying later on, but at least we have a game plan now.

      • Amy

        What a trying week!!

        Good for you two for working on a strategy, though! Maybe the crying+talking later method really does work out for the best sometimes. I guess it’s the only way we can learn where our limits really are, instead of where we think they are. *solidarity fist bumps*

      • Lauren

        Girl, I feel you. Christmas with his family, away from yours, and no downtime is rough. Be proud that you got through it, and know that you are not the only one who has cried in such a situation!

  • Katie Wannen

    On the not-so-serious but super-awesome side of things, my husband and I jumped right in to Stage Two and started a brand new tradition this year which was an annual lip-syncing contest (inspired by Jimmy Fallon, of course). It was incredible. Don’t recommend it for all families, but for my family? Amazing. Everyone embraced it full-on and they were all absolutely incredible. Provided an entire evening of free entertainment, joy and laughter. Highly recommend. No video or photos because thems the rules – sorry folks.

    • Amy

      Um, hi, can I come to the holidays at your house next year?

  • Kenzie

    We owned the holidays this year and I still feel pretty triumphant about it. We decided we’re staying home for Thanksgiving and welcomed any visitors. My parents traveled out of their home state for Thanksgiving the first time in their entire 25+ years of marriage and flew to be with us. We had already decided that we were just going to stay home for Christmas too (after trying to rotate Christmases with the families, go on vacation, in previous years) and spend it alone. I am so glad we did because after Thanksgiving, I found out that I’m pregnant! It felt pretty amazing to be in my own home, with my husband, my dogs, and my lentil baby watching the Godfather on Christmas Day because we could! Being a grown-up is awesome.

    • BreckW

      Your Christmas sounds AMAZING! Being a grown-up is totally awesome.

      Also, congrats!

    • That sounds like a fun holiday!

    • Amy

      Go you!! Congrats to you and your baby family!

  • Elizabear

    Second year of stage one after nine years together (only 6 months married)–and it was time for me to (finally) spend Christmas Eve and Day with the in-laws. I cried (alone in the bathroom). I hated it. It was terrible. I put on a smile for the sake of my husband, but it was way more difficult than I expected it to be since I had already done Thanksgiving and Easter with them a bunch of times over the years (and those were perfectly lovely even if I would rather spend time with my family–I have a relatively strained relationship with the in-laws). I am not sure why it was so much more difficult. I guess because it didn’t feel…joyous (and because there was no dessert on Christmas Day)? Woof.

    I hope to read some good tips on how to make it work because it is really important to me to make it work with them! I am already so relieved that my family gets Christmas 2014.

    • Lizzie C.

      Oh man, I hear you. My first Christmas with the in-laws instead of my own family, I got so sad I lashed out at my husband for no fault of his own and almost ruined both of our days. (Also, my in-laws don’t do dessert either…what’s with that?!) What’s helped since then, at least for me, was not to just go along with the in-laws’ plans, but to impose some of my own. This Thanksgiving, I brought a gingerbread house kit for us all to make together, even though that’s not a family ritual for me at all. It was kind of random (and messy) but made me feel like I had some control over the celebration. What if you suggested integrating something you love into Christmas with the in-laws?

      • Elizabear

        I think that is a good idea. I tried with food this year (I brought panettone and homemade torrone) and they didn’t touch any of it. I guess I will have to try some sort of activity to make it feel like Christmas!

    • No dessert on Christmas day? What gives? At least in the future you’ll know what dish to bring! CAKE!

    • Kathleen

      I’m right there with you. It would have been a challenging holiday season for me anyway, but spending it with my in-laws was REALLY hard. It’s always a bit of a grin-and-bear-it proposition to hang out with them for extended periods of time, but Christmas in particular – and not seeing my family on Christmas Eve OR Day – was HARD. Spending time with my family is usually easier and more pleasant, but the “early Christmas” we did this year just seemed so forced and like it wasn’t working at all. On top of that, it worked out that we did Thanksgiving with the in-laws this year as well, so I had no particularly fun or joyous holiday moments with anyone at any point during the holidays. Add in a New Year’s Eve funeral, and you’ll get a good idea of my holiday season. I, too, am already looking forward to a “real” Christmas with my family in 2014, but particularly now that we have a baby on the way, I know I can’t just grin and bear it every other year, and have to figure out how to own the holidays, including the ones spent with my in-laws.

    • MsDitz

      Oh my gosh… I’m not the only one who has suffered through a no-dessert Christmas with the in-laws?! My first Christmas with them I experienced the exact same thing (tears in the bathroom and all). The first Christmas away is always the hardest, you get used to it. And this year my in-laws had dessert…just no tree. *sigh*
      My in-laws don’t really “do” all that much for holidays, it usually just ends up being a normal visit with a couple of gifts thrown in (which are nice, don’t want to sound ungrateful). Yet even though they do almost nothing, I have figured out that it is still important to them that we show our faces at some point during the holidays, so we figured out a system where we can make it to them in time for Christmas Day dinner but still have a “real” Christmas of our own. And I have also brought in my own traditions and activities when visiting just like other commenters have suggested. This year I brought some cookies and poinsettias to liven up the place. I disguised them as “gifts” for the family, but it was really for myself to make it feel more festive.

      • Elizabear

        They also (never) have a Christmas tree! I am glad someone else went through this :)

        Yeah, they also just hang around and gifts are a HUGE deal, which is really odd to me. We went out a couple of times as a couple, which helped, but then I had to leave my dog with them and they, frankly, are really bad dog-babysitters and I don’t trust them (or their house). It makes it hard to leave and do things that make us happy as a couple.

    • emfish

      I feel for you so much. This was me three years ago. And I don’t even consider myself that into Christmas — Thanksgiving is my holiday, and I have no problem sharing it with his family. But our Christmas with them was really miserable for me, despite everyone being really kind and welcoming. For me, I think the reason it was so hard is specifically BECAUSE Christmas isn’t my deal. I long ago reconciled myself to the holiday by skipping out on the things that aren’t for me (the religious stuff, tons of gifts) and investing myself in the things I enjoyed (watching non-Christmas movies with my brother on Christmas Eve, making breakfast at home, stockings). But if you spend Christmas with someone else’s family, you feel like you have to do what they do. That meant no stockings (sort of — my fiance wound up doing one for me but I didn’t know he was, so I didn’t do one for him and I was the only one with a stocking, which isn’t the point), midnight mass, and lots and lots of time with family friends and extended family (holy small talk, Batman).

      We’ve spent the last two Christmases at home, and it’s been a huge relief. I’m sure we’ll spend Christmas with his family again at some point. But I learned that we need to do Christmas on our terms. That means I’ll never be forced into going to church again (I mean it — it might hurt their feelings, but going hurts my belief system, so they’ll get over it). It means they will need to allow some room for some of my traditions, or at least give me time to be alone.

      • Elizabear

        Yeah, I am going to need to make room for some of our traditions at their celebration. It will help, I think, if we move back to the area and we can spend the morning, or something, as a couple.

    • I’m going to tell you something you may not want to hear: maybe it will never work with them.

      I don’t know you and I don’t know your in-laws. I don’t know why your relationship with them is strained. But SOMETIMES people can’t get along with their in-laws because they honestly can’t like the in-laws. Sometimes the problem is trying to force yourself to be around toxic people.

      You said you’ve spent time with them in the past that was lovely so I’m sincerely hopeful this is not your scenario. Hopefully, fingers crossed, you’ll figure out a way to get into a less strained phase of your relationship with them and things will become easier. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you.

      I just thought it was worthwhile mentioning that some of us (me! me!) have in-laws who require more to be around than we are willing to pay. And that’s ok and is an acceptable way to live. Sometimes people don’t understand that so I think its good to remind them.

      • Elizabear

        I think you hit the nail on the head, unfortunately. It just might never be possible. Hopefully we will move closer to both of our families soon and that will allow some time to be spent at our own home during the holidays. I really think that will help when it is an in-law Christmas.

