On Not Going “Home” For The Holidays

...and eating bacon cinnamon rolls, just the two of you

On Not Going "Home" For The Holidays | A Practical Wedding (1)

J and I met, became best friends, fell in love, and moved to another state within eight months of meeting. When we moved to Saint Louis, a good four and a half hours from our mutual home county, we were thrilled to be starting our life together. But we hadn’t put in a whole lot of time, and when the holiday season rolled around we were faced with an awkward prospect: We wouldn’t be making it back to our parents’ houses for Christmas.

J worked weekends and holidays while in grad school, meaning he was asked to work Christmas and Christmas Eve. After having worked out a way to make it home for Thanksgiving, he was reluctant to make a fuss over the schedule again. He had, after all, just started the job a couple months earlier. Then, one week before Christmas our car was stolen (we got it back, though!). So, there it was. We couldn’t go back for Christmas.

It was the first holiday either of us was going to be away for, and the guilt kicked in right away. Our parents understood, although they were of course disappointed we wouldn’t be there. Staying home on Christmas felt like something real adults did, real adults with kids who didn’t want to get in the car on Christmas morning. But we were just grad students who had met all of a year ago. In a strange way, it felt like we hadn’t put in enough effort yet to qualify for holidays at home. As if we had to spend so many hours wrangling unruly children into Christmas dresses and bow ties before we could spend the morning in our pajamas on the couch. We made plans to celebrate with our families later, over a weekend we could get away from town, but we both still wondered if we were doing the right thing.

As it happened, being alone on Christmas Eve and Christmas was perfect. When J got home late on Christmas Eve, we decided to make midnight bacon cinnamon rolls and stay up late. He worked in the afternoon on Christmas Day, so we spent the morning eating food, talking on the phone with our respective families, and watching movies until he had to leave. No driving, no dividing our time between families, just spending time together. It was then that I realized J (and our cats) are my family, and there was nothing wrong with celebrating just we four. Making bacon cinnamon rolls at midnight, struggling to make a perfect Swedish tea ring, and baking a tiny ham on Christmas morning were traditions being born, the same way our parents had made their own traditions. Sure, we weren’t married, but we were still navigating the future together and learning how to be a family unit. Our first Christmas as a couple just happened to be the first Christmas we lived together and celebrated on our own—it’s actually quite convenient when you think about it.

We’ve now celebrated two Christmases and two Easters on our own, and having moved across country this past summer, it looks like it’s a good thing we set that precedent early. A lot of people are surprised when we tell them we don’t come back to our parents’ for Christmas, but it’s often surprise tinged with understanding. Coming back for holidays is expensive, draining, and depending on who you bump into around town, quite awkward. But we are lucky enough to avoid that and spend the day curled up together watching old movies and drinking hot chocolate. Then, later, we’re able to spend a quiet day or two with our families rather than a hectic afternoon. For us it’s the ideal set up, giving us family time on a family holiday and still giving us a chance to see the people we don’t get to see nearly enough. And that, in the end, is what holidays are about.

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  • We eloped and moved overseas together 10 months after meeting, and we still flew back to the US for our first two Christmases as a couple. His work schedule precluded that last year and will again this year. It’s different, but nice to be able to celebrate just us. Of course, we don’t currently have the option to visit on a later weekend, but that’s also okay. We move back to the US next Spring and I’m glad that the precedent is already set that we might not be at holiday gatherings. We’re together and that’s more than okay by us.

  • May

    This is our first Christmas as a married couple but also my very first Christmas away from my family. We could make it back if we wanted to, but I insisted that we spend our first Christmas alone, as our own baby family. When I gave my father the news, he gave a quiet but disappointed “oh, ok.” I put down the phone and burst into tears – my father is so kind and gentle and has never asked anything from me – how could I deny him Christmas?? So now I don’t know what to do. Is having our first Christmas alone really that big a deal? I just can’t decide.

    • Anne

      For what it’s worth, we didn’t spend our first married Christmas alone — I guess I never realized that was a thing people do. We’d been together for six years before we got married, and are fortunate enough to be from the same city so we’d always been able to see both sets of parents for the holidays.

      My advice? Have Christmas alone if you want to, but otherwise you absolutely should not feel guilty about not doing it. I love my husband and I love my family, but for me, I only get to see my family once or twice a year, and I get alone time with my husband all the time. I think choosing to spend Christmas alone or not is a fairly personal choice — if you’d prefer it, absolutely go for it; families can be crazy. But if you don’t want to, you’re not missing out on a tradition or anything.

    • Laura

      My perspective? If it feels like a big deal to you, then it’s a big deal. And that means that it’s perfectly okay to make choices that are best for your family, even if they hurt your family of origin.

