Owning The Holidays


This Thanksgiving, in the middle of our epic surprise roadtrip, I realized that partway into our third holiday season as a married couple, we had started to figure out the holidays. I don’t mean figure out like it’s easy now (it’s probably never going to be easy for us, on a million levels), or even figure out like we now have a fixed set of traditions (that also might never happen). But we started to figure out the holidays this year in that they finally feel like they are ours.

Around this time of year, we tend to talk on APW a bit about the process of splitting holidays because it can be one of the first real trials you go through as a new family. For some of us, getting married means going through an emotionally transformative moment on our wedding day. For others of us, nothing much changes, at least at first. And then you hit your first set of holidays. Since a wedding is, on it’s most fundamental level, about forming a new family in the eyes of your community, the holidays tend to hit like a ton of bricks. The fact that long standing holiday traditions have to shift to accommodate a new family can be painful and confusing. The fact that everything can’t stay exactly the same can flat out suck. How can we honor the traditions and family we grew up with, while supporting and caring for our new family? How do we develop new traditions as we form and shape our baby family? Why is it all so hard?

But (surprise reversal!) this particular post isn’t about splitting holidays, it’s about owning holidays. As a Jewish household with an interfaith family, we don’t have holidays to split, really. Christian holidays are generally with my family, Jewish holidays are either with David’s family or on our own. And over the course of three years, we’ve decided that non-religious holidays are up to us. Nothing about this setup is particularly easy, but within the last year, we’ve started to make a home in it.

First, let’s be frank. There are endless downsides to being interfaith and not having holidays to split. Christmas was always my favorite time of the year (and a religious time of the year at that), and for obvious reasons, when I decided to convert my relationship with Christmas shifted. When I hear people talking about splitting Christmas, I tend to want to curl up into a little ball, pound my head with tiny balled up hands and whimper, “Two whole families that want to have Christmas with you, lucky, lucky, lucky.” Which is of course, totally unfair, but really, who is in a fair and balanced mood around the holidays? Certainly not me.

However, it turns out that there are surprising upsides to not splitting the holidays. In short, when you’re not splitting them, in theory all the holidays are yours. Because we never have had to ask, “Whose family is getting Christmas this year,” we got a jumpstart on the idea that our family is always getting Christmas, and it’s up to us what we do with it. And that jumpstart has lead us to some important lessons.

Not Asking Permission

What I realized in the middle of the Arizona desert this Thanksgiving is that, particularly with Thanksgiving, a totally non-religious holiday, we’d stopped even pretending to ask our families permission or approval of our plans. Or in other words, God bless being an adult. This year, we decided that we wanted to visit my Grandmother. So we did. We told our families, asked them how they felt about us not being with them for the holiday, listened, and then went to visit my Grandmother. It was the right thing to do, it was fun, and I think we’re both very glad we did (and that’s not even counting the bonus Las Vegas trip that got squeezed in there). Realizing that as fully grown adults, with a family of our own, we don’t have to ask permission from our parents anymore is ground breaking stuff. I’m not saying it’s easy (on any level), but when you start to get it sorted out it’s powerful. You can listen to your family, hear and validate their feelings, but still do what you need to do. Hard, but worth it (particularly when it ends with craps in Vegas the day after Thanksgiving).

Changing Traditions

One of the upsides (that comes with the downsides) of being an interfaith family, is that it allows you to not be shy when asking for changes in long standing traditions that don’t work for you. For David and me, Christmas is fine as long as it’s mostly a religious holiday (being part of an interfaith family is like one big cultural exchange). Secular Christmas, however, blurs the lines in a way that doesn’t work well for us. Going to Christmas Eve services? Fine! Santa coming down the chimney? Uh-oh. So because of this, we asked my family to cut the Santa stuff. My family is awesome, so they did this without any complaints. (In fact, apparently my father has always hated the “Santa nonsense” and was profoundly delighted that we asked.) Not all of shifting of traditions has been as easy, but the process of tweaking traditions to make them inclusive of our new family has been a good one. It doesn’t feel like our new family is simply visiting my family’s Christmas, but that we’re participating in it, and helping to make it everyone’s Christmas.

Introducing Traditions

If changing traditions is hard, introducing new traditions is fun. Think of this as the carrot to the stick of asking people to change. As we’ve worked to shape Christmas into something that works for everyone (my Jewish born and raised husband has a deep seated existential dread of Christmas that we had to work through), we’ve introduced new traditions. David and I started cooking a big Christmas breakfast, as a low key and festive way to lead into the holiday. Everyone loves it. On David’s first Christmas, I bought a huge imported box of holiday crackers from England with the theory that if I could make Christmas seem more like Hogwarts I could trick him into enjoying it. Turns out, Christmas Crackers are the very best part of Christmas. They’ve turned into one of the whole family’s favorite bits, so now David and I order them every year.

Figuring out how our family could have ownership of the holidays has been hard. There have been plenty of tears, lots of discussion, and constant negotiation. Every year, things shake out a little differently, because every year what works for us is a little different. But even though it’s been hard, it’s also been good (funny how life always works like that). Figuring out the holidays has allowed us to figure out what we want our new family to look like, and it has forced us to sort through our new family’s relationships with our families of origin.

But the real reward is obviously Christmas Crackers. Because they go bang and produce a crown, a prize, and a joke. Perfect.

Photo: By me for A Practical Wedding

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  • You obviously get your crackers someplace different. Someplace fun.

    Ours had no jokes, but facts. Seriously. Bang, crown, prize, fact. And the prize was always something useful. Like a pencil.

    I guess at least we had Santa!

    • And here I was thinking it was crackers like, Saltines and Digestives. Now I’m laughing!

    • No no no no! They have to have jokes! The prizes can be as random or pragmatic as you like (or don’t) but they have to have jokes! (However, careful observation tells me that the jokes aren’t allowed to be funny, so you may be doing well out of your facts).


      Meg, where DO you get your Christmas crackers? I grew up in Australia and had somehow totally forgotten them until just this minute. I’d love to surprise my family with some this Christmas…. can you share your (secret?) haunt? :)

  • Funny that you are writing about this. Being mexican + dutch, we did not recently celebrate Thanksgiving (though at school, we did some pilgrim + indians plays, as part of a culture class). However in Holland, this weekend was in fact a very important family holiday for the dutch, which is Sinterklaas. It is mostly important for children, and we have just been talking about what parts of it we will adopt in our baby family.
    Conclusion was, mostly, the cookies (pepernoten, filled speculaas) and chocolate associated with it.
    Plus I find it very interesting to dig in the history of where traditions come from and why we do them.
    But the “splitting” is hard, I was used to spending Christmas at home (in Mexico) and this has not been the case for the last two years. (Though we have gotten to visit my dad’s side of the family in Switzwerland so I can’t complain) .
    Anyway all this to say that it is hard, but also fun, and it really does feel like building our baby family, brick by brick, by talking about and deciding which traditions will be part of the new “us”.

    • It really obvious which commentators are on different continents and thus different time zones! We always get here first! And I totally get how hard it is to be abroad during the holidays… nothing is quite the same and you’re left yearning for more. I can’t remember if I commented on your sinterklass post but it reminded me of last year when my husband… err… the reyes magos left me presents. I slept in and woke up super groggy and I was so confused. My husband had left for work already so he wasn’t there to explain. It took me a good 20 minutes and a cup of coffee to understand what was going on and where the presents came from.

      • I’ve been thinking that too :) I see the same names all the time.

        Being abroad for holidays also has it’s upsides, but I suppose more so for the not-too-family-oriented among us. I’m sure that once I switch continents, my holiday experience will radically change too. Right now I just sense the relief off my husband that he gets to skip the present-extravaganza, this year.

      • Yeah, it is funny, the time-zones-commenters thing. Oh , and “Los Reyes”, we also do it in Mexico, bring back memories from childhood. Also, the “cake ” (rosca) is one of my favorite “Sweet breads ” . That is so sweet from your husband.

        • Yup. Rosca is a Christmas must here too… that and tons of wine. People will stick around drinking until like 6am or later on Christmas eve. Ha ha. Argentines.

          • Did the Reyes leave the presents on your shoes? Did you forget the grass and water for the camels????Or did your husband leave them some? what, there are no camels? ;)
            I can only imagine your surprise waking up to those presents! I’m Argentinian, by the way hihihi

  • We, including both extended families do not abide to any religion… so the holidays for us are all secular holidays, during which we spend time with family… always my husband’s family actually since we live 6 blocks away from them and half a world a way from mine. Although I love being included in my husband’s family’s celebrations, it also makes me a little sad. I kind of feel like a spectator with a visitor’s pass. And plus it’s summer so I feel like I’m in total exile down here. I tried recreating an American Christmas last year and it was a mess… The Christmas tree shriveled up and dried out in the heat and baking and eating things meant for cold weather during the summer nearly killed me. I also spent a huge amount of time preparing decorations and wrapping gifts and no one cared and even noticed. It’s just not common down here.

    So this year, I’m not going to try to force American Christmas to happen here and instead I’m trying to make some part of the festivities here my own. Since the family celebrates Christmas Eve, I’m planning to do an American brunch, complete with mimosas and maple syrup and such, on Christmas day. Apparently it’s not an original idea… but I can’t wait. Happy Holidays everyone!

  • KW


    I’m not huge into the zodiac, but I’m a Cancer and meet nearly all their characteristics to a T, in particular the need for a feeling of “home” and tradition. The holidays are so deeply entrenched with all of that, so I have a hard time dealing with any change to my home or traditions.

    That being said, I knew I was growing as a person, and our relationship was growing together, when my SO said he couldn’t get off the East Coast for Thanksgiving one year and I immediately decided to join him, just the two of us, far away from my family and past precedent. We made a mini-adventure out of it. It was so successful that after a year of reverting back to Traditional Thanksgiving, we just decided to make Thanksgiving our own (just like you said!) and start our own new traditions. It feels so healthy, and so right.

    Christmas is indeed another can of worms, and something we’re still working out, but I’m now more confident that we can find a solution that works for both of us! I imagine more concrete traditions emerge after having kids (or, perhaps more pointedly, *grand*kids), but I’m glad we’re working in the right direction.

    • The need for a feeling of home and tradition goes with Cancer? I know pretty much nothing about it all, but hearing this makes me super curious now.

    • Dawn

      I had a great uncle who always had this to say about celebrating Christmas with *grand*children. The grandparents should *always* come to the grandchildren for Christmas, not the other way round.

      I’m not sure how that worked out for him, but several other family members have adopted the same approach and are quite happy with it.

    • Spines

      yes, I’m exactly the same! I tend to think all the zodiac stuff isn’t really true, but the characteristics of Cancers with the home stuff? 100% me! spooky…

  • Kate

    Good post, Meg. We’re engaged, and hoping to reclaim Christmas for ourselves after we’re married. The past two years have been frantic travel of eight hours or four hours on alternate holidays. But getting our own (albeit tiny and in a pot) tree this year really helped me feel like it’s OUR Christmas and we’re not totally kids going to our parents’.

  • carrie

    That’s it. I’m ALSO going to make Christmas more like Hogwarts because, wow. That sounds fun. Oooh, or Firefly! Holiday rations for all!

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Knit everyone a Jayne hat for a Christmas gift!!! http://www.etsy.com/listing/76133830/firefly-jayne-hat

      Did I just geek out over a Firefly reference? Yes, yes I did. Am I sorry? No, not at all. For some reason Firefly feels really Christmasy to me (maybe because I first watched the series over my Christmas break in college). The last two years I’ve ended up watching it over again with my dad around the holidays. It’s a top-notch holiday tradition.