  • StartCloseIn

    One year, we split holidays. Last year, we had an IUI and hosted both families, which didn’t end up as both families because his mom didn’t come due to snow. This year, we went to my aunt’s house. Every year, without fail, we go somewhere the two of us immediately following or shortly after the holidays even if it’s just two days. It’s a must.

  • MC

    This was our first year of engagement, and the first year that we did all holidays together, instead of splitting up to be with our respective families. We decided to be in our home state for Thanksgiving (our family holiday of choice) and stay in our new state for Christmas. My family was invited to Fiance’s family Thanksgiving dinner which worked out wonderfully, although I don’t know if we’ll replicate that arrangement in years to come. And having Christmas with just us and our cat was SO relaxing.

    It definitely helped that our families of origin were very understanding and that we live in a part of the country where weather in December can make traveling difficult, which for now gives us an “out.” I think starting with one holiday where we aren’t going to travel was a great way to do it, because it reminded everyone that we ARE a family unit and we DO make decisions together.

  • This year, we stayed home and didn’t see either of our families for the second year in a row. It was nice (though of course a little bit sad), but I did find myself REALLY wanting to host a holiday with our families at our house soon. Any suggestions on how to convince people to come to you without having a kid? Because it kinda seems like that’s what it takes.

    • Casey

      I would love to hear suggestions for that too! I think a kid would be totally convincing but we are not ready for that yet. All our family is relatively local, but convincing people to break from longstanding holiday hosting traditions seems impossible! Not to mention my husband’s parents are divorced and remarried, so that adds another wrinkle to it.

    • I find that it’s easier to get people to travel for Thanksgiving. Generally speaking people have off work Thursday & Friday and can leave early Wednesday. With Christmas the days a company chooses to give holidays for can vary based on what day of the week Christmas falls.

      I say this as someone who’s in-laws have had rough Thanksgivings in the past few years and have relished the opportunity to travel and get away from craziness to just be with us.

      • Rachael

        We did this this past year – my husband’s parents and my mom, sister, and brother all traveled to us and we hosted Thanksgiving. We have a good reason / excuse, though – my sister can drive the 4 hours to our place easily enough for the short holiday, but to drive the 7 hours it would take her to get to our hometown just wouldn’t work for her.

        Warning, though, you may have your obstinate family members – my dad refused to come and thought it was ridiculous that everyone was traveling to us. His loss, he didn’t get to see his daughter, my sister, for Thanksgiving and she didn’t make it home for Christmas.

    • Meg Keene

      Promise good food and great drinks. Tell them they won’t have to cook and clean if they don’t want to.

    • Claire

      We hosted big Christmas dinners for both sides of my partner’s (divorced) family for the first time this year. We don’t have kids, but did just buy our first home together and everyone knew how excited my partner was to host people at our home. Most of the extended family hadn’t gotten to see our new place yet, so I think that helped lure them over. The other thing I think helped was that my partner is well known for his delicious cooking, so everyone knew they’d be in for a feast. And my partner is the only child who lives locally and there are no grandchildren involved anywhere, so there was no competition to do it at another sibling’s house.

      We planned with his mom for her side of the family (30 people and 5 dogs) the weekend before Christmas. She was super excited to help us cook and host; she came up (2hr drive) the day before to help prep. It was great to cook and hang out with her, but a ton of work, especially since my partner is usually the cook and he ended up having to work and couldn’t help.
      For his dad’s side, we just announced that we would be spending Christmas in our new home this year and we invited the dad, stepmom, aunts and cousins to join us. As far as approach, i think it helped to keep a happy, excited tone about what our plans were, not asking permission or apologizing or saying what we would not be doing. Worked out super well for us!

    • Laura

      Remind them that if they come to you, they don’t have to cook or clean or stress about company.

    • clairekfromtheuk

      How about making it a formal invitation rather than a discussion about who’s doing what for the holidays? Send out some nice cards asking people to RSVP. That way they understand it’s important to you plus you get to set expectations about the day/holiday itself with what you write.

  • Stage 2 for the first year went well. We announced last year, after throwing post wedding parties around thanksgiving and christmas in each of our home towns, that moving forward, we’d no longer be traveling for Thanksgiving, and we’d trade off Christmas time with each family each year. This year was a New York Thanksgiving and a New England Christmas, and next year will be a New York Thanksgiving and Ohio Christmas.

    This plan worked in theory, but I did miss my family at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Skyping helped a lot, and it was funny to see my relatives float Chris and I around on an ipad. My uncle even took a picture of my mom and grandma holding the ipad with us on it, and sent it to me, for the most meta christmas photo imaginable.

    We also didn’t have a huge Thanksgiving turnout, which had me disappointed and him relieved. (He’s the introvert of the pair.) We only had one friend come over, and we made food for 8-10 people, but we had a nice long visit with someone we don’t see enough and had food for many days afterward.

    The documentary he’s been working on for 2 years got into Sundance (yay!), which meant his work hours went nuts after Thanksgiving, so we were really only with family for the holidays for 2.5 days. If working hours are more sane next year, we’ll get a better read on how our new holiday traditions are really working.

  • M.

    We were living together last year but not engaged. We each went to our
    respective families, which was easy, but so, so sad for 2.5 weeks. We
    really didn’t like being separated during the holidays, or for that
    long. This year, now engaged, we decided on our own based on 1)
    preserving sanity and 2) who we haven’t seen recently.

    I have 2
    parents holidays, plus 1 extended fam. He has 1 immediate fam, 2
    extended. The locations ring Lake Michigan between 3 states. It was
    going to be too much vacation time and too much money, and lots of
    stress. So, we declared our independence! We chose one “event” from each
    side: he met my cousins/aunts and uncles for the first time (I know all
    his), and we went to his parents’ to see his brother who lives far far
    away. We went for 5 days total and could enjoy where we were, and then
    flew home to NYC on Christmas day, when we still had 4 days off (and no
    line at the taxi stand! What?!). Those days were “our” holiday and it
    was so glorious, it has inspired us to continue to be kind and care for
    ourselves in the face of obligations, and to work to see people at
    other, less fraught/busy times. Everyone totally understood. Resounding
    success for our first year of navigating!

  • Jacky Speck

    First year of engagement and have been in Stage 1 every year up to now for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. But this year we did something a little different: we got our two immediate families together for dinner on Christmas Day. Then after dinner, we all sat around opening presents, drinking, laughing, and playing games. It was an excellent evening and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    This is really only practical if your in-laws and parents all live in the same area… And if they really, really like each other. Our parents have met before and got along really well, but ever since we got engaged they’ve been making an effort to see each other more (e.g., barbecues, Christmas dinner, even going to a play together). All the parents think that the wedding (just 6 months away!) is going to make us into one big family, and that is great. While I think I would definitely enjoy quiet holidays with just my husband in the future, I like the idea of “one big family” much better than that of two “sides” fighting over the newlyweds for every holiday.

  • Rachael

    My husband and I are lucky in that our families are from the same place. So it seems obvious that we should travel to them and do all of the family engagements on both sides, which is what we’ve done the past two years. The problem is that that ends up being 5 – 6 family events over two days between each family’s nuclear family gathering, and then each one of the extended family gatherings (my mom’s side, his dad’s side, etc.). In addition, we stay with my in-laws while we’re there, and they host a 60+ person party every Christmas night, so we are put to work as soon as we arrive.

    It doesn’t work. We have no down time and absolutely no alone time. We end up feeling so disconnected from each other after our time there. And really, it kind of sucks to cut short our visits with all the relatives because we always have to rush off to another party. I hate to think we won’t do it next year because it’s the one time when all of our families are together and we wouldn’t see them otherwise. But man, it is killer and really doesn’t seem sustainable.