      For us, our engagement/early marriage years have been opportunities to ruthlessly set boundaries. Not because we want to hurt our family members, but because it’s important to us for them to view us as a “real” family. Just because there are two of us and we’re young and we don’t have kids doesn’t mean we’re not a family. It has been hard, and it has led to fights and hurt feelings. But we’re sticking to our guns, because setting boundaries now increases the likelihood that our wishes will be respected in the future.

      This holiday season, we’re spending Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. Last year, we did Thanksgiving together and Christmas with my family. For me, the big sticking point is having no “extra” holidays to celebrate what we missed out on. So although my parents are very hurt by this, we’re not stopping by in the weeks before or after Christmas to have a celebration. I simply do not want to set the precedent that each holiday will be celebrated separately with each family of origin; for us, it’s just too much.

      Overall, listen to that little voice telling you what your baby family needs. If it needs a new Christmas celebration with just you and your partner, don’t feel bad! It’s hard, but I think it’s an important way to establish yourself as a independent family unit.

    • Bridey Heing

      It’s always hard when breaking with tradition, especially one so laden with emotion and sentiment. If having a chance to celebrate on your own is important to you, then it’s something you shouldn’t feel guilty about. But there are ways to work it out so everyone wins. My mom always said, “Just because the calendar says X is a holiday doesn’t mean we have to have it on that day,” and that was kind of the way we looked at it. Our first year we hurried home around New Years and had a whirlwind 48 hours to split between our families, but last year J’s brother hosted a late Christmas for his family and we had my family down in January, complete with a big meal and gift exchange. Everyone agreed that doing it that way a) made more sense and b) took a lot of the pressure off. Sometimes what starts as a compromise ends up being ideal!

      • Laura

        I love that when you look at the first three responses to May’s comment, you get three very different perspectives on what makes sense for different families. For us, celebrating holidays a week earlier or later is what we’re fighting against (it’s a 4.5 hr. drive in one direction to my parents’ and 2 hrs. in the opposite direction to his, so cramming a real holiday + an extra holiday celebration is a lot for a limited amount of vacation time). But for other families, that approach makes perfect sense.

        I think the bottom line is that you need to discern (as a couple) what your relationship needs. Obviously keep in mind that your connection to your family is also important, but at the end of the day, it’s just one holiday. What you do this year doesn’t need to have any bearing on what you do in the years to come.

    • MEM

      I have almost the exact opposite happening. We are getting married on Dec 21st (So close!) and plan to go home right afterwards for a pseudo-honeymoon. I keep trying to fit christmas with the parents into the schedule and it just won’t work. One thing my mom said which helped me was that just because we’re doing it this way this year, doesn’t mean we can’t do something different next year. For some reason, that didn’t even occur to me- I kept thinking that whatever we did the first christmas of our marriage was automatically our new tradition and we’d have to do it every year. (sometimes I’m silly.) maybe that is what your dad is worried about- that spending this first christmas without him means you’ll spend every christmas without him?

      • HC

        Dec 21st is my anniversary too! Congrats!
        We did Christmas with my in-laws right after our wedding, and it was pretty stressful.

    • May

      Thanks for the helpful comments everyone. I think that part of the difficulty is that Christmas is literally the only holiday that my family (parents and brother) celebrates together, without fail, every year. Birthdays stopped being a thing years ago and I haven’t made it back for Chinese new year since 2006. Christmas is big, it’s what has always brought us together – BUT – with endings come beginnings and as Mem says, just because we do it this year doesn’t mean we’ll do it this way every year.

    • L

      Eh, spending Christmas alone with your spouse isn’t somehow magically going to make you more of a family. You and your partner should do what makes you both happiest. For me, Christmas has always been about celebrating with family. I have a big, raucous family and am very close with my siblings. It’s also important for my partner to spend Christmas Day with his family. So I typically go home with him a few days before Christmas, spend some time with his family (I only see them a couple times a year cause they’re far away), and then fly back Christmas Eve and spend Christmas Day with my family (my family lives 30 minutes from our place). It honestly doesn’t bother either of us to spend Christmas Day apart, and that’s what makes both of us happy. So I say don’t worry about needing a particular day to strengthen your relationship. You spend the rest of the year with your partner. If your families are both important to you (and holidays are often the only time that everyone is back at the family home), then go do that. But everyone does it differently, and you shouldn’t look to other people’s expectations to define your own. Your needs and values (and those of your partner) are unique and different and you should make your holiday decisions each year accordingly.