      • carrie

        That’s a tradition I can get behind. I’m getting David the shirt with Jayne that says, “You’re beginning to damage my calm.” http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/popculture/e5d3/

        And I think I need that hat. Just to see who is all, “yeah!” when I’m walking around in it. ;-)

        • Erica

          I totally got my FH a Jayne hat from Etsy for Christmas last year (though he was just my bf at the time). He then dressed as Jayne for Halloween which was pretty much the hottest thing ever. Firefly ftw!

          • carrie

            LOVE IT! Totally marriage material.

      • Kess

        My mother knit my BF a Jayne hat for Christmas!

  • This is one of my favorite APW posts ever! The holidays have been a really tough thing for us to figure out, but once we realized we were our own family and adults and could own the holidays too, things have been much better. This is our first married Christmas and instead of running around to a million places, we’re going to spend that weekend together in our home doing what we want to do. Then we’re taking the whole next week to visit our many families (the product of divorces, remarriages and the like). We invited everyone for Christmas, but the truth is that we all just want to be in our houses relaxing after a hectic holiday month. This seems to have hurt the least number of people’s feelings and has given us a great sense of peace as we look forward to Dec. 25.

    Good for you for owning the holidays–this is the best piece of advice I could ever give someone navigating these tricky waters! Thanks for this amazing post.

    • My parents actually started “having Christmas” for just that reason, and so we could keep Christmas morning all to ourselves, opening gifts and eating, instead of travelling to wherever dinner will be. I think the fact that that change was so recent made it easier for my husband and I to work out our holidays- we’ve been alternating since we got together (the first year was a fluke, I was in my “year abroad” in France, and got way less vacation than I would have in my college in Dublin, so I stayed with his family in Ireland instead of trekking all the way to New York for a week.)

  • Meagan

    “On David’s first Christmas, I bought a huge imported box of holiday crackers from England with the theory that if I could make Christmas seem more like Hogwarts I could trick him into enjoying it.”
    Probably the best thing you’ve ever written on APW.

    In all seriousness, we just got engaged in October and one of the biggest “Oh man we’re really getting married” moments has been a discussion of splitting holidays. (Up until now, for many many reasons, we’ve always done holidays alone with our respective families.) It helps to know that it is hard for everyone!

  • Laura B

    I’ve been saddened to hear stories from friends this year who are having a horrible time trying to please everyone. You can only rarely please everyone, and so my friends end up leaving themselves, their partners and themselves unsatisfied.

    I’m lucky because despite (or perhaps because of) my family being crazy traditional they didn’t bat an eyelid when me and my husband started our own traditions the year we got married. His family are not big celebrators so it’s all worked out fine.

    I sometimes miss the ‘big kid’ Christmas, but then our grown up version with whisky, champagne, cigars and Motown music songs is wonderful and special too.

    You’ve given great advice here. It’s the Team Practical motto of “do what you want but don’t piss people off on purpose”. Just like with weddings, you may be surprised by your family’s reaction. Love it.

  • Gigi

    To Alice: One of my favorite parts of APW is watching the world wake up in the comments. I always get a kick out of the way the cultural references group themselves by time of day!

    And Meg: I think you were absolutely dead on every point you made. You’re correct that having to split Christmas is a good problem to have. That doesn’t, however, remove any of the angst from it. In 16 years, we’ve only managed to come to a tenuous solution that still upsets someone every year. And YES – God Bless being an adult. Now if I could only get the (step)parents to be adults about the holidays!

    I keep trying to tell everyone that it’s a holiday SEASON, after all, and just because we can’t be with them on the 24th or 25th doesn’t mean we don’t love them. It hasn’t worked yet…

    • NEWTIE

      One thing that’s been difficult for my partner and I is we have one part of the family who’s not as accommodating (they expect us to be there, they’re heartbroken if we’re not, and they don’t give us a lot of notice as to what’s expected of us) and one part of the family who is very accommodation (understands we have another family to please, understands we’re our own little family with our own needs, wants to see us generally but doesn’t care about when that happens). The result is that the less-accommodating part of the family is more often catered to – because it’s just not worth dealing with the hassle of upsetting them – and the part of the family that’s understanding gets neglected. I’m not ok with this, but still haven’t figured out how to navigate it well. Plus, at Thanksgiving, I found there really was no time – AT ALL – for *us.* I know I don’t want to do that again, but my partner is, at this point, more concerned with not upsetting our families of origin than with creating holiday time for us. So… it was helpful, Meg, to hear it took you three years to feel like you got it figured out, because I can see that we’re probably not going to “figure it out” right away.

      • Gigi

        This is our problem, too. One side very understanding, one side pouting and whining. Every year, all the time, regardless of how logically and gently we try to explain the position we’re in. We catered to the whiners until I finally put my foot down (after about 8 years) and just spent one Christmas where everyone was mad at me except for the family that had been slighted all those years. Even Sandy was mad at me and it was her family I was trying to be fair to. We’ve finally settled into an uneasy understanding. There’s no one answer for everyone, but sometimes you just need to tough it out and do what you know is fair. And every year might be different; negotiation has become part of my normal Christmas routine!

  • Good advice, all, especially about not trying to please everyone. Perks of being a grown-up indeed! And sorting out the holidays (once they’re sorted) can turn out to be a huge relief.
    Before we got married, I spent Thanksgiving with my future in-laws, and Christmas with my family. There were two problems with that. Firstly, my in-laws didn’t believe in pie. And they definitely didn’t believe in the six different varieties of pie which are essential for Thanksgiving, imo. And secondly, my family’s Christmas needed a bit of reclaiming… But now that we’re married, we spend Christmas morning in our little home with our own Christmas tree and our first tradition of eating eggs Benedict for delicious holiday breakfast. We go to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving and I make all the required pies, and everyone’s happy. Including my in-laws, whose eyes have been opened to the wonders of Christmas pie. Hooray!

  • For me, the Holidays haven’t been that hard to split. We just decided to rotate which family get’s Christmas and Thanksgiving. Granted that rotation hasn’t alwas stuck if my fiance’ sadly had work the day of a holiday which has sadly been common.

    The more difficult part for me is the fact that his birthday is Dec. 24th. I am polish and most people with Eastern European ancenstry know that Christmas Eve is a big deal. In my family it was always the night we opened family gifts. Then the morning we got our ‘santa’ gifts.

    My fiance’ has had many a birthday that he’s forgotten about because of the holiday. I try my best to make it still special, but still having some of that same Christmas magic from my birth family. The first year we spent Christmas together he was working on his birthday. Fish is big for Christmas Eve Meal with my family. I went and bought sushi from one of our favorite places and delivered his birthday dinner, while still feeling ties to my own family with fish but giving him one of his favorite meals. Making sure he still feels special on his birthday has been my more challenging battle to figure out.

    Oh and then our anniversary is 5 days after his birthday, 4 days after Christmas….doh. That’s why we’re getting married in the summer, I need this stuff spread out more.

    • My fiancé’s birthday is December 20th. Not quite as bad as Christmas Eve (or my friend’s birthday on Christmas Day), but still hard. When we decide to have kids, I think I’m just going to avoid having sex during the entire month of March.

      • Remy


        I have three special people with Dec/Jan birthdays — and I refuse to make a holiday gift do double duty as a birthday present. My people know that they’ll get just as much attention as if they were born in the height of summer.

        I do hope our future kidlets will have birthdays during the school year, though!

      • I am not even kidding when I say that we made very sure not to conceive that month for that exact reason.

    • Corrin

      Oh do I feel you on this….while not yet engaged, we’ve been together for 5 years, living together for 3.5. Splitting holidays for the 3rd year this year, and his birthday is Christmas Eve as well. Combine all of the normal holiday headaches with the fact that his family WILL NOT make any compromise on holidays, means that every year I look forward to the holidays with excitement and trepidation.
      The silver lining though is that with every year, we get further from the holidays that were “normal” to us for so long, and we get to claim a little bit more for our baby family.

    • I keep telling my husband he’s very inconsiderate for having a birthday three days after Christmas. He really should move it so that I don’t have to figure out Christmas and birthday presents at the same time. He hasn’t gotten on that yet. So I just get him things as they find me and then hope I can find them in their hiding places when December rolls around.

  • One of the nicest things my mother told me is that she’s perfectly happy with us not spending Christmas with them since they’re far away (California vs. DC) because she knows how stressful and busy the holidays are and she’d rather have us in the summer anyway. (I promptly forgot about this and when I was all set to make my awkward phone call in August… I found it moot. Yes, August. We plan early)

    Growing up, my grandparents were on the east coast and my family on the west, so we never did Christmas (or most holidays) with them, just our immediate family. The whole way I view these times is so different from how a lot of others see it, I think. Now that we’re all out of the house, my parents start entertaining at Thanksgiving and Christmas and I find I kind of miss that familial holiday intimacy.

    That said, I’m excited to share Christmas with my wife’s family, even if I’m a big ole Pagan.

    • Both of our families are great in that they’ll take us when they can get us and will still love us when we can’t get to them. They make it so much easier on us.

      I have heard of a mother getting together with the other mother at the wedding so that the two of them could arrange the holidays for their children. Um, not her place, and the second mother basically told her so.

  • KC

    Great post! Even though we’re not married yet, my fiance and I have lived together for a couple years and struggle with figuring out the holidays. I struggle with the whole “asking permission” thing-it’s difficult to alter a family tradition, but when you think about it in the way that you’re really creating new traditions with a new family, it definitely helps.

  • “(being part of an interfaith family is like one big cultural exchange).”

    YES. I feel like my life over the last couple of years has just been a big cultural exchange. I guess moving to a new country to live and getting married to someone from another country whose native language is different (and who doesn’t share your faith) will do that to you. “One big cultural exchange” is exactly right. Sometimes it is tiring, but so far the benefits and richness that come from it have been more than worth the extra work to find that space of common ground. Marriage, in general, seems to open people up to new things and new ways of seeing life, and bilingual/bi-cultural/interfaith marriages do that in abundance.

    Thankfully our transition has been pretty smooth and we haven’t had too much holiday conflict. Christmas worked itself out since my parents (who are in another country) decided to save visits for warmer weather seasons. Thanksgiving….well, it’s not a holiday celebrated here in Québec, so I have “imported” it to my husband’s family. This year was my second year to host it, and I feel like I am learning the ropes better. Doing it a second time (in the same way) also felt more like actively establishing an annual tradition, so I did a little thinking about how I envisioned experiencing the holiday over the years. Did I want it to be like the family Thanksgivings of my childhood (with parents and grandparents) or more like the urban Thanksgivings of my 20s which were spent with my parents plus a bunch of friends? One of the pluses about introducing a holiday to people who don’t know it already is that you get to introduce it in the way you decide. There are no past expectations (from their side) to deal with, so it’s a great chance to choose what is most important to you. (And, of course, there are certainly things I miss about celebrating it in the way I used to celebrate it and a bit of sadness, but I guess those changes are unavoidable as we age.)

  • I guess my fiance and I are lucky in the sense that it is easy for us to split the holidays. Neither of us is religious, he was brought up in a Christian household, and I was raised in a Jewish, but not religious, family. My family celebrates New Years (not Hanukkah or Christmas), and his family celebrates Christmas. And conveniently, I grew up with a New Years tree, and he grew up with a Christmas tree (hint: it’s the same tree with a different name!) So, we spend Christmas with his family, New Years with my family, and split Thanksgiving between both families (alternating each year). We also set up our own New Year / Christmas tree at home. So far, it’s worked out really well!