    • Violet

      This is our situation exactly. It seems really hard to up-end in any way. Spending time with just his side would feel weird when my families are a few streets away. And visa versa. Not coming “home” at all would be weird because, why wouldn’t we? The alternative would be the two of us hanging out ordering take-out, which is fine, but we already do that for NYE! But I hear you on the disconnection, exhaustion, rushing from one event to another. We’ve been doing it that way for 9 years now, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. Add in grandparents saying, “This could be my last Christmas!” (which, technically is true), and I think we’re stuck in this phase for a long time.

      • Rachael

        Exactly! “Why wouldn’t we?”

        One thing that has helped, but also bolsters the “why wouldn’t we?” argument, is that we have stayed put for Thanksgiving the past two years. Our place is a lot closer for my sister than is our hometown, so for the short holiday we get her to come to us. This past Thanksgiving was great, my husband’s parents, and my mom, brother, and sister all came to us and we hosted a big dinner with any orphan friends and co-workers who were around. We had more neighbors, friends, and my husband’s extended family stop by after dinner to just sit and chat and watch football.

        So really, with such an awesome Thanksgiving tradition taking shape (I hope), I guess I shouldn’t complain too much about the whirlwind Christmases.

        • Violet

          I like that you carved out some time around Thanksgiving to help balance it out. As cooking-challenged apartment-dwellers who don’t live near anyone else, we’re just going to have to be creative in terms of options of who to spend holidays with/where. I don’t think our current course is exactly sustainable!

  • Anon

    Stage 1 here. We had our first holidays together after many years of dating (and now an engagement). I would say it was a mixed success. For him coming home with me, I had no idea the extent to which he would be an emotional buffer. (I know that sounds crazy, but I just thought- my anxieties will be there no matter what). Turns out, it helps enormously having him there. This was by far one of least emotionally taxing holidays I’ve ever had. (In fact, most years I spend January pulling myself out of an emotional black hole with the help of my therapist. Not this year!). So, hooray for that!
    For me going home with him, I ended up missing my family and being a little sad on Christmas morning. We make a huge deal out of Christmas mornings in my family and they just don’t. Now that I’ve been there once I fully plan on coming armed with some of my traditions for the next Christmas we spend with them.
    The other thing is- due to a variety of health issues (and I’m pretty sure some mental/emotional issues), his parents can’t do a lot and they don’t leave the house very much. They don’t even eat that much, which was really disorienting since food and preparing food are a major focal point of most of my family holidays. It was really challenging to find things that we all enjoy doing together. I found it frustrating that they don’t want to DO more stuff with us, while at the same time feeling grateful when my fiance and I could escape the house just the two of us. I know a lot of it is beyond their control, but I can’t help feeling that they’ve kind of just resigned themselves to being slightly isolated.
    I know that there is no changing them; I think my main focus future visits will be finding ways to stay busy and entertained so we don’t go mad. I’m giving up on finding things the four us will enjoy doing together, because I just don’t think it’s happening. And it’s really okay.

  • Mallory2

    Stage one, year two. Last year we traveled abroad with my fam and it didn’t really ever feel like Christmas and this year we spent Christmas with his fam and NYE with mine. And it was surprisingly painful to be states away from my family knowing they were all together and moving through the traditions I had been raised in without me. It was a lovely day, and it was sad, and it pushed me to reflect on those traditions that are important for me to carry on and those I can let go of.

    What we were intentional about this year was creating a time for the two of us to celebrate our baby family before flying out to see our families of origin. Instead of our usual red eye flight, we spent the night before flying ordering in, exchanging a small gift and lounging in front of our fireplace (er, fireplace on our tv played through an app) and then spent the flight drinking and watching holiday movies. It felt luxurious to relax and regroup as a duo, which helped us enter into the holidays as a united front.

  • Mariah

    Firmly in Stage 1. I thought we had the beginnings of a family negotiation worked out – my dad traveled with my husband and I to do Xmas at my mother-in-law’s house – but have discovered that just because everyone got along at the wedding and rehearsal dinner doesn’t mean that they get along in the context of extended houseguests with food and present obligations. So, back to Square 1 for next year. Sigh.

    I’d LOVE to host for those willing to make the trek next year (limited to 2-3 days, tops), but I’m not comfortable with forgoing the family obligations altogether yet. I guess you just can’t move on to Stage 2 until you’re truly ready.

    • Kathleen

      I’ve been imagining that when we finally have a kid and a house, we can just invite everyone to come to us and it will be so much easier and better – but some of these discussions have me thinking that might not be the best idea, because instead of just me feeling like I have to be on my best behavior around my in-laws, we’d end up with my whole family feeling like they have to be on their best behavior around his family, and his whole family feeling like they have to be on their best behavior around my family, and no one ever relaxing and enjoying themselves. (At least this year, apart, everyone else enjoyed themselves . . . ) Our families are cordial and pleasant but have never really “meshed.”

  • My husband and I live about 900 miles away from our parents, who live about 50 miles away from one another. So while those 50 miles (1.5 hours of driving) aren’t a lot, they make the holidays rather tricky. In years past we’ve bounced back and forth between parents, driving ourselves crazy and never really relaxing. Well this year we did it differently. While it forced us to miss a big family party, we split the week straight down the middle. Four days with one family, four days with the other take it or leave it. While I am bummed we didn’t attend my family’s BIG HUGE GIANT party, it allowed the two of us to spend more quality time with our respective parents and actually relax instead of running around like nutjobs.

    • Sarah E

      I started wondering post-holiday if that approach was the only way I’d be able to avoid crossing the Susq River twice daily for every visit. We needed three days to hibernate and chill out after getting home, since I only had one day of Not Going Anywhere during our time back in PA. Of course, next year brings comp exams, so we may not be able to travel at all. . .

  • Cara

    We’re still in the splitting phase, but it worked out really nicely that we could spend Christmas Eve and Christmas day with my family, took the next two days off work and spent it at home together (although we did mostly clean and put stuff away), and then spent two days with his family. It was nice and spread out, although after Christmas Day it felt like it was all over (I blame the radio station that stops playing Christmas music at 12:01 am on December 26th), but then we got back into the spirit. We’re very lucky (I’m very lucky in particular) that my FIL is a pastor, so Christmas and the days leading up to it are very hectic for him, so it works well with all our schedules to celebrate with them later.

    In the future, though, I am hoping we can cut back on presents a lot more. Way too many gifts, and just so much STUFF. It’s so not necessary. I can’t imagine not seeing both families, especially since mine has ridiculous and very ingrained traditions, but I imagine someday we will have to get there.

  • Winny the Elephant

    I’m pretty much at the point where I want to just say fuck it, we’re doing our own thing. Child of divorce means I’m totally done with carting myself and all my crap back and forth between different cities to different families and now with the man and the dog it’s just way too much. Problem is, the man isn’t quite there with me yet…hopefully he’ll get there…

    • Amy

      My mister’s parents are divorced, so holidays are a mess for him even without adding my family to the mix. I am SO looking forward to the point where we can say fuck it too. Can’t wait to make everyone come to us for once. You stay strong, too!

    • BreckW

      Same situation here. The dude is just a liiiittle behind me, so we’ll see what happens next year. I think we’re going to give hosting a shot, and whoever comes will come.

    • amen to that

  • Jacki

    It was our first year living together and to celebrate we took control of our holidays. We still saw everyone (my parents, one sister/BIL, and grandmother, plus his parents, sister/nieces, ex-wife/her daughter all live within 15 minutes of us). We just didn’t stress about it or jump through excessive hoops. Once we knew what our parents (the two main “home bases” for Christmas festivities) were planning, we told everyone when we would be where, including when we would be home at our own house. We saw everyone and it was the nicest Christmas I’ve had in years. No stress or drama, despite all the many families. The best part was going home that night to our own house, lighting a fire, and cracking open a beer with a dear friend who stopped by.