      • Laura

        I agree that spending Christmas alone together doesn’t magically transform you into a family. But if you feel as though your family dictates how you spend the holidays (and if that bothers you), making independent plans for the holidays can be a powerful way to assert yourself as a family.

        My husband and I were a family before we got married. We were a family before we ever spent a holiday alone together. But in our parents’ eyes? I think it took us saying, “Hey, we love you and want to spend time with you, but we’re spending this holiday in our new home by ourselves” for them to recognize that we really are an important family unit that needs to be considered independently from our families of origin.

        But again, that was important to us. Sure, we see each other every day, but there was also something special to us about starting our own independent holiday traditions. It’s all about discerning what’s right for you.

    • We purchased our first home the day before we got married. We were already planning on having Christmas at “our place”, with whoever from the family wanted to come, and so it wound up being at our new place, which was awesome.
      This year, its our babies first Christmas, and we are going away. Just the three of us for Christmas day in a campground. It will be awesome. I cant wait.

  • Sarah

    By happy accident I ended up spending one Christmas morning with a friend who was visiting, while my then boyfriend (now husband) went to his parents’ place to open presents. My parents are out of town so I called them. My friend and I had intended to go to church but she wasn’t feeling well; I had intended to make a big breakfast but we ended up having oatmeal (for the same reason).

    Friends, it was glorious. Of course it makes a difference that this was my choice and I wasn’t forced through unfortunate circumstances to be more or less alone Christmas morning. I walked through the soft-falling snow to the bank machine and called my best friend then my friend and I sat and watched a movie. I wouldn’t want this every Christmas but I did learn that the world doesn’t fall apart if you don’t do what you usually do on one particular day of the year. This is the first Christmas in 34 years my husband won’t be with his family on Christmas Day but I know they will get over it.

    • J

      “I wouldn’t want this every Christmas but I did learn that the world doesn’t fall apart if you don’t do what you usually do on one particular day of the year.” I learned this lesson the year that my parents and I all got food poisoning late Christmas Eve! We had to cancel our plans for Christmas Day and reschedule them for a day or two later. It was awful, of course, but it also gave me a great sense of perspective.

      I’ve always been someone who gets hung up on traditions for the sake of tradition, rather than for their own sake, and that’s always been strongest for me around Christmas. I love traditions, but it was getting to the point that I felt constrained by them – that I wouldn’t be happy unless everything went just how it was supposed to go. This experience helped me realize that I would really be okay if we didn’t do everything exactly the way we always had – something that I knew intellectually but didn’t really believe at a gut level.

      This was all a couple of years before I got married (and in a time when my relationship with my now-husband was definitely heading in the direction of marriage), so it was great to learn that lesson before we had to navigate holidays as a couple. Actually, that lesson is probably most useful for this year, with our first baby due on Dec. 23 (!). It’s the first year we’re staying in the city where we live, rather than flying/driving hours to be with one of our families. We have key family members from both sides visiting, which is fabulous, but it will still be different than our usual big family celebrations. And of course, we have no idea if we’ll be home with no baby yet, home with the baby, or in the hospital. Knowing, from experience, that I will be fine with any of those outcomes is really helpful in a time with a lot of new experiences and little predictability.

      • anon

        As a Dec 23 kid myself, fetus fistbump! Congrats.

      • Lauren

        Congrats on your future almost Christmas baby! December 23rd was my dad’s birthday. He loved Christmas sooo much, mostly because his favorite thing in world was making us happy. Unfortunately, he passed before his time. But it was tradition for him to read “The Polar Express” to us every year on Christmas Eve. He was good, he did voices and everything. And I will always remember how he recited the ending: “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.” Sometimes the memory of a tradition, and the love and togetherness it represents, means more than whether or not you are able to carry it on year after year.

  • Kay

    I really needed this today! We are in a similar situation, except that I haven’t been home for Christmas since I left for college halfway across the country 10 years ago, while my boyfriend has never spent a single holiday away from family. We’re having our own Thanksgiving this year because neither of us have any time off work, and we’re getting a lot of family pressure to abandon our simple holiday plans, but I’m going to hold fast (and offer bacon cinnamon rolls as incentive!).

    • Bridey Heing

      For real – it’s all about bacon cinnamon rolls! And we just decided to stay home for our first Thanksgiving. Very excited about making a miniature, two person Thanksgiving feast!

    • Kate

      Our example is another one of just doing what makes sense- with our fourth Thanksgiving since we’ve been married approaching, what has stayed true for us is staying where we live and refusing to travel for Thanksgiving because of school and work schedules (and the hassle of traveling for Thanksgiving). The first year, we had work friends of his who didn’t have other plans over, the next year it was school friends of mine, last year his parents traveled to us, and this year we might have other plans Thursday and do a 2-person Thanksgiving on Friday! It is one of our favorite holidays, it has been nurturing for our “baby family,” and I have truly felt the special meaning of the day when we had members of our “local” family over to celebrate the first two years.