  • we have split holidays between our two (very far apart) families since we started dating. this year we couldn’t go to m’s family for thankgiving because of work and so we had our own first thanksgiving the two of us. it was great-and super relaxing. who knew holidays could be relaxing?! anyways, now they are coming to us to celebrate christmas early! i guess those work issues were kind of a gift-otherwise we wouldn’t have started any new traditions on our own.

  • faith

    “Every year, things shake out a little differently, because every year what works for us is a little different. But even though it’s been hard, it’s also been good (funny how life always works like that). Figuring out the holidays has allowed us to figure out what we want our new family to look like, and it has forced us to sort through our new family’s relationships with our families of origin.”

    This seems very true for us every year. We’ve found out that it has to be something that we’re willing to try new things to see what fits. It changes as both of our families change, and we have to be somewhat fluid with that.

    This will be our first married Christmas (first married Thanksgiving was awesome, so here’s hoping!) and our families all are close in proximity and also relationally. The BEST thing we did was discuss how we were going to handle Christmas, LAST Christmas and earlier this year when emotions are not as strong and we can talk about it with clear heads. We have a plan and the families all know what we’re doing and are good with it. As a result, we’re like little kids getting ready for Christmas this year:)

    We did have one discussion the other day about how “the way things have always been” is different this year and even though we are each other’s home and are making new traditions, we’re not at the point where those new things are “ours” yet. It takes time, understanding, and LOTS of talking to forge a new family. But so far, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

  • Jennifer

    There was a comment on the wedding grad post yesterday about needing to learn to live the lives that we have with the people we have. While that did come into play in our wedding to some degree, it’s the holidays where that really hits. Last year (our first married holidays) I thought we were really lucky because there was obviously no question of how things would go down – explaining it all would get long, but the only reasonable option for all holidays is for us to host our parents, a lovely little gathering of five – but now that there is a kid on the way, that “yay! we don’t have lots of options we have to decide between” is turning into “crap, we don’t really have any acceptable options to this, our poor kid is going to have the most boring holiday memories because it’s just going to be kiddo plus the old folks.”

    So I’m working really hard on trying to get back to that point of appreciating what we do have and not wishing for different lives and different people. It is nice that as hosts, and as children of fairly reasonable people, we have a fair amount of freedom to develop our own traditions on the specifics of the day – I’m just trying not to resent that we’re having to do that within what can feel like very restrictive circumstances. I guess it’s more like writing a sonnet than something more free-form?

    • I feel the same . . . although in our situation it’s more about me accepting what our holidays are like in my family now versus what they used to be when I was younger. A lot has changed in the past five years or so, and things aren’t nearly as “good” as they used to be, in my opinion. I’m working on accepting that, and it’s hard for me.

      But, as you said, “I’m working really hard on trying to get back to that point of appreciating what we do have and not wishing for different lives and different people.” Honestly, I couldn’t add anything to that statement to make it any more true.

      (Also, congratulations!)

  • Holidays can be such a difficult thing to figure out for new families. While neither of our families are religious, being with family during the holidays is incredibly important, and for the most part, we’ve made it work because family has been willing to compromise. Much of Christmas Day is spent video-calling family members we can’t be with and now that we’re in a better place financially my husband and I plan on always having money for travel to see family. Obviously, the rest of our family might have other plans, but that’s okay too because those years we can have our own small holiday celebration.

  • Amandover

    Yes! Crackers!
    We are lucky in so many ways with our families – particularly that both sides have love-filled Christmas traditions, but understand that we can’t be in both places at once. I think one of the best things we did in this regard was actually out of our control – namely, we had our first Christmas together in a separate country from either of our families. I has a huge work opportunity that meant I had to be in snowy Canada for Christmas, and wonderful man that he is, my Mr. flew up to spend it with me in a B&B that was more like our own house for the holidays. We live in New York, while my family is in Chicago, and his is in England, so we skyped with both last year, and it sunk in that we might not be there in any given year. Thus, this year, they were both thrilled when we decided to spend a week in each hometown over Christmastime. My fam was even excited to have more time between Christmas Eve festivities and the Christmas morning gift-giving.
    We can’t do this every year, but considering his family doesn’t have Thanksgiving, I don’t want my family’s Christmas to get the shaft. So future Christmases will have to be decided one at a time.
    But in the meantime, oh yes, there will be crackers.

  • Meg, thank you so much for this post. I’m always interested in how you guys handle the interfaith part of your relationship. Christmas is a challenging time for my fiancee and I, and I actually have my own post in the works about it. We’re trying to own the holidays for ourselves, but I’ll be the first to admit that we get hung up sometimes on how I (as in, me, me, me, mine!) want to own them and how she wants to own them. She grew up Orthodox Jewish and (sounds like similar to David) has some deeply entrenched anti-Christmas feelings. She’s fine with spending Christmas with my family, and even enjoys it. But doing Christmas-y things in our own home is another story. Combine that with her birthday being during the holiday season – yikes! Recipe for discord. And I am often cranky about giving up traditions that I have loved so much. It’s an area that I have a hard time compromising. Four years in, we’re still learning. And I figure we’ll continue to, but I’m always so interested to hear how other people figure these things out. And I don’t know if it’s more personal that you care to share, but I would be so interested in how you made the choice to convert. It’s something that we talk about, and I think about, a lot. Thanks again.

    • Try having the birthday on the holiday. Makes figuring out traditions a tad harder. I wish his was just in the season so I don’t have to feel guilty about his birthday interfering with holiday traditions because I still want his birthday to be special, but still hold on to some tradition.

      And seriously doesn’t it stink to make sure you get very distinctive different gifts for b-day and the holiday? Most people realize holiday time babies got shafted a lot while growing up. Making sure they get their special recognition they deserve can be quite pressure filled on top of stressful holiday planning/shopping.

      • Yes! So many different gifts!

    • My birthday is 12/11, his is 1/10, he’s Jewish, I’m Catholic…we’re three years into navigating the holidays (first time as a married couple) and it’s quite tricky.

      True story – the first time we sat with the Cantor who officiated our wedding, I cried full on choked up tears about what she termed “The Christmas Dilemma”. We worked on it during the first three sessions and I don’t know that it will ever be resolved. I want what I always had, he has a serious adversity to all things Christmas. I want our future kids (God Willing) to believe in Santa and the miracle of the season, he thinks it’s all a load of bullshit.

      We can have a tree in our house (which leaves me elated, seriously), but he gets total control over what are considered “Too Christmas-y” in regards to ornaments. It gets confusing at times, we argue, but I think in the end, we always are happy with the result of the holidays. He enjoys going to my parents house for the actual Christmas meal, just as I enjoy going to his family for all Jewish holidays, but like you said, having things in our home becomes difficult to figure out.

      The fact of the matter is that I’m happy when we argue and work through it…it’s far more productive than holding it in and ending up with some festering hatred over the holidays/each other/traditions. And while it’s easier this year than it was last year, I know it will continue to evolve over the years ahead, and there will still be sticky situations and probably conflict, but we’ll work it out together in a way that makes us both content.

      • Adria, at the risk of sounding like a weird stalker, we should totally be friends. Or at least chat. I’m heading over to your blog now, but from the little bit you wrote here, our experiences sound SO similar. And we’re about the same amount of time into this process. We’ve done both the holding things in and not talking about them part for a while, which did not go well, but we’re, thankfully talking about things now. Okay, heading to your blog now…

    • meg

      Ah, I have a rule that I only talk about conversion in faith based settings, because it needs and deserves the full symphony, not just a one off post on a blog where I don’t talk religion. My general advice is to look around for a Rabbi that you trust, and start a conversation. Mine went on for four solid years and two Rabbis, before I did anything about it.

      But! I will say that our rule is that Christmas doesn’t come into our home, since we have a Jewish household. We bend that rule a tiny bit some times (like when I listen to Festival of Lessons and Carols) but that’s the general rule. I’m not claiming there is not crankiness (though there is less every year, as a general rule), just that is what makes it all work for us.

      • Thanks for entertaining my question, Meg. I totally understand your position on not talking about it in this space. Perhaps you’ll write another book about that one day! :)

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      While I’m definitely not presuming to talk for your fiancee (or David) here, I also have something of an aversion to Christmas. I grew up Jewish in an area of the US where there’s a menorah by every Christmas tree in school and people generally wish each other “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. Having lived in the UK for a few years now, I always have a bit of culture shock around the holidays because things here are entirely Christmas-oriented. It’s weird to be in an area where it’s just assumed that everyone celebrates Christmas. It’s not that I dislike Christmas, and Chanukah is not a terribly important holiday… it’s just that, growing up, I strongly identified with celebrating Not Christmas. With feeling that Santa, the present shopping craze, the Christmas music on the radio emphatically didn’t apply to me. It’s that feeling of otherness that brings me together with other Jews over Chinese food and movies and makes me actively Christmas averse. Since the boy is also Jewish, I can’t comment on the interfaith side of things.

      • Hallie

        ” I strongly identified with celebrating Not Christmas.”

        This! But once I let go of that and allowed myself to be OK with Christmas in a non-religious sense, it became easier to get into. I know some Christians hate this, but the fact is a ton of people who aren’t practicing Christians do the whole Christmas thing because it’s traditional and, well, fun.

        I’m Jewish and my husband isn’t (he grew up Lutheran but doesn’t really identify with anything now) so it’s been an adjustment, but I’m actually finding myself more and more OK with “Secular Christmas” in that we hang out with his family on Christmas Day and open gifts, but that’s the extent of it. This year my family’s annual Hanukkah party is on Christmas Eve, so we’re being totally interfaith and going to his uncle’s house for his Christmas Eve gathering and then heading over to the Hanukkah party.

        I’ve actually always liked that we haven’t had to split up holidays too much because we have different faiths. Passover with my family, Easter dinner with his, etc. But we’re lucky too because even though we both have divorced parents, everyone gets along, so at Thankgiving this year, his dad + stepmom hosted and my dad + his lady, his mom + her fiance, his stepbrothers, etc., were all there (my mom and her husband were not but that’s a whole other bag).

      • Lauren K.

        I’ve got the Jewish (me)/Christian (nominally, him)/Birthday (me 12/24) set of complications too. And it’s just like Meg said, on the one hand, easy split (my family for Jewish Holidays, his for christmas), on the other hand, it would be amazing to be celebrating one set of holidays. Not celebrating christmas, the birthday thing has never been too much of an issue for me. Then, last year I went to my boyfriend’s family for christmas for the first time. They got me birthday cake! Labeled “Happy Birthday!” With no red or green on it! It was unexpected and lovely.

        In December, Christmas feels so prevalent that I think we’re always going to be negotiating around it, particularly if we have kids.

        • Last year was the first time he spent Christmas with my family and my sister made him a chocolate peanut butter iced yellow cake with a filling even. No Green or Red or pointsettas. It was sent home with us and I had to stop myself from killing his cake….then he waited too long to eat any more of it and it spoiled :( I cried a little it was damn good cake. I know he was really happy to get that.

  • It’s super interesting (ugh, that word—fascinating, maybe? but that makes you sound like a bug in a jar… anyway) to me that the part about Christmas you wanted to keep after converting was the religious/spiritual part, and that you asked to nix the secular part.