  • BeccaC

    We split the holidays according to what we agreed to before last Christmas (before we got engaged) and it went pretty well. Last year Christmas Day dinner was with his family (and mine was on Boxing Day), then this year we went to my family for Christmas Day dinner and his for Boxing Day. We spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together at our house which is something that I have always been very firm on – it is one step of how we are building our baby family, and I love making new traditions with him (and our puppy!). I can’t see splitting the holidays like this working for forever, but for now it is great!

    Also, just to put it out there this is my first time commenting on APW (but I have been obsessively lurking for more than a year). I have always been too shy/scared to comment in this awesome community but wanted to thank you all for helping me plan my marriage (and wedding) in a sane, practical way! One of my goals for 2014 is to put myself out there more and this is going to be a great start on that! I can’t wait to finally start putting my thoughts out here (instead of just composing them in my head and then being too scared to actually say something!).

    • Violet

      Happy to have you Becca! I did the same thing- lurked for a year through my engagement and began posting afterwards. Everyone’s been really nice! You’re making a great start on your goals : )

    • Amy

      Welcome welcome welcome!

    • Meg Keene


      • BeccaC

        <3 you back Meg – your book was the first thing I bought when I got engaged and it is my sanity saver! Not gonna lie I just sent my FH Eric a chat saying "AHHHHHH – Meg – the APW MEG – is talking to meeeeeeeeeee". You rock :D And thanks Amy and Violet for such a warm welcome – I should have done this ages ago!

    • Yes, I have and always will be firm on at least Christmas morning together. With our puppy too ;) But yeah, I like us having our own traditions and our own quiet time as a couple. It can get so freaking hectic where we feel like in the midst of all the errands and family and places to be, we barely see each other in 4 days!

      • BeccaC

        Exactly! Last Christmas when Eric and I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning together at our place for the first time a few people didn’t get it at all – they thought it would be so painful being without our family when it was the exact opposite. It has become one of the most serene parts of the holiday for us!

    • Jess

      Hi and welcome and congratulations on starting your goal out strong!

  • Gina

    Oh man. I thought we had it figured out and were solidly Stage 2– Christmas Eve and morning with my family, Christmas dinner with his–but truth be told, I look forward to the day I can make everyone come to us! We live 1,000 miles away from everyone, so I know it’s not practical and some people will be left out. And I don’t want to just stay home, because I have a very close-knit family and dearly held traditions. One of the things I’m looking forward to about having kids is the shifting of obligations, and I truly wish there were other reasons to shift those obligations. (I salute you, intentionally long-term child-free individuals, for dealing with this!) It sounds a little asinine at this point to say “with the dog, it’s just easier for us to stay here…” But really looking forward to the day that putting up a Christmas tree doesn’t feel like a complete waste.

  • lady brett

    “That’s the problem, we’re not really sure what we are doing… Trying to find the spirit & magic, but still working out what the traditions will be for our family.”

    that. our holidays were mostly awkward and flat this year, and while some of it could be blamed on the flu, it was mostly a result of fully squaring with our discomfort with the religious and consumer aspects of christmas, but not ever coming to a conclusion of what to do about it or instead. so, if i’ve learned anything regarding that, it’s that half-assing it isn’t a great solution. we either need to scrap it (which, um, would not fly) or find some traditions that feel honest, which is daunting.

    i also learned that a 4-day weekend to recover from vacation is an absolute necessity. i am slowly beginning to know myself.

  • E

    In 2012, we were engaged and spent Thanksgiving with his dad’s family, went to my family’s house for Christmas and then did Christmas with his dad’s family on an alternate day and Christmas with his mom’s family on an alternate day.

    Thanksgiving with his dad’s family was the wrong decision. After 2012’s holidays and prior to getting married, we agreed to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, and Easter with my family. We agreed to celebrate any holiday on an alternate day with whatever part of his family wanted to do so. My parents are older and I hope that when they are no longer around, we can manage to find a way to celebrate holidays with friends and/or only the family that we actually both want to see.

  • elle

    A few years into this marriage malarkey now, and from this year’s experience all I’m pretty sure about is that progression through those stages isn’t necessarily linear, but alcohol always helps.

    • Laura

      And glitter.

  • SarahG

    I’d say we’re an interfaith (Jewish-Catholic) family too, except we are both atheists and incredibly lazy about most things related to faith, so “interfaith” makes us sound a lot more… together? than we actually are. Anyway, one thing I have enjoyed doing is finding some stuff that works for us that’s not from either faith. I have always appreciated having holidays with lots of lights (metaphorical and literal) at the darkest time of the year, when days are shortest (in this hemisphere). So we call our tree a solistice tree (since it was appropriated from the pagans anyway), and we invite friends to make ornaments with us from scratch. They are terrible and hilarious and adorable. They are not “Christmassy” (the tree topper is a gay pride statement and most of the ornaments this year were themed around snow, Angry Birds, or bicycles — my partner is a bike nut and we found Angry Birds stickers). But the whole thing has some of that cozy, light-in-darkness feeling I remember from childhood. For Hannukah, we bought a menorah, lit the candles, and ate pirate gelt (couldn’t find actual gelt, plus, it was pirate themed!). Also light in darkness. So, that’s the general idea we’re working with right now. If it brings light, do it. If it creates stress (darkness), don’t do it if at all possible. Lots of presents = stress. construction paper covered in glitter glue and hung at crazy angles from a small, fat tree = light. For us, for now, anyway :)

    • Amanda

      If you are all about the light (I love that meaning too), you could incorporate St. Lucy’s festival on December 13. It takes place on one of the darkest nights of the years, it’s about chasing it away, it’s about hope. And lots of candles. It became a Catholic holiday, however it has pagan roots (Yule) and it is practiced in North European countries / Scandinavia that are actually mostly protestant, It has to do with the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun.

      And you could bake Lucia buns too!

    • Cat

      I’ve managed to find gelt in Cost Plus, if you have one nearby. My grandfather’s Jewish, and when I found out my in-laws didn’t do gelt I started buying some to put in their stockings!

  • Bsquillo

    Oh boy. Does anyone else have sick/aging parents that also complicate the shared holiday equation?

    To make a LONG story short, both my fiancé’s family and my dad live in our hometown that is about 1300 miles from where my fiancé and I currently live and attend graduate school. My dad has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and he needs A LOT of care and attention. To make things more complicated, he is incredibly stubborn and it is emotionally draining to be around him. (He’s basically at a stage where he can handle his basic needs on his own but NEEDS a lot of help otherwise, and he’s too argumentative to accept it easily.) My dad is also twice divorced and doesn’t have someone living with him who can handle his day-to-day needs.

    This holiday season my fiancé and I have spent a couple consecutive weeks in our hometown visiting both of our families. In trying to split our time to see everyone, we’ve totally exhausted ourselves, and the holidays have certainly felt like more of a chore than a joy. I’ve tried to spend as much time as possible doing things for my dad in order to give his siblings a break (they live in the area and help him throughout the year). I’ve also been feeling guilty when I’m out enjoying a meal with my future in-laws instead of constantly running errands for my dad. My fiancé has been very understanding and supportive throughout the whole holiday season, but he can tell I’m stressed and ready to head back to OUR home.

    My question is this, I suppose: when you have a sick family member, how do you balance your time and energy so you can still spend time with family members who aren’t sick? How do you keep yourself from feeling guilty about the whole situation? And in all this family craziness, how do you carve out time that’s reserved for you and your partner?

    • k

      Oh, absolutely! You bring up a point that I feel has been missing from a lot of these discussions: what are our responsibilities to our
      families of origin even after marriage, and how do we meet them?