      The upshot is, I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my own parents in four years. I look forward to doing it again one day, but it hasn’t made sense in my life recently. Thankfully, they understand.

  • My family is in California, hers in Virginia Beach, we live just outside DC. I haven’t had Thanksgiving with my family since I was 18, but 2011 was my first Christmas with her parents and not my family. We’re trading off – one year with her family, one year with mine. It was rough – I missed them a lot, and I think she felt the same when in California with my family last year (and then she got the flu Christmas Eve, that was fun).

    I have started to wonder when it’s our turn to have Christmas at home, just our little family. Not yet, probably not for a few years. But that’s where my family’s traditions evolved from. Just us, finding our own way.

    • By the way, this post is sorely lacking in a recipe for bacon cinnamon rolls, because now I need to eat those with my face.

      • Exactly exactly exactly! My WHOLE FACE!!

      • One More Sara

        RIGHT??! I feel like we are missing a huge pinterest audience here… recipe?? plz?

      • Bridey Heing

        Recipe is below!

  • Sarah McD

    Where can I find a link to the recipe for these bacon cinnamon rolls?? Why did I never think to put bacon in cinnamon rolls before?!

    • Elena

      Yeah, I got super derailed by the mention of Bacon Cinnamon Rolls, too. Sounds like a fantastic and delicious tradition for your little family!

  • Bridey Heing

    Bacon cinnamon rolls are super easy to make and super delicious! It’s just a matter of unrolling a package of cinnamon rolls one by one, putting a piece of bacon all up on there, and rolling it back up. Then bake as directed, giving a bit more time if the bacon is unruly. I guess in theory you could pre-cook the bacon for a bit to get it going but I have never tried it out of laziness/not wanting to make more dishes.

    The results can be difficult, in that the grease from the bacon makes the bottom of the roll a bit hard sometimes. But the combination is the most wonderful!

    • lady brett

      in theory it would seem that cooking them on a roasting pan would eliminate the latter problem (or anything that would raise them off the pan a bit to drain the grease).

      • Bridey Heing

        For some reason that has never crossed my mind and it is brilliant!

    • Oh wow, I thought maybe this was cinnamon rolls & bacon bits. I LIKE THIS BETTER.

    • Moe

      Thank you for the recipe, I was completely distracted by the thought of bacon cinnamon rolls (the perfect Christmas morning treat!) I suggest maybe placing the rolls on a rack and then placing the rack on a baking sheet would elimate the grease problem.

      Your post was lovely too. Spending the holidays with my new husband has given the holidays back to me to enjoy. We get to redefine them and build new traditions together.

    • Sarah McD

      That’s so simple… I know what I’m surprising my fiancé with this week! Thank you!
      I now have ideas of bacon cinnamon rolls with maple glaze dancing in my head. The possibilities are ENDLESS.

    • Class of 1980

      I misread at first, but now I think the official name should be:

      Midnight Bacon Cinnamon Rolls

      • Bridey Heing

        Way more mysterious and far more indicative of the magic they posses.

  • My husband (then-fiance) and I enjoyed our first Christmas by ourselves last year, and we both really loved it. We’re lucky to both have most of our family close by, so we can celebrate with both sides, but it sure does fill up our calendar in November and December.

    Having multiple thanksgivings and Christmases has been a new thing for me. Growing up my dad’s whole family was nearby, and my mom’s family was spread around the country, so we really only ever did holidays with his family. So splitting holidays between two sets of family just wasn’t something I dealt with growing up. Then last year I had 3 thanksgiving dinners, and 4 Christmas celebrations, plus a couple holiday parties with friends. So it’s especially nice to have Christmas day to ourselves to just relax and not have to go anywhere.

  • lady brett

    this is so lovely, and makes me so jealous. i’m coming to dread holidays, and just skipping all the to-do would be *so nice*…except for the part where everyone else in my life would be miserable about it.

    • Breck

      This is 100% how I feel. Grinches unite?

      • KEA1

        count me IN!!! %)

    • Since my parents split, most of the magic has gone out of the holidays for me, too. I’m trying to recapture it a little at a time, but combined with the extensive travel my partner and I have to do to see both our families, I’d usually rather skip the whole thing, too.