    This probably comes from me not knowing that many interfaith/converted couples/families and therefore just being really unfamiliar with that whole process (idiosyncratic and personal though it may be) and also from me LOVING the goofy secular parts of Christmas and also just being vaguely agnostic-ish, religion-wise, myself.

    I guess I see the secular parts of Christmas as being the big religiously-neutral middle ground that most festively-inclined folks just migrate towards this time of year, regardless of religious affiliation—like even if you’re not into the Jesus thing, hey, here’s this jolly dude in a red suit with gifts!

    In other words, secular “holiday” stuff seems (to me) like the common denominator that would remain between someone who converted from Christianity to Judaism—that you’d keep the Santa business as a religiously neutral tradition, but skip on the actual church-going.

    However! Obviously this is not always the case and is just how it seems in my mind based on my own limited human experience! Which is why I really like this post.

    • MadGastronomer

      Heh. I haven’t had to address any interfaith issues with my partner yet — I’m a pagan, and she describes herself as a pagan-friendly agnostic, so she’s fine with me doing my thing, and may or may not participate — but I’ve had to deal with it with my family for years, as they’re mostly Christian.

      I came to the conclusion that I’m perfectly happy adopting Santa Claus as a face of the Holly King and a major spirit of Winter, so I have no problem with the secular bits. I’ll also occasionally go to Mass with my grandmother, to make her happy, as long as I don’t have to participate in anything (which I don’t, and indeed generally ought not by Catholic tenets, either). I wind up doubling up on holidays to observe, and no one else pays any attention to mine. It’s worked out reasonably well, although I do feel a bit isolated at times.

    • meg

      Ah yes, in general that’s super not true. The fundamental issue is that Christmas, at it’s core, is of course a religious holiday (Christ is right there in the name, and not by accident) though historically Christian non-religious people obviously sometimes celebrate it as a secular holiday (which makes total sense!). So for folks of a minority religion, who grew up having Christmas (something that does not fit in their faith structure) foisted on them with the excuse that “it’s just secular, so what’s the problem?” the secular part of Christmas is often deeply, deeply problematic. People of faith don’t begrudge other people of faith religious holidays, In fact, they tend to love them, and be honored to participate as guests, because they know the importance. But when a culture that has been systematically killed and forcibly converted has a religious holiday pushed on them with the idea that “it’s just secular” you have deep seated historical problems raising their heads. Obviously, not all Jews/ Muslims/ etc feel this way, but I would venture to say that the bulk of the religious Jewish community probably does, on some level.

      So! Hence our decision. Religion = Great. Secular = Painful.

      • Thanks for explaining this—and I mean that sincerely!

        I will now share a story about Christmas crackers.

        This time last year I was working at a candy store and we sold these things called “Christmas crackers” that were, you know, tissue-paper wrapped cylinder-type things, tied on the ends, about five or six inches long and maybe two inches thick. Because of their shape and because these things were displayed above a shelf of jellies and spreadable cheese and, well, because the box said “crackers,” I THOUGHT THEY WERE ACTUAL CRACKERS. Like, the kind you eat. I thought this until the day a woman asked me if I thought they would be OK to take on a plane. I was like, “Yeah, why not?: and she was like, “Well, would they be considered explosives?” And I was like, “Why would crackers… OHHHH.”


        And this concludes this episode of Rachael Exposes Herself As An Idiot In The APW Comments.

        • meg

          Ha. They are just not something we do in America, lets be honest. I really figured it out when I was drawing pictures of Christmas trees and Christmas mice with my tiny british second cousin in England, and she ordered, “Give him a Christmas Cracker!” and then grabbed the pen and drew it herself. Then said, “Why doesn’t David like Christmas? Everyone likes Crackers!”

          • Seriously? You don’t do crackers in America?

            Everyone I know is big on Christmas Crackers here in Canada. I always find those little divergences so interesting.

        • Huh, me too. Up until now, reading this comment, I thought they were food-crackers. I was all curious about these yummy crackers I have been missing out on, that also went “bang.” I had envisioned a kinder-toy-like savory cracker with a firecracker inside. Hahaha. Oops.

          • meg


          • All I can picture is Mr. Bean’s Christmas.

      • Rachel

        Thank you Meg for explaining this! I am Jewish and have no problem with the religious part of Christmas, but have a lot of trouble with the rest of it surrounding me for a couple months. People have a hard time understanding this, and I think your explanation was perfect!

        • RJ

          Colour me surprised that the CIC (Christmas Industrial Complex) hasn’t spread Christmas Crackers to the the US…. :-)

      • Thank you for this. I feel much the same way, and have had a hard time explaining to my Jewish friends why I dislike the secular xmas brouhaha so much (my first Jewish roommate was disappointed when I didn’t want to put up a tree). As a Christian, Christmas is a religious holiday for me. I enjoy celebrating as much as the next person, but the secular celebration gets a bit tawdry. I actually feel like the secular celebration is forced on me, and I get tired of it way before the end of December.

        I too have always been honored to share, as a guest, in religious events that are not of my faith. Thank you for writing so succinctly how you can share parts of the holiday with your family, without sharing their faith.

    • Funny side note — I’ve come to dislike the word ‘interesting’ ever since undergrad, when one of my professors pointed out that ‘interesting’ was a word that all of her students would use when they wanted to make a comment but they weren’t sure what, exactly, to say. “Yeah, I definitely found that passage interesting.” ;)

      ALSO! You are not the only one who thought that Christmas crackers were actually crackers. Then when I read about them in HP, I was like, wait, what? What’s happening. And then, when I experienced them with the in-laws, I truly got it. Fantastic.

  • This topic makes me sick to my stomach when I think about it. Both of our families would be absolutely heartbroken if we didn’t spend the holidays with them. We live five hours from my family and his family is here in town. Neither of us has yet been willing to budge on giving up traditions that are so important to us so instead we’ve been celebrating the holidays separately for the 8 years we’ve been dating and picking a day somewhere around the same time to have “our christmas” or “our thanksgiving” for just the two of us. It’s be hard to be apart on the actual holiday, but I we both agreed that it was the lesser of two evils.
    Now that we’re engaged I am discovering that other people have ceased to accept our arrangement. My parents were very disappointed to hear that W would not be coming down for Christmas, and my Aunt went ahead and put him in the drawing for secret santas because the extended family assumes he will be there.
    We’re still going to put off decisions for one more year, but we need to really talk about this soon and I hate to know that someone is going to be heartbroken next year.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Hugs. When my family started making noise about the first holiday I skipped to spend with Husband’s family (his on the east coast, mine in the midwest – no way to hit both) I tried to very, very, politely ask if they could come up with a better solution. “I know it sucks to not see you guys this T’giving Auntie, but I really can’t think of any other way for me and my husband to spend the holiday together. Do you have any ideas?”

      Usually once I turned things around on them they’d at least acknowledge that I was in a tough spot and there wasn’t an everybody-wins situation.

      • I second what Abby suggested – let your family attempt to troubleshoot your situation. And possibly you could work out an every-other-year arrangement…this year you do Thanksgiving with your family, Christmas with his. Next year you do Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with yours. It’s not your standard ideal, but it could make things easier in the long run.

        I also want to suggest working things out at a time (like June) before the emotions of the holidays start to kick in. It’s a lot different (not necessarily easier, but different) to navigate location logistics when you’re not thinking about smelling mom’s special pumpkin pie, or Grandma’s Christmas Cookies. This worked for us when we were trying to establish some level of holiday protocol.

        And remember to keep your mind open – it will be hard to be away from what you’ve always known, but it might just be wonderful to see the holiday from a different perspective, as a guest in your partners family home. Learning different traditions or recipes or conversing with a different crowd could be refreshing and allow you to establish your own, combined, traditions for your family together :)

    • Amy

      My husband and I are in a similar situation. We are actually from neighboring counties, but my family often travels for the holidays as the hosting household rotates. Years that we are both celebrating back home, we stay at our own parents’ houses even after we were married (last year was our first married Christmas). So this is our first married Christmas with our families planning to be thousands of miles apart. The only solution we could come up with that didn’t feel unfair to one of us was to spend it with apart but with our families. We get some pretty weird looks, and I find myself trying to justify it a lot. It’s going to be an ongoing conversation, and something that will not work once we have children, but for this year it is the plan, and we have to own it. It’s not perfect though, obviously.

  • Amber

    Our first married Christmas, we took a 10-day road trip up the coast. I think that pretty much showed both our families we’ll do what we want. My husband gets a bonus week off for Christmas, I’m not “wasting” that with my parents in Texas. So we’re going to Australia for his family this year and next year Europe. My parents get Thanksgiving.

    The secular part of Christmas is all that works for us. We’ve got our tree and lights and will be making cookies to give away.

  • My husband and I have been doing the alternating-family-holiday thing for the last couple of years. At first it was odd to be somewhere else for Christmas, but I tried to get involved and ended up feeling more at home because of it. (I like to take part in holiday cooking/baking, so that really helped me.)

    I love Meg’s point about not asking permission. So far, my husband and I have tried to accommodate our families and always have to travel for holidays. But I really like the idea of not necessarily having to. I’m sure we’d still want to join our parents for now (if we have kids, that might be another story) but there’s some relief in knowing that you’re not required to go anywhere. You are your own family now.

  • My sister brought Christmas crackers home with her from a semester in England ten years ago. They’ve been part of my family ever since. This year I’m taking them to the husband’s family. So it’s a good thing we decided to drive to Christmas because the TSA kind of frowns on flying with gun powder.

    The not asking permission thing is something that definitely works for us. We’re adults. We inform people what we are doing, if we feel they need to know. I haven’t been at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving in 16 years. It’s too fast of a holiday to make all that travel worth it, I’d spend half the vacation traveling. So we decided this time we’re going to take a nice long vacation in early spring when we can give them a week rather than now. And in the end it’s working out the best for everyone.

    Make the holidays yours. Make the traditions yours. Anything else is just too much stress.

    • meg

      I love you. As ever <3

    • K

      this is SO important, but SO hard (the not asking permission), especially when your in-laws are passive-aggressive. I think my MIL hates us right now, but we’re not backing down– we are spending the holidays together, no traveling. She’s been laying the guilt on us but we’re trying to stand strong. yay for therapy…

  • Morgan

    We’ve actually always been a little bit jealous of the people who have families of origin that live far from each other, because they have a legitimate excuse to rotate holidays the way many of you are describing. While some of you who do that may not like it, to us it sounds amazing.

    We’re high school sweethearts, so our families live 10 minutes from each other. So every day that we are home for holidays (we live 8 hours away now) is a constant battle for time at both houses. There is never a day where we spend the entire day at one house and get to relax. It’s always running from one house to another, and hurt feelings on both sides when we have to leave or say “no” to something at one family because we’ve already made plans with the other. It’s utterly exhausting.

    Hopefully after we’re married we can have a little more autonomy and change things, but for now we’re caught in the middle of this tug-of-war because without that piece of paper our baby family isn’t yet legitimized in the minds of our parents.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      Grass is always greener. As the child of divorced parents who live four time zones away from me and my husband, and a brother who lives in Asia, we are forced with having to choose between the more proximate set of parents (my husband’s) and something complicated and expensive involving my family. There’s no rotating, and little relaxing, because (is it just me?) not being with my own family is actually hard, and I miss them. So, last year, my mom, then-fiancee and I met in the town my mom grew up in (four hours by plane for both of us) — brother still in Asia, Dad still in my home town, and then my fiancee and I flew back across the country about a week later to his midwestern home-state, where we spent Christmas but not New Years. Sound relaxing? No.