      Meg talks about marriage as
      collectivism/socialism, and I agree, but I think the collective is
      larger than just our nuclear family. For my husband and I at this point
      in our lives, that means we back each other up at doing the completely
      not fun work of taking care of our aging parents. So far they’re able
      to be in their own homes with a constantly increasing level of
      involvement and help from us, but how long that can continue is
      extremely questionable. At this point the idea of saying to any of them, sorry, we would be happier having a nice Christmas alone, so you’re on your own and too bad if that hurts your feelings is unthinkable for us.

      My brother got married six years ago
      and hasn’t been home for the holidays since. This means none of us see
      him for years at a time. In those six years our father has gone from
      being an extremely healthy and vigorous man in
      his late 70s to a frail, failing man in his mid-80s who’s had two
      hospital stays in the past three months and had trouble this year
      remembering his son’s name. In all likelihood he will die relatively soon, having seen
      practically nothing of my brother since his marriage.

      I’ve thus had a few years to adjust to the idea that for the foreseeable future, Christmas will just be more of a chore when it used to be a joy, and bummer, that’s part of being an adult.

      I realize this probably isn’t any comfort to you. What has helped me is that 1) my husband and I are on the same page about needing to be responsible for our parents, that it’s not fun and we need to do it anyway and we have each others’ backs , 2) we treat each other with extra kindness and protection during the Christmas craziness, 3) we acknowledge that guilt is inevitable but not helpful and do what we can and try to relax about the rest, and 4) we remind ourselves we get most of the year for ourselves and our presence is the gift our parents want the most.

      Also, the idea of renting a cheap motel room for a little space of our own during home visits is starting to look like it would be worth whatever it might cost!

      Best of luck to you and yours.

      • Lottie

        “I think the collective is larger than just our nuclear family.” Yes. This is what has felt missing to me about marriage as mini-socialism. I’ve lived in socialist communities and the collective is much greater than 2, sometimes for good and sometimes for bad.

  • Sarah E

    We’re still in Stage One, and likely to stay there for some time, given that spending any time with family at all over the holiday means a. staying with one family and b. making 30 min trips to see the other.

    What worked this year was moving celebrations with Dad to Christmas Eve, which had the added bonus of seeing his side of the family at a festive relaxing time, which isn’t often possible. I’d be more than happy to repeat our Christmas Eve. What helped was getting my brother on-board. Last year, he got pulled into the shuffle with my partner and I , so this year, he and I put heads together to get Dad on a new (non-Christmas Day) plan, so it wasn’t just my partner and I needing the change.

  • Ariel

    I hosted christmas for the first time this year and it was fabulous! It was just me, my fiance (his family is Jewish and if we had invited everyone, we wouldn’t have been able to host), my divorced parents, and my little brother. We had way too much food for the five people that were there and it was relatively stress free. I changed into sweatpants before dessert because I was hosting (and well, my family doesn’t care about that). It was great.

  • Moe

    “What did you do this year for the holidays that worked?” – Christmas Day belongs to us now. Christmas Eve and all the other days surrounding it are divided up among the families to visit. We still need to shape it though. (This is our second Christmas married)
    The difficult part for me still is being unapologetic about it with my own family. Partly because I feel I’m still perceived as an 11-year old girl. And because the 11-year old girl inside me wants to yell “you’re not the boss of me, I’m doing Christmas my way now!”

  • Claire

    After 3 years of marriage, we’re solidly in stage two, owning the holidays. This year was great because my brother and sister came. We also had the nieces for Christmas and 4 and 7 are fun ages for Christmas excitement. Plus, we stayed home the whole time! We got our first tree, spent countless hours making DIY decorations with the girls (I’m afraid the glitter will be lurking on the floors forever), cooked and baked and watched Christmas favorites while drinking hot chocolate in our pjs. We had musical performances from the girls (what Does the Fox Say? and their own Zombie Romance creation) and wild, screaming, running through the house games, because its our house and we can break the rules if we want to. We also included friends in our Christmas dinner and finished the night with (lots of) whiskey and a midnight viewing of The Scarlet Pimpernel just because it was a favorite growing up and we know the lines by heart. I give these holidays an A+

    But, we still aren’t shaping our own holidays because 1) we are atheist so the religious “reasons for the season” don’t feel authentic to us, and 2) the whole gift focus of secular Christmas makes us uncomfortable. So, while it was tons of fun doing it with the girls this year, I don’t know what we’ll do next year. Without the kids around, without the religion or the consumerism, what will our traditions be?

    • Alyssa M

      My perspective is a little different than yours (I’m a religious woman, but my partner and many of my loved ones are firmly not religious) but it may help to hear the way we look at it. The Holidays are festivals, and festivals have been around as long as humans have, irregardless of individual religions. Everybody needs to have a break from the daily grind. The traditions and trappings are, and have always been, just rituals to make us feel close and connected and have a good time.

      So just cobble together whatever rituals of your midwinter holiday feel happy and connected(sounds like you truly enjoy trimming a tree) and make them into your traditions. Its your festival, whether you call it Christmas or Solstice or Festivus or Bacchanalia(the ancient Romans celebrated midwinter with lots and lots of eating and drinking and sex). It may help to research historical festivals or just do what feels right.

      I celebrate Christmas religiously with my family, secularly with my future in-laws, and celebrate Solstice with a few friends with ice skating and a big meal and drinks(our bacchanalia-lite).

    • Rebecca

      I strongly advocate for some combination of “lighting things on fire” and “eating greasy food” Pretty lights and yummy food totally help me get through winter. And without an official holiday marker you can totally keep the lights up through February, like a sensible person.

      • Alyssa M

        Seconding the vote for fire and greasy food!

  • Jmo

    This was our 4th holiday season together, the first one we did them all separate because we’d only been dating for about 3 weeks at Thanksgiving. The second one my mom came to visit and meet his family for Thanksgiving and then we separated for Christmas (he is in medicine and had to work), then last year (the year we were engaged, and after we had both moved about 12 hours from his family) we went to his family for Thanksgiving and mine for Christmas. This year he had both Thanksgiving and Christmas off (and the days surrounding it, a major holiday time off rainbow covered glitter unicorn in his field) so we decided we’d do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. But since Tgives was so late this year and we are both in school it meant that my finals week was the week after Thanksgiving, that plus driving 14+ hours in 4 days, and my mom having a lot of family drama with her family meant that in October we decided we’d host Thanksgiving and just invite our families to come. We figured it would just be my mom. (His parents hate traveling- staying anywhere else). But we thought, hey sure we’ll extend the invite, and his parents predictably scoffed at the idea of them traveling, but his brother and wife came, plus my mom, plus two of our close friends who also just got married and decided to not travel. IT WAS AWESOME!!!!!! I got to make all my fav Thanksgiving food, plus everyone brought food. And we got to go hiking, and play games, and spend some great quality time. I highly doubt we’ll travel for Thanksgiving again, unless his brother moves away from home and invites us there. It was just so relaxing.

    For Christmas I went to see my mom the week before Christmas (my dad died when I was 20 and it’s just my mom and I, her extended family is pretty uncaring/negligent/complicated towards her and it would have been really hard to not see her at all for Christmastime). So I went down there, but we ended up driving 750 miles around the state to visit all the aunt’s/uncles/and my grandmother. It was great to see my mom, but it was tiring, we both agreed that next time, we’ll just say, J’s visiting- stop by the house on Sat from 10-8, we’ll be here. I said no one will come (they won’t), but I’ve always been the one who had to travel to the state to visit and then travel to them roads and planes go both ways. With the exception of the ultra driving, it was nice to see her and make our food and open gifts together and decorate the tree. Then I flew to K’s family and met him at the airport and we basically started the non stop celebrations. It was so nice to get home. Though I did have a lot of fun.

    I think that’s what is so hard because, if I’m honest, what I really want is the Christmas from my childhood. just me and my parents, leisurely opening presents and eating cinnamon rolls, then having a big brunch when all the gifts are opened and then driving to my best friends house and playing Outburst with her and her family and friends. And then seeing a movie. One day I hope to recreate that somewhat, but until then, it’s hard to say we are just going to stay home, because not only does it mean disappointing family, it means being sad that we didn’t get to see everyone who came to town.