      THIS year, my mom and I are flying to Asia, my new husband is going to his parents’, and my Dad is staying in HIS hometown with my grandmother. Skype will get a work out.

      However, my third-culture-kid friend (wikipedia it) has photo albums on facebook filled with her large and international family sharing lattes in airports. There’s something warm and fuzzy to me about those pictures, and hope I’ll have that same feeling in a very foreign place.

      Maybe next year we’ll host…. make them come to us!

    • My parents had a similar situation. They were lucky in that Mom’s family always had their big get together on Christmas Eve and Dad’s traditionally celebrated on Christmas Day. Perhaps you could try something like that?

    • Ris

      Hey Morgan! I’m in the same boat as you, our families live ten minutes apart. And yes, this Thanksgiving was something like a trainwreck – we had a great time wherever we were, but for every thing we were doing we were missing something else. I ended up sobbing in his driveway at the end of the night when I realized that, in all the shuffling, I had completely missed seeing my grandparents.

      • I think those of you with the ‘too close to alternate” families should tell them how upsetting this is- try to organize one day with one family and one with the other (Christmas Eve/Christmas, Thanksgiving/Day After) etc. and insist that its the only way you will be able to spend enough time with everyone.

    • Miriam

      Similar situation here but family gatherings are between 30 minutes to 2 hours apart (including extended families). With divorced parents this means we are expected to celebrate at least 4 “Christmases” in the few days we are in our home state. We just got married this year and did this kind of running around at Thanksgiving, left feeling like we hadn’t relaxed for one second. This year 3 Christmases are on one day and we decided to say no to one of them to avoid driving an extra 3 hours that day. We’re just waiting for the fire to fly… hopefully its like sparklers and not a bomb.

  • Courtney

    This post hits home. My husband and I have been together for eons, and have juggled the two-family holidays for years, and after a few kinks in the first year it has been smooth sailing. But my parents are now getting divorced, and the holidays last year were exhausting because we suddenly had a 3-family Christmas. Plus, we just got married a few months ago and there is some simmering resentment on my part towards my parents for how they acted throughout my engagement (which I am working through, but it’s still there), so my willingness to be flexible is minimal. And I was feeling the weight of my parents’ expectations and that all of it was just so unfair. So I had a brief 10-minute can’t-quite-catch-my-breath-sobfest, decided that my husband and I are going to spend time with family spread out over several days, and then have a quiet and relaxing dinner in our apartment for our first married Christmas. I am so excited for our private celebration, and am hopeful that it will become part of our regular holiday routine!

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Since we’re usually travelling for 10 straight days across the holiday season we never get any alone time other than a few minutes each night in our hotel room. (My family is a “let’s hang out until 2am and then meet for breakfast at 9am” kind of family) It’s really, really draining. An evening of just the two of us to rest and recharge sounds *amazing*.

      Good thinking.

  • A big thank you from me to you, Meg. This has been weighing on me the last few weeks, unsurprisingly, and your timing could not be better. The lady and I have promised each other to figure out our holiday schedule by the end of the week.

    I think this is particularly overwhelming because of the circumstances in my family-of-origin. When my mom died, Christmas became even more important for us–taking time to remember her, to value each other and our unit, etc. Then when my dad got remarried, he and his wife had to negotiate holiday traditions, and some of the ones my sisters and I really valued had to go. We’re JUST starting to adjust to those changes without having to leave the house to drink off the rage, and now I’m throwing another set of complications into the mix. I’m sure my sisters are just as weary as I am about making more changes to the season that already hasn’t felt like “ours” in years. I feel very protective of their emotions and experiences, and it makes this process so overwhelming. I know that having honest conversations with everyone is the best way to go, but I can’t help feeling like the bad guy.

    It’s been very helpful to read your advice Meg, as well as all of the comments. This has also cured my two-week blog writers blog. Thanks, ladies!

  • occhiblu

    My mother died about six months before I met my now-husband, and I’ve invited my family to visit me/us for Christmas since then (he invited his mother to come up for the holiday when we started living together, too). It was definitely easier hosting and just inviting both families than it was to travel or to split the holidays (and I refuse to travel for Thanksgiving — it’s just too short).

    This year, however, which is our first married Christmas, we just wanted it to be the two of us. My brother was thrilled, because he hates the traveling, and my father seemed upset for a moment but then realized that it’d be easier and cheaper for him to go visit his sister, so he seems pretty happy with that. I’m also thrilled to “have the year off,” and it’s liberating for me to reinforce that how we spend our holidays is a *choice* and just because we did something once does not mean that it’s set in stone until the end of time.

    I would also point out that those of you who are not yet married are still adults (I assume!) and it’s therefore still appropriate for you to set your own boundaries about how you (and your partner, if applicable) want to spend your time at *any* time of the year, including the holidays. Adults really don’t need a marriage certificate to be able to say no to their friends and relatives.

    • meg


    • Oh man. I would LOVE to host the holiday here. We spent last year here working on the house on Christmas eve and sledding on Christmas Day.

      Unfortunately, I’m resigned to the fact that as long as my grandparents are living, my mom will not be joining us in Idaho; apparently her parents trump her children.

  • MadGastronomer

    My partner and I are pre-engaged (I’m proposing in January), and hope to be married before the next holiday season rolls around. She’s not close to her family, I am to mine (er, usually; little trouble there right now). You’d think that would make it easier, but no. There are added complications.

    My family all live on the opposite coast, with my parents and extended family (Christmas at my grandmother’s has always been a lovely thing) living in a state that will not recognize our marriage (we’re both women), and may or may not recognize my partner’s gender (she’s trans; and no, that probably doesn’t help at all with the marriage thing). My partner isn’t comfortable with visiting the state my family lives in for that reason (nor the state her sister lives in, nor the state her aunt lives in, the only relatives she keeps in touch with), and I certainly am not going to try to force her to. But neither will I be willing to miss the holidays with her. So this is the last year I’ll be able to spend Christmas with my extended family, at least for a long long time (until the laws change), and possibly forever (because by the time the change happens, my grandmother will likely be dead, and my generation will be busy splitting their holidays other ways).

    Add to it that the extended family I love to spend Christmas with is mostly Catholic, while I’m pagan as well as queer, and, well, I’m expecting some major weirdness over the entire thing. Christmas is a family day for me, not a religious one, and for my partner as well. For years before I met my partner, I’d have my religious observances on the Solstice, then go visit my family for Christmas. But next year, I won’t be willing to give up that day with my love, because she’ll be my family.

    I’m really, really worried that they won’t understand, though. They’ve never been comfortable with my orientation, although my grandmother let my first serious girlfriend come to Christmas, and I imagine I’m going to hear a lot of complaints that I’m abandoning them for someone they don’t approve of. Particularly when I won’t have brought her home to meet them all before getting either engaged or married. (They’ll all be invited to the wedding, but since it will be a pagan ceremony, and it’s a long way away, I don’t know how many will come.)

    I’m getting more and more flaily about it.

    • Oof. That sounds tough, and I empathize with parts of it — one friendly family, one kind of distant; interfaith and secular conflict; queer issues involving family and impending wedding. Maybe you and your partner will develop a solstice ritual of your own at home? I don’t have any advice, really, but I wanted to say that you’re in my thoughts.

      • MadGastronomer

        Oh, certainly we’ll develop our own solstice rituals at home. I’ve got a few already, and we’ll add to them. But it won’t be the big family party with all the ridiculous people I’m related to.

  • We know we’re exceedingly lucky in that splitting the holidays is easy: we travel to his family for Thanksgiving, do Hannukah on our own, and do Christmas with my family. (It’s the one Catholic Scottish tradition my Mom has never been able to leave behind.) In our home, the holiday pattern is non negotiable, even as adults, simply because it IS so easy and obvious to split. It actually means we have less autonomy if we don’t want to make either of our mothers into miserable emotional wrecks. Which we don’t want to do. Which has made it a bit hard for me that I lost Thanksgiving with MY family, but it feels like the right thing for us, which is the most important part.

    Note: because my Mom is Scottish, I grew up thinking Christmas crackers were totally normal. It wasn’t until junior high that I figured out we were the intercultural the odd ones. And Christmas crackers (and the embarrassing paper crowns) are the best part of Christmas dinner, for sure.

    • meg

      Well, I will say that we also have an easy and obvious split, and a few years into our marriage we’ve decided that we’re STILL allowed to do what we want :)

  • We decided to stay in Idaho last Christmas instead of going to Tacoma (like we had the previous two Christmases) for my first Christmas away from home. It was hard in that my family still didn’t want to really recognize us as a “family” despite the fact we’d been dating for three years and wanted to stay in Idaho to work on the house we’d bought together. I’m curious to see what happens next year, after we’re married, when we choose to have Christmas elsewhere (Forrest’s turn). Will our wedding have been transformative for them? Or will they still grump (although they don’t actually expect us to change our minds)?

    P.S. Meg, I’m curious as to why secular Christmas ideas (like Santa) are more “line blurring” and harder for you than the religious pieces. (Just a curious atheist over here.)

    • meg

      Ah! I put a full explanation up above. Search for the pink comments!

      • I saw it! I think that question was written as I was writing mine! Thanks so much, it makes a lot more sense.

  • We are definitely reclaiming Christmas this year. Our first as a married couple and our first away from home. We are in the middle of redefining traditions, throwing out the ones that we dislike, keeping the sacred ones and inventing our own. It was essential to us that, although we don’t have children yet, that we are beginning a new family and should do things our way. Thats not saying that we are not going to miss our families but we are excited about being able to create something wonderful together. The holidays are good opportunity to share your wants and hopes with each other.

    Also, if we are prepared to throw away a load of old wedding traditions (in favour of super rad ones like I have seen many a time on here) why cant we do the same with the Christmas ones?! Holidays done our way right?!

    • meg

      “Also, if we are prepared to throw away a load of old wedding traditions (in favour of super rad ones like I have seen many a time on here) why cant we do the same with the Christmas ones?!”

      Excellent point. Reclaim Christmas!

  • Alison

    My fiance and I are getting married this October, and we’ve already had our fair share of insanity, as it sounds like everyone else has. Both of our parents are divorced, so we have “four” families to deal with, and his mom doesn’t talk to the rest of her family (all 8 brothers/sisters/her parents) so that is even more confusing. My dad is Jewish, my mom and her family are Christian, I recently converted to Judaism (we’re having a Jewish wedding and raising our family Jewish), my fiance is religiously unaffiliated, and his family about half Catholic and half Protestant. Basically, it’s a mess, and navigating it has been, and will continue to be, one of the most difficult things in our joined life. I think that as long as we “don’t ask permission” and start to create our own traditions, we’ll make it out all right. :)

  • Caroline

    This might sounds absurd, but I want to say thank you for making ms realize that evenif my partner converts, we will still always be an interfaith family. We’ve been discussing him converting a little bit, and I would like him to (though obviously it comes down to him), except that I feel that even if he converts, we will still be an interfaith family, except it would be in hiding. Thanks for pointing outthat even if we are both technically Jewish, Christmas can still be hard and fraught. (especially given that I am a happy convert from a non-religious Jewish-christian traditions family, and he has rejected the catholic religion but not some traditions of his family. Christmas carols are reall hard for me. It’s a very physical body reaction to leap in to join in them, and I love them deeply from childhood, and yet they are clearly and blatantly things I don’t beleive at all. It doesn’t help that while I’ve learned the tunes for services, there is a huge body of Jewish song that could perhaps partially replace Christmas carols that I don’t know yet.)

    Anyways, thank you for the realization that no matter what, we will be an interfaith family and that means it’s ok if discussions around December, religious holidays and religion are hard.

    • meg

      Ah, yes. After conversion you do cease to be an interfaith COUPLE (which took a lot of strain off for us), but you’re always going to have an interfaith family, with all it’s joys and sorrows….

      And the music stuff is really, really tough and emotional.

    • Gigi

      I don’t believe anything in the religious Christma carols, either. But I can’t give them up because they are now and always have been my very favorite part of the holiday. So I just sing them quietly to myself; which, given my singing voice, is best anyway. It’s so hard to give up the things we truly loved as children..

  • Sarah

    I really like this post. As part of an interfaith couple, I find that there’s a freedom to family holidays: it’s EASIER to know which extended family to celebrate Christmas or Passover with, because often only one side really celebrates it.

    Where I find the challenge is in our own home. I’m devoutly, progressively Christian and my fiance has a deep identification with Judaism as his tradition and cultural heritage. How do we create our own space, and time, and observance, that feels authentic to both of us and not too uncomfortable? It’s something we’re still figuring out. December kind of heightens it, as the trappings are more clearly visible: a Christmas tree in the living room, a menorah on the table. We’re working on building a blended tradition that we can both own as ours.

  • I have say, giving yourselves permission to skip holidays is wonderful. This year we skipped Easter and Thanksgiving, for a week in LA and a New England roadtrip, respectively. We didn’t even really discuss it with our families, just sort of told them. (It helps that Canadian Thanksgiving is a much lower key holiday than it seems to be in America, and our Easters are entirely secular.) Everyone was fine with it, and we had great trips, and because of the holidays, got to take longer trips.

    I know it won’t work every year (see infant due around Easter 2012) but it certainly was a lovely way to spend 2011.

  • Erica

    We’re another couple in the ridiculously far-flung families camp: his in Utah and Chicago, mine in Maine and St. Lucia (the nice thing is we have lots of awesome places to visit though!) and we’re currently impoverished grad students living in Colorado. This year the FH was able to come to Thanksgiving in Maine with me for the first time, which was a huge deal for me and my family since that’s the one time when all 22+ of us get together. So we’re doing Christmas with his family.

    The source of stress right now is that his family is BIG into presents, and we flat-out can’t afford to be buying stuff for everyone right now. 10 people x $20-$50 per person, x 2 of us adds up really quickly. I know that everyone will be understanding of our financial situation but I was kind of mortified last year when his family got me tons of really generous presents and I couldn’t really get anything remotely similar for them. Any advice for dealing with this? Before you ask, I am not crafty, diy-y or otherwise creatively inspired. ;)

    • occhiblu

      Giving gifts as a couple (that is, one gift per person, from the two of you) would at least cut your budget in half.

    • Look for the half of gift certificates a lot of areas have now for local restaurants. It can seem like you spent more when you really only spent half.

      Unless you can cook or bake you can bring more cookies, cuz really when is there too many cookies?

      That’s all I got good luck.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My family had a minor crisis when my generation started “coming of age” because us 20-somethings absolutely could not afford to do gifts for everyboday. After a lot of grumbling and rumbling we agreed to do a Secret Santa gift arrangement amongst the adults (each person buys a gift for one other person, $30 limit) with the exchange on Christmas Eve. Anyone (like my mom) who couldn’t stand to not buy gifts for everybody has to mark them “from Santa” and leave them out Christmas morning. It was kind of Scrooge-y the first year, but after that it sort of became a competition to find the funniest, strangest, most perfect for that person gift. Plus everyone’s more comfortable knowing that no one is on a starvation diet to pay for their Christmas gifts.

      • My dad’s family has been doing a drawing since before I was born. (Theoretically there’s a $30 limit but it’s loosely followed.) My mom’s family converted at the beginning of the “Great Recession.” They also even tried an awesome experiment in couples drawings (aka Suzan & Gary buy for Tyler & Nine); unfortunately that was derailed in the interests of inclusiveness (divorces, me joining the drawing from the kids side). They also started a kids drawing (my nephew “draws” one of his cousins instead of my sister buying for all the cousins; I give him his present at a different time).

        • Erica

          Yeah my parents both do secret Santas with their siblings but it hasn’t moved on to my generation yet. But Christmas isn’t really a big deal on my side – I love to buy presents for people so when I’ve had some extra $$ I’ve done it but I don’t feel any pressure to do so. It’s tough with FH’s family because there are little kids and my FMIL looooves buying presents and starts shopping in like, January. Seriously. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • Though this is our first holiday season as a married couple, though we started splitting up holidays a few years ago. Both sets of parents are local, but whereas my extended family is small (all grandparents passed away) and out of state, he still has three living grandparents who all live here. Holidays for me growing up were occasional travel to see out of state relatives, but a lot of time with just my immediate family. Holidays for him were a huge schedule of tons of in-town family obligations.

    Starting with last year, we dictated to the families what our schedule would be, and it’s worked out well. His maternal grandparents’ and that side of the family are visited on Thanksgiving. We see my parents sometime the week before or after Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve is “Big Irish Christmas” with his dad’s huge extended family (often 50-70 people having potluck and carol singing) and then Christmas Day is with my parents.

    We’ve decided to carve out Christmas morning just for us and keep it that way, as a space to start our own traditions. We’re not religious, but both have great memories of waking up on Christmas morning to open stockings and presents, and want to preserve that time just for our family, especially if we have kids later on.

    • We always grew up with Christmas morning being just my immediate family. Forrest and I spend the night at my mom’s house when we’re there for the holiday (two of our three Christmases together so far) which has been fun because I had young nephews there. This year it will be just her and the two of us and we’re contemplating gently suggesting that we take off early and meet her at my aunt & uncles so we DO get some holiday time just for us. (That and perhaps next time around we’ll have the $$ for a hotel room…)

  • N

    As the Jewish partner in an interfaith (although non-religious on my husband’s side) marriage, I’m totally pushing to have Thanksgiving become the gift giving holiday. Even though I know it will never actually happen I think it would be a fantastic solution; it’s a non-religious time dedicated to relaxing with family and eating yummy food (which is basically the non-gift giving part of Christmas for my in-laws).
    Side note on holidays: Thank you Meg for your post last year (I think) on having Thanksgiving on your own. It made me feel comfortable doing the same this year, and it was wonderful!

  • KateM

    I grew up close to both sets of grandparents and with a million cousins. We would open presents in the morning at home and then go to first my dad’s extended family and then to my mom’s. Being part of a large loud loving bustling family is very much of my personal identification. Thanksgiving is the same way, but this year for the first time we went to my future in-laws. They are wonderful people and I am very lucky to have them, but there were 5 adults including us for dinner and it was sooo weird to me and Christmas last year was very much the same when we went to his parents. So quiet and honestly felt similar to every other Sunday dinner. Both last year and this year we alternated Thanksgivings and then for Christmas we will both do Christmas Eve dinner and midnight mass with my family and then he will go to his parents (an hour away) and I will stay at mine and do Christmas morning with our respective families. Then I will go up to his parents for Christmas dinner. This works until we are married. My big thing is that I have 7 nieces and nephews who are 5 and under. They all come to my parents in the morning and open presents and get to play with their cousins. The idea of not seeing the kids on Christmas morning is crazy to me, it is way more fun than any other part of the holiday season for me. With our parents only being an hour apart from each other, not seeing everyone for Christmas isn’t really an option. It would be almost be easier if we had to commit one way or the other. Next year things will change when we are married, and then they will change again once we have kids. Learning to be flexible about the holidays might be one of the hardest things for me. Our family dynamics are so different.

  • melissa

    I ordered Christmas crackers a couple weeks ago. Once I figured out that’s where the paper crowns Brits are always wearing on tv shows come from, I had to have them. Last year, we started what we want to make a tradition: we made roast beef, yorkshire pudding, gravy and bread pudding, and we watched Doctor Who. Same thing this year, plus crackers and PAPER CROWNS, of course!

    • I LOVE this. (Especially the Doctor Who part … can you see the Doctor with Christmas crackers? It’d be hilarious!

  • As always, the perfect APW post just when I need it. We’re doing Christmas together for the first time this year, and while it sorted itself out very easily for this year, I’m very worried about next year. (Especially since we are planning to get married right before Christmas next year, so things will be super-busy and extra-complicated!)

    This year, my parents decided that they wanted to fly out to spend the Christmas Eve/Christmas day with my grandmother, and since I couldn’t afford the time away from work, I decided to do Christmas with my partner’s family. They traditionally have a Christmas Eve dinner and presents exchange with his mom’s family, and then drive to Maine to his grandmother’s for Christmas brunch/day with his father’s entire extended family.

    Realistically, there is no way to split the holiday between families, since his does both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We have had a few discussions about it, and every time I bring up spending time with my parents on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (which necessitates not also spending time with either his mom’s family or his dad’s family, though we did swing a huge Thanksgiving at our house with both sets of parents this year), he gets all pouty and upset about it and starts going on about “but I’ve never done Christmas differently!” But… Life is different now. Being our own family *means* doing things differently from how they have always been. Then again, it also took me a few months to get him to eat salad. I guess I’ve fought harder battles.

    • I think that’s a fair time to raise the point that if you do it “his way” than it will mean doing Christmas completely differently for you, and that’s not a fair default answer.

  • occhiblu

    I wonder a bit what this conversation would like like (both on APW and in the culture at large) if we stopped saying we “have to do X” for the holidays and started saying (more accurately) that we “want to do X” or we “choose to do X” or that “X is really important to me and so I want to figure out a way to make it work.”

    So many of these comments (and, again, comments that I hear about the holidays in real life as well) sound so full of anxiety and obligation that they’re hard to read. You really don’t *have* to do anything; it’s ok to say you’re doing things because you *want* to do them rather than framing it as someone forcing you to do it; and whatever you do, you *are* choosing to do it, even if it’s not something you want to do.

    As others have pointed out, blindly following our families’ expectations is kind of the antithesis of APW. Take back that decision-making power for yourselves in general — even if it means doing the same thing as usual, framing it as a choice gives you a lot more power and a lot less angst.

  • My husband and I reclaimed Thanksgiving by hosting it every year for both our immediate families. Luckily they both live in the same metro area that we do, and they like each other (although the Scotch helps). It’s a lot of work for us, but simpler than trying to negotiate which family to spend time with…after all, we both want to spend time with our families on Thanksgiving.

    And now on Christmas Eve his family invites mine over for Night of the Seven Fishes (a Southern Italian tradition) and it’s delicious. My husband and I apease his mother my spending the night so we can wake up on Christmas day and unwrap presents in PJ’s, and because my family doesn’t care much for Christmas except for the fun of getting together and being thankful for one another, my husband and I go over there for dinner on Christmas Day. Of course, at that point we’re completely exhausted, but it works our right now. When out younger siblings need to split their time..that’s when it’s going to get tricky.