    It’s still a balance, but I think this year we figured out Thanksgiving, next year, the world… or maybe Easter?

  • mackenzie

    We were bi-coastal for the holidays this year–Thanksgiving on the East Coast with his family, and Christmastime on the West Coast with mine. We definitely bit off more than we could chew, BUT on the 26th, between seeing my mom and seeing my dad, we took a day for ourselves for snowboarding and a night in a nice hotel. We had time to re-connect mid-holidays and spend a little time soaking in the quiet, something this (reluctant) introvert desperately needed in the midst of all the family demands.

    Oh, and we watched the Christmas Eve service online from our bed instead of trekking to church when we were battling jet lag. Hoping that will be a tradition for awhile. It was a comfy compromise.

  • Diamond Solitaire

    This was the second Christmas for my boyfriend and I although the first one we’ve spent together. And it was hard. Mostly because of money issues. We have been unemployed by choice for 3 years and that has been really awesome, but that period is coming to an end. I didn’t have money for presents for his family who we were spending the holiday with. I had mailed my family homemade edible goodies. And we decided we weren’t going to do presents and then late on the 23rd he decided that we were going to do presents. I plan my present. I put a lot of thought into the gift and getting the best deal and then shopping with all the last minute shoppers with a guy that doesn’t like to shop. It lead to Christmas Eve tears on my part, a long walk alone to clear my head, and then telling him I couldn’t do the present thing. I opened my presents from his family on Christmas morning and there were no hurt feelings that I hadn’t given anybody anything. And suddenly it was okay. They are a family I hope to spend many more Christmases with.

    • KC

      My husband was *totally* on the “oh, we don’t need to do presents for my family…” bandwagon until sometime in late December, and flip-flopped multiple years running, which drove me absolutely up a wall (because it takes time and energy to shop, period, and it takes a whole lot more to shop on a budget for things you think the recipient has an actual chance of enjoying).

      Many years into marriage, I now look at shipping deadlines and stuff and give him a “decide who you want to give a present in your family to by X date” timeline and a “call the parents of those small relatives for gift ideas by Y date” timeline, and then that decision is considered basically final and everything gets sorted out and purchased and sent off (or wrapped if we’ll see the person). The enforced list of decisions is probably patronizing/micro-managing, and it’s not totally ideal, but it works for now at reducing stress and last-minute explosion.

      I think, actually, that the biggest problem was that gifts in the abstract (like, vague Gifts for Someone Anonymous for Christmas when thought about in early December, which for him might as well be April) aren’t important to him and are generally considered a pain in the neck and unnecessary, but that the people are important to him, so the closer it got to Christmas, and the more he thought about the specific people and such, the more he wanted to give them presents. Starting the train of thought about people and presents early enough that it will *not* logically culminate only a day or two before Christmas has made life easier.

      (we still sometimes get last-minute gifts for one or two “extra” people, but that’s totally fine with me – it was the “we suddenly need to buy things for 10 kids of varying ages and interests, some of whose parents may compare notes on the relative value of the items and wherein all siblings will ideally be happier with what we’re giving them than what one of *their* siblings gets” last-minute mind-bending puzzle that had me kicking, especially when a lot of things were then out of stock because it was last-minute)

  • Rachelle

    I think we are in stage 2 as well. We have been doing the holidays together for the past few years, our families expect us to come as a package deal. This year was the first year we did not do the traditional package that each year in the past has brought. We stayed home alone together on Christmas Day, only went to one church service on Christmas Eve, and told my Dad’s side of the family (child of divorce here) that we would host next year so everyone needs to start prepping to drive our way next season. On Christmas, my husband and I sat around in our PJs, pleasure reading and playing video games and I even took a nap in the middle of the day. It was way, WAY more relaxing and restful than the past bunch of years have been which both my husband and I desperately needed. By next holiday season we’ll have a baby in tow, so WHO KNOWS how thing will change by then!? :-D

  • Kayjayoh

    Thing we learned this year is that staying with fiance’s parents for a full week is a terrible idea. (In the past, we’d stayed at his grandmother’s place next door, but she died last fall.) Fortunately, next year we will be living in the same city so that should be a moot point.

    Family harmony is helped not helped by too much close quarters.

    Another holiday strategy: read what cartoonist Kate Beaton’s family is doing and laugh our asses off.

    • Kayjayoh

      If it did ever come up again, I think we’ll spring for a hotel.

      • Audrey

        Last Christmas when we went out of town to see my family we got a hotel for the first time. It was worth every penny to have space to ourselves for part of the time.

  • Rebecca

    We’ve hosted Thanksgiving for a few years running at this point, so that has some staying power. Family from both sides this year, which was neat.

    Donuts on New Years Day is still going strong, as well.

    The rest was perhaps not ideal, but it was what it needed to be this year, and that’s okay.

  • Alyssa M

    We’re pretty lucky in our family set up. Both of our parents are still married, and live 15 minutes from eachother. My parents decided a few years ago to make Christmas Eve their big celebration, and because we’ve been together since high school, his family celebrating on Christmas Day just fell into place. We always get to be there for both big celebrations. So far we just each sleep at our parent’s houses and meet up for celebrations, but next year it won’t make our parents uncomfortable if we sleep together, so we’ll likely just end up staying wherever makes the best logistical sense (his house, because his siblings live in town and my siblings stay at my parents). Maybe it will change over the years, but unless somebody moves I can see this working even after we’re traveling with kids(it’s very similar to what my parents did my whole life). Thanksgiving is usually similar, but this year I had to work, so we stayed home and did it ourselves, hosting a few friends. It turned out alright, but honestly I feel like it’s WAY more work to make things feel festive when it’s “just us” than the work put into traveling…

  • Laura

    I work in healthcare; my partner works in law enforcement. (This means we often work on holidays.) We are still figuring out how to build traditions but are learning to focus on carving out time together to celebrate meaningful moments to us, whether that means we have holiday time on December 5th or 25th. We do this rather than focusing on the importance of “the day” itself. I think this can work when applied to traveling to visit families of origin: “No, we’re not coming thanksgiving or christmas, but we would love to come at the end of march if you are able to have us.”

  • emfish

    Based on Year Two of owning our Christmas holiday (we spent Thanksgiving with family, although we’ve done that one on our own, too), here’s what I’ve learned works:
    1. We did lots of movies and museums this year. It was a fun way to spend time together and was a way to get out with the festive masses (particularly if church/shopping/Christmas decorations/caroling are not for you). Plus, it gave us lots of new conversation fodder, which is important when you’re spending your holiday with just one other person instead of a mass of family members.
    2. We did our own thing. I rehearsed with my trapeze partner, and D took advantage of having to burn extra vacation days in order to take walks and hit record stores. Doing Christmas on our own meant not forcing each other into Forced Togetherness Time, which sometimes happens when you’re with family and people feel like they need to squeeze as much face-to-face time as possible into a few short days. I’m someone who needs downtime, so I find that extra stressful. Owning my holiday means not putting myself through that ringer just to please others.
    3. Perhaps my favorite: we took the time off from work to clean and organize the house! It sounds boring, but we needed it. I like to think of it as the way we replaced the time we could have spent driving or flying all day to visit our families. And now we have an orderly house to start the new year. Plus it made Christmas Eve dinner (homemade pasta and really good wine, for the second year in a row) more relaxed and enjoyable.

  • Nikki

    Several years ago we moved to the other side of the world from our respective families, so were suddenly faced with planning Christmas on our own. We’ve now had 5 years figuring out what we want our holidays to look like, and how to celebrate without family but still making it special. One of the best realizations we had was: if it’s just us for Christmas, we don’t need to have a traditional Christmas dinner. Not only has this resulted in less cooking stress for me, but mean’s we’ve had amazing meals at Christmas including mussels in white wine, beef brisket and, this year, steak. We still splurge on great ingredients and make something special, but the break from tradition has meant we can both relax together on Christmas day, rather than me spending the morning in the kitchen cooking and him spending the afternoon doing dishes.