  • Marina

    Changing traditions and introducing traditions is so, so huge. It feels a little terrifying to let go of childhood traditions, but… for me, especially with a kid on the way, it feels more and more clear every year that the family traditions my children will grow up with will be different than the ones I grew up with. And that’s a GOOD thing. Also, thinking back on it, my parents did their fair share of making up traditions as they went along, and now those are the things I couldn’t possibly do without at the holidays. :)

    This year was the first year ever I missed Thanksgiving with my family. I was really sad about it in advance, but… you know, it wasn’t so bad sleeping in my own bed afterwards rather than on an air mattress on someone’s floor. I made traditional butterhorn rolls, and my aunt made them too, and we both posted pictures on Facebook throughout the process… and after dinner we had a hilariously disastrous attempt to Skype… and you know, I can see that being a tradition my children grow up with and love. We’ll see. But it feels like an option now in a way it really didn’t ever before.

  • Z

    Thanks for this, Meg — it’s really interesting to read discussion about interfaith marriages. When reading this post I had one of those moments where you go: oh, *that’s* what I’ve been missing!

    I’m in an interfaith, intercultural, international relationship and am hoping that last point will make splitting holidays less stressful! (“I’m in a different continent” is always a good excuse for not showing for events …) I find it especially interesting what you say about the secular aspects of Christmas being less acceptable than the religious. Because as I grew up in a country where Christians are a minority, I don’t have the strong negative associations with having the holiday forced upon me. On the other side, my Catholic fiance sees the secular aspect of Christmas, as an opportunity for family reunions, as being as important as the religious, because he doesn’t view it as the most important religious holiday anyway — he says this is Easter (a holiday I had barely heard of before coming to the UK!).

    We’ve yet to spend major family holidays together, but he’ll be celebrating Chinese New Year with my family for the first time in January. It’ll be an interesting time!

  • Kess

    My BF and I have not really run into this issue yet as we currently spend holidays with our respective families. For example, this year we’re driving down to my parent’s house, staying a few days, he’s flying down to his parent’s house before Christmas while I stay with my family, and then a few days after Christmas, I’ll be flying down to his parent’s house. Then we’re both flying back to my parent’s house and then driving back to school. Geeze!

    However, once we graduate (for both our families, that seems to be when you become an ‘adult’) and officially move in together long-term, we’ll have to deal with this as I’d really like to have a thanksgiving and Christmas with my BF. The thing I’m actually most sad about is that it’s only been the past 4 years or so when my immediate family actually got the Christmas they wanted. Before that, we always had to travel to my paternal grandparents’ house. My grandma was always deeply offended (and boy would we hear about it) if we did not come to her house ON Christmas. The worst thing is, she lives about 4 hours away from us, and my mother works until late Christmas eve as she is a music director. So only in the past few years have we actually had the Christmas we always wanted.

    However, I know that my parents will be understanding because of the experience with my grandma, and my BF’s parents already tend to do Christmas not on the 25th due to BF’s older brother. So, I really have a good chance of things going smoothly, but it’s still difficult because I personally want to be in two places on Christmas.

  • Rachel

    Something else I find interesting about the interfaith family is that Chanukah in general doesn’t get as much attention in Jewish families as Christmas does in your average American family. Chanukah is 8 days, sometimes in late November, you often go to friend’s houses or the synagogue for dinner or some type of party some nights, but it’s casual. Christmas is one evening/morning and because most people are off work, they have the time to create traditions that can be done year after year. What was hard for me is that it was easy to go to his (non-religious celebration of Christmas) mom’s home during Christmas because it mattered to her ( and my family obviously wasn’t doing anything), whereas we would just show up at my family’s Chanukah dinner, some random night during the 8 days of Chanukah. It felt very unbalanced. So this year, both families are going on a cruise all 12 of us together. Problem Solved. I think :)

    • meg

      Well, but Christmas is one of the most major Christian holidays, and Hanukah is almost a non-holiday in the religious Jewish year. We *basically* don’t celebrate it, because it’s of no particular spiritual importance in the Jewish year. We light a candle, fry some food, and move on. High Holy days or Passover though, those are big damn deals.

      So we just don’t try to balance the two, because they don’t balance. The year, over all, balances, but not Hanukah and Christmas. Obviously if you’re more secular it might be totally different, but just throwing in my two cents as to why it might feel that way.

      • Rachel

        Yes, I meant balance the time with families. The other Jewish holidays are certainly more religiously important, but I never get more than 2 days off work strung together without causing issues at work. Whereas in the late December time frame, it is much easier to take a week off (some companies even shut down) and spend multiple days with family. It’s because Chanukah isn’t that important religiously that the time we had off from work was spent with the family celebrating Christmas. I think this is really only the issue when you travel to visit one side during the holiday “break”. It probably wouldn’t come up if you all lived in the same city.

  • Trinity

    Y’know, I’ve been wanting to tell you all at APW for a long time, but wasn’t sure where to say it: Thanks so much for giving us a “wedding blog” that I’ll never feel silly reading, even after my wedding. It’s a marriage blog, and I’m so grateful for it. Happy Holidays!

  • Rosy

    I have always had a hard time enjoying Christmas and since my father passed away a couple of years ago it’s been even harder pretending to enjoy my husband’s enormous family holiday get togethers. After trying my hardest to force a Merry Christmasfor 5 years my husband is giving me the best gift of all and we are heading to Vegas for a week and I couldn’t be happier! We are now hosting enormous Thanksgiving dinners for both of our families and doing our own Christmas. Yay for being adults and choosing traditions that work for us!

  • April

    *LOVE* this. Both my husband and I count ourselves lucky that we’ve never had to negotiate where we go at the holidays. My family doesn’t really speak with me AND they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses so they don’t celebrate a darn thing. Easy peasy. We do what we want on our own and that’s that.

    Only recently have his mom and sister started dropping hints and comments that they’d like us to spend more time with them at the holidays. We actually would really love to, but sadly, they live in the middle of nowhere – and in two separate states far from where we live. Thank Buddha for Skype.

    My heart really goes out to people who have a tough time with their relatives, or get a lot of grief over where they’ll be splitting their holidays with various family members. For a time of year when so much emphasis is placed on togetherness, the anxiety that goes along with figuring out where to go makes one want to hide under the covers alone. Oh, the irony.

  • I am neverendingly grateful that so far our parents have not made a fuss about seeing us for the holidays. I think it helped that we moved across the country from where both sets live in our first year of marriage, so we sort of established from the get-go that holiday travel or splitting of holidays would be difficult. (Also, we both grew up in immigrant families where our grandparents lived overseas, so the whole holidays-are-when-you’re-with-family thing was just never a reality in either of our families.) What’s also helped is that we try to spend extended time with each side at some other point of the year (i.e. we went on a cruise with Jason’s family this past August and spent a week in Atlanta with my family last June) so that they don’t feel like the only time they’d get to see us is holidays. The only difficulty so far has been how limited Jason’s vacation time at his new job is – if we spend a week with one family and a week with another, he’s left with no PTO for just-us trips. We’re both looking forward to when those days off increase! I imagine our current arrangement will probably have to change once there are babies involved in the mix, but for now, it’s really really nice.

  • Wow, this post has made me think a lot about family and holiday traditions.

    This is my first Christmas as part of a married couple, but my husband and I have celebrated previous ones as joint home owners for the past 3 years (Although we’ve only been together once before on Dec. 25) and in a relationship for the 3 years before that.

    When I think about what I really want out of the holidays–I would almost prefer to always visit my family and have my husband visit his. I mean, the two of us do a lot of holiday celebrating throughout the whole month of December between parties, our own special meal and gift exchange, etc. Why do we have to be together on Dec. 25?

    Other people have pushed for us to be together on Christmas, saying now that we are married we need to be together on the holiday, and I have pretty much agreed/accepted that. But, as I really think about it…I’d be fine and perhaps even happier/more holiday spirited if I were with the people that I’ve always celebrated the holiday with and who I love the most in the world other than my husband. I mean, I see him everyday, and I don’t get to see my little sister/dad/grandparents but a couple times a year.

    Focusing on meshing traditions and creating new traditions is definitely fun, but why do married couples (especially those without kids) have to be together on Dec. 25?!

    • Anna

      So far this has worked for my boyfriend and I as well. We both live plane rides away from our families and the holidays are the one time of year we all have time off to spend together. Sure I would love to be with him, but we celebrate together before the real holiday and are together all year after that. I know he wants to be with his family and I understand that because I want to be with mine.

      Many people have told me it’s strange and I should be spending the day with him. But for us this works. Plus I cringe when people say it’s a ‘couples’ holiday.

    • meg

      Obviously your milage will vary, but for us, with or without kids… we’re a FAMILY. That’s really a truth, now, two plus years in. And one of the things that makes a family a family is shared traditions and celebrations. We still had primary allegiance with our families of origin when we were dating, and that was great. But now, David is my family, and he comes first. So when it comes to moments of celebration, times when we stop and reflect on life, and times when we create tradition… I need that to be with him. Otherwise, I’d still mostly be a family with my family of origin… not with the person I chose as my family.

      It might not work that way for everyone, but it sure does for us, three holidays into family life.

      • Yes yes yes.

        And then, if you do choose to add a kid to the mix, well, how can you decide which parent the kid doesn’t get to spent the holidays with?

        • Can we make an exactly times infinity button?

        • Anna

          Yes, once we have children I’m sure our arrangement may change. It may change next year if we feel like it. I guess I’m lucky in that I have a really chill family and Inlaws- so they have always been cool with whatever we decide.

          My bf is very much my fam, but honestly we haven’t seen our families of origin since last Christmas. So this makes the most sense for us. He is still my chosen family, and most definitely my primary family, but we’re just understanding that for now it makes most sense to be apart those few days a year.

    • Amy

      As I mentioned above, this is the same for us. You have to do what is right for you even if others say it’s not how things are done. My husband and I both have aging grandparents, and we are likely to be overseas next year with just the two of us, so if that means we celebrate Christmas together a little early this year, spend the 25th with our families on separate coasts and meet up for New Years on the beach with friends for that midnight kiss, then so be it!

  • Remy

    “Two whole families that want to have Christmas with you, lucky, lucky, lucky.”

    I’ve had flashes of that in the past couple of years. Her family is not welcoming to me (We’re not sure that they’re even coming to the wedding — when our engagement was announced , several members objected loudly on religious grounds, and her parents refused to acknowledge my presence in the same room a few days later. Since then there have been a few shifts in attitude… I hope for more productive conversations over time.), and my sweetie won’t subject me to holidays with them until they’re willing to act civilly. With my family, the Friday after Thanksgiving (since before I was born; it started with my grandmother trying to split holidays!) and Christmas Eve are big (secular) events, and I don’t want to break that tradition. They have welcomed her from the start, and I know she enjoys spending time with them and with me, but it’s not what she grew up with (midnight Mass, presents on Christmas Eve), so that’s hard.

    On the plus side, the two clans aren’t too far apart, geographically — if pressed, we could visit both for their respective Thanksgiving dinners, and spend Christmas Day with her family instead of mine. I rather expect to take over the family holiday hosting (at least Christmas Eve) when my aunt is no longer with us, so we’ve got several years with some flexibility. We’ve also create time for ourselves as a couple and joined with friends to celebrate together during the holiday season for the past two years. I hope that we’ll still be able to do that after the wedding.