    • Amber Finkelstein

      Growing up, my family always had lasagna, so that it was easier on my mother. This year, spending Christmas with my soul-family (who believes in a traditional Christmas dinner), I revived the traditions slightly – I made lasagna and took it to church with us. My sister is the church pianist, my father a board member, and the pastors friends. So in between the two services we sat, chatted, ate lasagna and drank Baileys. It was the most relaxing Christmas Eve ever – we all wondered why we had never thought of it before.

  • Caitlin_DD

    Like some of the other commenters, we were/are on the opposite side of the world from the family, so I suppose we had an Owning It Christmas….and this is only our second one together at all. Having Christmas abroad actually made what this season means to us clear- spending time with each other, and taking care of and enjoying one another. This year, that meant me taking the day to clean up the house while the Man attended final exams. Then we had a lovely eat out dinner together, came home and watched my favorite holiday film (The Snowman) and then Skyped in with my family to watch them open their gifts. We got ourselves a trip to Japan in February. Essentially, what worked for us this holiday was embracing that it couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be just like holidays were while living at home. We took it as a time to be relaxed, happy, and well-fed, and that was all we needed.

  • Louise

    Well that was weird. I started reading the comments and burst into tears! I blame the jet lag. We actually spent Christmas with our families which was amazing because 6 months ago, my husband and I moved to India. We flew home for exactly two weeks and as a result, the holidays seemed to grow to fit our time frame. Christmas was 3 days long, which, instead of being stressful, was wonderful and relaxed. We spent Christmas Eve day with my dad (all day, instead of just the evening, which we usually do), Christmas Eve night at my husband’s parents house (adult beverages and a dip in the hot tub while they were still at his sister’s house — we do this every year and I think it is our only Christmas tradition as a couple), Christmas morning with his family — two sisters and their families, then (barely) caught the ferry to have Christmas dinner with my mom, my aunt, my brother, two cousins, and my younger cousin’s kids (my favorite kids in the world). For the first time ever, we all spent the night and spent the next day together on the (very cold Pacific Northwest) beach. So it turns out, what we needed to make the holidays work was more time off work — previously, my husband has to work the day before and after Christmas, which has made spending adequate time with everyone tricky. This year, we took advantage of his “house husband” status to draw the holidays out. It was wonderful. Next year, though, we probably won’t go home for Christmas. 48 hours of flying for just two short weeks… Europe is only 10 hours away. We’re thinking Christmas in Rome instead, and have invited our families to join us. Ask me next year how this all goes down… :-)

  • Rose

    We did Thanksgiving with her family, since it was too far to go to see mine, and I hadn’t been up to visit her folks in a while. Then we did what we’ve usually been doing, which was splitting up and going home for Christmas–our families live across the country from each other, so it’s not like we can really split the time, and we’re both at the stage where we really want to be with our parents/siblings/grandparents/etc. And then she came out to visit my family and stayed through New Years, which is my mom’s birthday and so a real holiday for us too. Works well for us so far, although certainly I can see that in the future it wouldn’t. I do feel like we both did what we wanted, though, we weren’t heading home just because our parents wanted us to.

  • Chanel Jones

    This year was our sixth holiday season as a couple and our second as a married couple, and it was our first forray into stage 3. My family is all about last minute change in plans, and this year I said, “I love you, but I’ve made other plans.”

    For the first time ever, I made Christmas Eve dinner for the two of us and our roommates, and we stayed home and watched movies. Then Christmas Day we went to a friend’s house and stayed there from breakfast until well into the night playing board games, watching Doctor Who, and having a blast.

    Our time with our families was then reserved for the Thursday and Friday after Christmas (like we had originally planned), and I had a much more relaxing and happy Christmas than I ever have before. I think a new Christmas tradition is going to have to reserve one of the days right around Christmas to stay home and do the holidays our way.

  • Laura

    Still in stage one, but feeling much better about it this year. Thanksgiving was off the table, as we were still returning from our honeymoon, but we simply invited in laws to visit us for Christmas, and then visited my family after the holidays. We were missed (and I did miss my family) on Christmas Day, but I made an extra effort to invest the kind of time that matters to my family, and it was appreciated. It also felt a lot less stressful because we were able to spend a bunch of time at home, and for some reason I just feel less keyed up about it all now!

  • Caroline

    This year, we did a little owning of the holidays. We caved big time on how much Christmas we did with my mom (we’re interfaith, and have a Jewish household). In the end, I felt okay ish about that, because the leading up struggle did make it seem that my mom got my struggles with Christmas a little more. (My mom isn’t Jewish, dad is, they split, I converted to Judaism).
    But the real triumph this year, I feel, was inventing a secular winter holiday. We called it Winter Guinea Pig’s Day (since Guinea Pigs are our mascot and inside joke). We had a big Winter Guinea Pig’s Eve party, put up white lights for the one night (after new year’s) then exchanged gifts the next morning, small gifts rather than the present orgy that is our families’ Christmases. It didn’t go totally as planned, we planned on eggnog being integral but forgot they don’t sell it after New Years. But overall, I think it was a start towards making a secular way to honor his family’s Christmas traditions, in a way that felt good to us.

  • feelingfickle

    I tried scanning through the comments for an answer with no luck, but does anyone celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas in their coupling? My SO and I aren’t religious (I’d say we’re spiritual in the way that artists are…oh, lord, I sound pretentious. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry) but we’d love to incorporate our family traditions in our new traditions, especially in one day far far far far far far far far into the future I/we decide I’m ready for a kid. I mean for now our plan is breaking up the holidays: first day of Hanukkah vs Christmas Day, Passover vs Thanksgiving, etc…But I imagine one day we’ll want to celebrate on our lonesome or with dear friends.

    • My vote is that you get to decide what you want to do as traditions and no one is allowed to tell you no. Neither hubs nor I is religious in the least but we celebrate Chanukah with family that is Jewish and Christmas for ourselves. Whether future babies will celebrate Jewish holidays in our home is still up for debate as no one in my home identifies as Jewish. I can anticipate our kids celebrating both holidays, secularly. I don’t have to believe in something to see and appreciate the beauty and mystery in it so I think we could raise kids who learn about and maybe even celebrate Chanukah at home (at the very least so that when they go to Bubby and Zadie’s, they know what the hell is going on) without being anything more than academic about religion.

      I may not identify as religious personally, but I understand and appreciate the great benefits religion brings to different people’s lives and I plan on raising my kids to appreciate it too which includes celebrating different holidays and talking honestly about where they started, why they’ve changed and why its ok to believe in different things. Personally I haven’t had enough joy or celebration in my life so I plan on embracing any and all celebrations that come my way – even if traditionally it doesn’t seem “normal”.

    • KISig

      I was also looking for some ideas on this, but I’m happy to let you know what we do. My girlfriend is Jewish and my family is both Jewish and Christian (I tend to identify as Jewish, but we always celebrated Christmas and continuing to do so is important to me). We live close to my family and far from hers. Her family’s big holidays are the Jewish High Holidays and Thanksgiving, whereas my family is big on Christmas and Passover, so that’s the way we’ve decided to split up family holidays, for now. Neither of us, or our families, are particularly religious, so celebrating holidays mostly just means getting together and eating a lot. Chanukah, as minor a holiday as it is, has turned into the one we keep for ourselves. For the last four years we’ve thrown a latke party and invited all of our friends over to eat fried potatoes and drink spiked eggnog (not a traditional Chanukah beverage, I know, but when it’s only in stores once a year, you might as well take advantage). And there is something really really nice about lighting candles and reciting prayers together in our own home for eight straight nights in the middle of all the other holiday craziness. It feels very peaceful and nourishing for our baby family. And it means we get to see all of our family and participate in all of our traditions, while still building something new for us. I imagine that as our parents age and we buy a house and have children, all of this will change, but for right now this is working really well for us.