  • ellobie

    Wow, we are lucky that we don’t have any interfaith or other big challenges… Still, I knew going into our marriage that holidays would be tricky thanks to my mom. She has all but demanded that all her kids spend Christmas and Mother’s Day with her, on her terms, every year. There have been two instances where one of us has disobeyed the Christmas rule and she has never let either of us forget it. When George and I were doing our completely-voluntary premarital counseling, we decided to write up a marriage contract. We made a section for holidays and agreed that we would alternate families – the mom who “got” Christmas for the year would give up Mother’s Day and Thanksgiving. If we’re lucky enough to have kids, all holidays are at home, period. It’s worked out well for us so far, but we haven’t had to miss Christmas with my mom yet. But the plan is to just say, “sorry, Mom, it’s in the contract.”

  • So thought provoking and awesome a post, Meg.

    I’m lucky enough to have an easily solution for me and my FH, as our parents are next door neighbours and have been friends for longer than we have been together. Which works out well, because we just head in their general direction and wander from house to house (on our own and together) as we see fit. The only real negotiation is which dinner we eat (though that’s generally worked out either by combining dinners or just generally accomodating parents) …

    But the whole easiness of it makes me feel guilty sometimes about the fact that we want to spend some of our holidays at our home (which is several hours away from our families).

    So thanks for reminding me that it’s ok for us to do the holidays our way, even when doing it our families way is easiest.

  • Thanks to the wonders of technology, it is almost possible to be in two places at once. I introduce – the web cam!

    While I would love to be with both of our families this holiday season, that won’t be possible. But we’ll still get to open presents with each family, still get to see the reactions on their faces, still get to see my nephew beating my dad over the head with a “boomwhacker” (and checking the tuning of my dad’s head from our piano, my dad’s head is musically flat).

    There are more ways to share the holidays than sharing the same space.

  • Mary

    Meg, thank you so much for posting this. It strikes a chord with me as this will be my first Christmas after converting to Judaism. I’m already anticipating the awkward moments with my family when I hear “Happy Hanukkah” instead of “Merry Christmas.” I already got a card stating Happy Hanukkah and while I was grateful that they were thoughtful enough to not write Merry Christmas, it made me a bit sad thinking I wasn’t going to technically get “Christmas” cards anymore. And yeah, the music thing is hard, too. I wonder if I’ll have to explain anything to my niece or nephew about how I’m celebrating WITH them but not celebrating Christmas myself (although I told my fiance I am stubbornly always going to believe in Santa Claus).

    Although it is nice that Christmas will never be split among our families, there is already the feeling that I am separated a bit from this holiday. It already feels different than it did last year. And it’s not just Christmas…once Easter rolls around, I have to decide if I’m going to eat Easter dinner with my family and eat food that isn’t kosher for passover.

    As an aside, interfaith families with one observant Jewish partner may want to refocus the same holiday energy and zeal on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through Sukkot. Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, as others have said, and it doesn’t make sense to try to compete with Christmas. Let Christmas be what it is and let the other Jewish holidays stand on their own.

    Thanks again for posting this. It’s nice to see a Jewish convert talk about their experiences on such a large platform.

    • “once Easter rolls around, I have to decide if I’m going to eat Easter dinner with my family and eat food that isn’t kosher for passover.”

      We actually decided we would eat lamb for our Easter dinner because eating a ham just made absolutely no sense to me. The origins of Easter are in Passover, why would we eat pork? The only reason I can see where that tradition started was with the pig industry.

      • Um… who eats pork for Easter? Is this an American thing? It’s definitely lamb here (Ireland), and as you say, it makes sense. That’s when they are around after all. Spring lambs and all that…

        • Easter hams are very common in the States. It’s weird. We have to search pretty hard to find a lamb roast or lamb chops for Easter. Although I hear it’s easier in different areas of the country.

    • meg

      No… it doesn’t feel the same, does it?

      And, just from someone who’s been there, I definitely DO eat Easter dinner with my family when given the chance, but I definitely DO NOT break Kosher for Passover. My family has had to learn to cook / provide some different foods, but that’s what being an interfaith family is all about!

      And you’re right. We don’t do much on Hanukkah, because lets face it… it’s the most minor of holidays. We have the High Holidays in all their grandeur, and Passover for family. Why should we pretend that Hanukkah competes with Christmas, when we know that’s just some marketing bullshit, eh?

      • Beth

        My mom moved to a different state a few years ago but visits me for Thanksgiving, and since my family and I are Jewish and my partner is agnostic with a Christian family, it’s pretty easy to do Thanksgiving with mine and Christmas with his. But I STILL have not figured out Passover! I get sad and lonely each year because without my mom I don’t have a built-in family Seder.

  • Rochelle

    Love this. Thanks so much! We’re an interfaith family in a different sort of way, with my parents celebrating christmas, my husband’s mother being Jewish, his brother recently married and converted to Christianity, and us being more of the atheist/agnostic persuasion. In addition to not splitting the holidays due to the different faiths, his family is just the 4 of them (husband, brother, brother’ wife, mother-in-law), so they just join us for the non-religious holidays too.
    This year, since we just got married, we’ve decided to officially start our own tradition, that we started kind of doing years previous, which is opening our presents to each other on the solstice (which is fun for me, since it’s a few days before christmas and it feels like I’m getting my presents early!). I’m hoping to incorporate a meal, and maybe certain wintry decor also in the coming years.

  • AmErika

    We do Christmas crackers too!!! And they also symbolize holidays for me! Yeah!

    I loved this post. Although I will admit I feel rather spoiled. My hubby and I are in SF and our families are 20 minutes apart from one another. This means that Thanksgiving is usually a shared day….we go to both houses because my family tends to eat earlier. And then Christmas is fantastic because his Mexican heritage celebrates Christmas Eve with tamales and that means that Christmas day is with my family! Oh and then for Easter this past year, while we were traveling for 6 months, our families got together without us…..LOVE that. Since we’ve only been married for 17 days and don’t have a place of our own yet, I’m sure we’ll figure out our own traditions. But I’ve always felt so incredibly blessed to not have to worry too much about all of this stuff.

  • Spines

    I’m on my third Christmas with my fiance, but our first “engaged” Christmas. We haven’t spent a Christmas together yet, and luckily this year is working out ok, our parents live fairly close to each other, so it’s lunch at mine, dinner at his.

    But (isn’t there always a but!) my familt rotates Christmas between Mum’s side and Dad’s side-easy when it’s Mum’s, because they’re all here, but Dad’s are mostly interstate, so we usually travel those years…so on the travel years, someone is going to miss out.

    Plus being in Australia means no Thanksgiving to placate the non-Christmas family.

    I think it’s going to get more complicated as granparents pass away, I think it will mean more people doing their own thing. Even this year my Christmas is supposed to be Mum’s side, but half of them aren’t going to be here, and I think some of Dad’s family will be! Lucky it’s at Mum and Dad’s house so it’s just a mix of everyone who’s around can come along!

    • KH_Tas

      So much agreement for the Australia = no Thanksgiving thing.

      Unfortunately, our families are in different states and one set are seperated and live at opposite ends of that state, so our holidays involve lots of swapping and splitting, and probably some new traditions in the future (we’re pre-engaged at the moment)

  • Kaitlyn

    I appreciate this post. If nothing else, it helps me to hear all the other people who have trouble with splitting holidays. Last year was our first split holiday as a couple. Since our families live 9 hours apart from each other, we decided to do Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with mine last year. This year is Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his.

    I’m… dreading this. There’s no other word. My family ritualized Christmas Eve and Christmas day. His family doesn’t have any traditions to speak of. At least FH agreed to go to Midnight Mass with me (I’m Roman Catholic, he’s agnostic, his family is Born Again Evangelical), which should conveniently get us out of the fight about going to Christmas Day service with his family (we disagree very strongly with what their church teaches. They don’t respect that decision). FH is also prepared to ply me with bottles of wine every time I start looking weepy.

  • OMG we had our first “discussion” about this LAST NIGHT. I thought we had worked out a Thanksgiving with his family/Christmas with mine arrangement, and apparently… no. He’s “already been told” by his mother that it would be “fair” for us to be with them in alternate years. TOLD??? Sigh. Also, he’s not a big Christmas person (I LOVE Christmas), and he doesn’t even like his family. They live nearby, we see them a lot. Mine are far away and I love them and I miss them and I wanna have every Christmas with my Mom WANNNHH.

    And we’re not married yet.

    • clampers

      You can’t let her walk all over you like that. Your dude needs to tell him mom that you two are going to alternate Thanksgiving and Christmas with each other’s family, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.

  • kate

    i’m a single fan of APW and i appreciated this post as well. My sister is bringing her boyfriend home for Christmas so it will be the first year with a significant other involved in our family Christmas and I’ve been feeling a little mixed about it.

    One thing I didn’t realize is how little you really get to see your family when you leave home so the times you do spend together become more valuable and it does sort of feel like he’s intruding so I’ve been dealing with that, but at the same time I think it’s about mourning what will never be the same again and recognizing that change is hard but knowing that in theory there will someday be a lot more people at our ‘family’ Christmas and making new traditions and feeling happy for the love my siblings have found will help. :)

  • Last year, you ladies (particularly Alyssa!) gave me some great advice on how to speak to my husband about this issue. Or, more to the point, told me what I needed to hear but already kind of knew.

    Thanksgiving is not an issue for us, fortunately – either we spend the holiday with his family in Disney World, if they go and if we can go, or we don’t, and spend it with my family. My job doesn’t recognize Black Friday as a holiday, and my family is an hour away. If I’m going to fight with coworkers over taking a vacation day on Black Friday (okay, not really “fight”, but you get the idea), I’ll do it for a trip to Disney, but I won’t do it for obligatory family holiday travel, when we can just as easily travel to my family and I can get Good Karma Points at work.

    Christmas is different. Getting time off around Christmas at my office is easier – not everyone celebrates it, and those who do don’t necessarily want the days surrounding it off, for one reason or another. Both of our families see Christmas as A Big Deal, and in both of our families, we’re the only ones who have a significant other that is not from a nearby town.

    I finally said to him that we both were going to have to have hard conversations with our parents that things were changing for Christmas now, but that under no uncertain terms were we spending the holiday apart just to avoid these conversations. From there, we hammered out a plan. It’s a plan that involves a lot of driving, but everyone is satisfied.

    Is it perfect? No. My husband’s family’s nonchalant Christmas morning gets on my last nerve, when I am a “get-up-at-5-and-relive-childhood” kind of girl. But, I love his family’s Christmas dinner celebrations. My family’s Christmas Eve (which involves a lot of chaos and mediocre finger food instead of a feast of sorts) makes him cringe.

    We tried to start our own tradition of having a nice dinner alone on Christmas Eve, then joining my family for the rest of the evening, but as it turns out, though most of the restaurants in our town are open for dinner, most of the restaurants in my hometown were NOT, so those plans got squashed unceremoniously. Eventually we’ll settle into our own holiday traditions, separate from our birth families, but at least we’ve established that whatever we do, it will be together.

  • Although my husband’s family isn’t big on getting together for holidays, my parents are divorced so splitting holidays has ALWAYS been a pain. I am the only one of my siblings married, so it is difficult to get everyone to understand that my husband and I are our own little family and need our own traditions and time for the holidays.

    Specifically, we’ve carved out Christmas Eve as our time – no traveling for us (since we travel out of state, usually to not one but TWO other states, at TG and other times around Xmas), and no guests. This has caused a HUGE amount of drama this year, with the 24th and 25th being on the weekend, when it’s easiest for everyone else to get together. It has been so. hard. to stand my ground, because I hate upsetting people and it’s important to me see my family as well. But I know I need to stay firm, because my baby family needs its independence and has the right to do what’s best for us.