  • Eh

    This Christmas was our first Christmas as a married couple. It was also our first Christmas together as the previous two were spent a part. My family lives 7 hours away and since we live in Canada the weather can be tricky at this time of year. My in-laws live an hour away from us (still far enough that if the weather is crappy we can use that as an excuse – but close enough that there are expectations). Our first two Christmases (when we were dating and engaged) we spent Christmas Day with our respective families and he met up with me on Boxing Day (for some more Christmas fun with my family) and we spent New Year’s Eve with his family. We got married in October and then went on our honeymoon and when came back we bought a house (we move next week) and a car. It was a busy time for us. My husband had to work Christmas Eve and December 27th so that restricted his ability to travel. We decided just before our wedding what we were spending Christmas together. My MIL asked (read: “expected”) us to sleep over at their house Christmas Eve but we drew the line and told her we were spending Christmas Eve together and waking up in our own bed Christmas Day (this was made easier by the fact he had to work Christmas Eve and we could use that as an excuse not to drive). We spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day with my in-laws which was really nice (different but nice – and better than I expected). I talked with my family on Christmas Day but it wasn’t the same as seeing them.

    We’re still figuring out this holiday “thing” and for the next few years it’s going to be ever changing I think. I am used to going home four times a year (usually Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter and at least one time in the summer – last year I went home twice plus had my family here for our wedding). I really miss seeing my family so I’m going home for Easter (even if my husband has to work – for me it’s not a big deal for us to spend Easter a part, I just want time with my family) and my sister is getting married this summer so my husband and I will both go home for that. We haven’t decided about Thanksgiving. Since it will be our first Christmas in our house I would like to stay home for Christmas. My husband has already offered that I would make supper for his family on Christmas Day. (And that’s why Thanksgiving is up in the air – if we don’t see my family at Thanksgiving and we stay home for Christmas then we will probably go from August until Easter without seeing my family – and that is a really long time for me.)

    When we have children this won’t get any easier. When I was six my family moved away from my extended family so we always just had our own little family Christmas. No traveling on Christmas Day. It was great and relaxed and there were no expectations (present opening and then breakfast and then chilling the rest of the day playing with our new toys until supper). My family would not expect us to travel 7 hours in the winter but I feel sad that my kids would miss out on having Christmas with their grandparents and cousins on my side (not because I had this as a kid but because they will get to have it with my husband’s family). My in-laws all live close together and none of them have moved away or have partners who are from more than an hour or so away (we live an hour away and we are one of the furthest) so they have never had to negotiate family that live far away. My MIL takes this for granted and expects us to spend all holidays with them (since everyone else can split their holidays between both sides). I don’t want to “declare” that Easter and Thanksgiving will be with my family just because it’s easier to travel at that time of year. As I said, I think this is going to be ever changing until we figure this out. (We could do what my parents did and move far away from everyone – spend one week of vacation with my family in the summer and another week with his family in the summer.)

  • Valerie Day

    This was my third Thanksgiving with my partner’s family, and first/last as engaged. It was wonderful to feel the welcome this year as they are preparing to travel to see us for our wedding. I also found that Thanksgiving was easier the third time because the “different” is starting to feel normal. I tend to love the familiar, and their traditions are shaped by a different family history and different tastes. I think it will get easier each year. Especially as we continue to learn our boundaries and take responsibility for meeting our own needs for fresh air, long walks, alone time and lots of dessert. We have our own Christmas eve tradition of attending the family mass and then coming home to homemade Chinese food we prep and complete. This year we had two friends and a small present exchange. We lit candles and its a really good evening even if we have to work Christmas eve. It was our first Christmas day alone, and it is hard to figure out how to shape a day to make it not just a normal weekend feeling day. Sometimes its the little traditions. I am really struggling with gifts, and how to give gifts and also move away from the cost. We both come from LARGE immediate families so gifts are difficult, but I do want to give. Still working on that one.

  • clairekfromtheuk

    I’m lucky in that a) the hubs and I are pretty much on the same page and b) our respective fams are not the neurotic ‘when are you coming home for Christmas’ types. Plus they’re geographically and maritally scattered to the four winds.

    My advice for what it’s worth though – they’ll get over it as long as you’re kind (but firm). If tearing yourself apart trying to see every member of your extended families for poor quality, stressed out time runs you ragged, it’s ok not to do it! Soften the ‘blow’ with an alternative – fun birthday weekends, a new year party, a trip away with them. I saw roughly one third of my family and no friends over the holidays but my first quarter is shaping up to be all kinds of fun :-)

  • Kaywinknorth

    I’m just going to throw this out there– it won’t work for everyone and Meg and others may hate it because it totally goes against “owning the holidays.” First, our secret strategy is to keep both families on their toes and not fall into any extended-family specific traditions, so we switch things up every year so neither family knows what to expect.

    Secondly– although this is hard to swallow– I think sometimes it’s not about you or your baby family. My husband’s mother places a LOT of value on spending time together at Christmas, whereas for the two of us it’s no more meaningful than a Sunday night dinner at their place. So this year, our third holiday season as a married couple, we
    agreed to surrender to each other– we would go with the flow and not argue about how much time we were spending with each side of the family or what we were doing. We made his mother happy by having Christmas Eve lunch with his parents and grandmother, and hosted my extended family for part of a progressive dinner (lots of fun– highly recommend!). Then on Christmas Day we went back to his parents’ house for presents with them and his brother and fiancee, and a sit-down dinner. Was it excessive and time not “equally spent”? Absolutely, but we survived and it was all fun. Last year we did the opposite– stayed home by ourselves and said no to all the running around from both families. And it really wasn’t as satisfying as we thought it would be. I don’t know, maybe readers will think I haven’t even hit Stage One yet, but sometimes I think it’s easier to make the parents happy if you can refuse to let it stress you out.

  • As someone whose marriage imploded this summer, I will share what I did this holiday season that worked for me as a newly, not-by-choice single person. Basically, I did something completely different from the previous five Christmas we had spent together (4 married). I accepted the (really generous and thoughtful) invitation to spend the entire time around and between Christmas and New Year’s with my best friend, her husband, and their 14 month old. She also invited my parents to come for the days around Christmas (I am an only child). Her family also joined the Christmas celebrations. And it went really well. I had been dreading Christmas since a few days after my then-husband left me and a friend had mentioned her and her husband’s Christmas traditions. At that point I had the almost vomit-inducing realization that dealing with Christmas and the holiday season hadn’t even occured to me.

    Anyhow….the solution that worked for me was not to repeat last-year-minus-the-ex (which was unfortunate since we had spent Christmas with my family in my hometown, and it would have been the logical plan). But I knew I would not be able to do that. But Christmas with my best friend’s family in a different city and state? Watching her little kiddo toddle around and give out hugs to everyone. That worked for me. It felt healing. My friend and her husband and her whole family really took care of me and knew it would be a hard Christmas. And it really helped to have distractions on the days and times when I knew the ex and his girlfriend were celebrating with his family. And the fact that I was physically very far away from those celebrations and was with people who loved me got me through. And it even turned out pretty good. So yeah. Change. Change was good for me.

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  • blizalef

    My fiiance and I moved into our first house, in February of 2013. Before that, we always split Christmas day as following: we did our own thing (first thing in the morning) then we would go to all of the parents’ households in one day. Can I get a “Holy hectic, Batman?!”. This year, we actually hosted Christmas dinner at our house, and had the parents come to us. My god, it felt so foreign to not feel at all rushed. Also, it felt as though we had somehow graduated into adulthood a bit.

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