      I’m thinking of getting a little holiday-ness back for us by starting some traditions to celebrate the winter solstice, as a way to have traditions of our own, since we’re always in someone else’s house for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

      Thanksgiving, on the other hand, I wish I could fly to my family celebration. At this year we are finally going to travel to see family rather than have it feel like just another day with the two of us at home.

      • anon

        My co-worker celebrates solstice! He uses the day as a way to teach his kids that family holidays aren’t just about materialism; instead he plans a fun family activity. It sounds so wonderful.

      • lady brett

        we’ve been talking about celebrating the solstices as an opportunity to kind of “tune down” christmas and have a personal family holiday that feels more relevant to us and is non-religious.

        • Ilora

          My family does this! I love it! We always celebrated the solstices just my parents, brother, and I and then did Christmas/Boxing Day with the grandparents.

          For the winter solstice we use only candle light (or the lights on the tree-the tree was a pagan tradition) and no electric lights, it gives the day a really fun and intimate feeling. It allows a nice freedom since everything is open (we saw a local play once when I was 7! we were front row- right on the floor/”stage”). We always picked from a hat what part of the meal each person was “in charge of” (yes, we did have perogies one year when my brother was in charge of the main course…they were awesome).
          It was always fun having our winter celebrations last all the way from solstice to New Years but with nice relaxing days in between.
          (For the other solstices we often went camping and berry picking/apple picking etc)

        • The seasons are really important to me- I’m really affected by the amount of sunshine in a day, so I like to honor the change. But I’d really just like to have some holiday traditions that are new and just ours for now. We really don’t have much opportunity to do that on the 24th or 25th.

          And hopefully some day in the future when we have space to entertain, we can throw an all-night solstice party or something, and it won’t conflict with all our friends’ other holiday events, nor alienate any friends who celebrate different religious holidays.

  • You know, everybody forgets that there are TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS YOU GUYS. It doesn’t have to all be over after Dec 25.
    This is one of my favorite things about being Catholic, actually – Christmas is actually still going well into the new year. (Not that secular folks or other denominations couldn’t do this too, but we’re in church singing Christmas songs all the way up to Epiphany and I love it.)

    • Moe

      My fat fingers reported your comment when I meant to “exactly!” it instead. Sorry. :)

    • Remy

      I’m hoping to take advantage of this with my wife’s family. Mine celebrates Xmas Eve really big, and it was kind of a condition of our marriage that at least I (and preferably both of us) get to attend. But if she wants to see her family for New Year’s/Epiphany, that could work. Assuming future years will be less fraught with Queers vs. Catholicism drama.

    • MDBethann

      We Lutherans sing Christmas carols up until Epiphany too, and my dad, a pastor, has instilled the 12 Days of Christmas (the religious concept, not the song, but yeah, that too) into me and my sister, so that we both get really perturbed by people who say “Christmas is over” after Dec. 25th and take down decorations, stop showing holiday movies, etc. Um, no. ADVENT is the season leading up to Dec. 25th and CHRISTMAS is next 12 days. Sigh.

  • One More Sara

    Where I am we have 2 (totally official, meaning everyone pretty much gets off work for both) Christmas days. Most people use day 1 to see one half of family and day 2 for the other (it’s a tiny country, so everywhere is in driving distance). Because I’m an expat, we only have one set of local family. It goes a little differently every year. Last year was the first year we kept a day to ourselves, and it was… great? weird? Being an extrovert, I thrive being around people all the time, and sitting by ourselves in our apartment kind of didn’t feel like a holiday for me, no matter how much hot chocolate we made. I think this year I am going to make an effort to spend more quality time with more people we care about. And just in case, I’ll buy some matching family Christmas pajamas and a The Christmas Story DVD, even though hubs doesn’t get why Americans love it so much, I am determined to convert him.

  • Rebecca

    We have a solid no traveling for Thanksgiving rule. Unlike Christmas, where travel plans seem to be spread out, it seems like everyone in the entire U.S. is traveling for Thanksgiving on basically two days, and we have no interest in joining them. Plus, this way, all (okay, most- we share with guests) the leftovers are ours.

    Which doesn’t mean we wind up having Thanksgiving alone- when I was in grad school we invited anyone who didn’t have plans to have dinner with us, and usually had a group of 4-8 or so. This year we actually have family (gasp!) coming to have dinner with us, and we may round up a few more stragglers if we find them.

    When it comes to visiting family, we either do a long-ish visit over Christmas on alternate years, or visit at a more civilized time of year, like September. September is nice almost everywhere.

    • Sara

      When I was a teen, my family started traveling back to visit our extended family for Thanksgiving, my mother had somewhat of a mental break regarding leftovers. We had previously gone back for Christmas and had Thanksgiving at home, which was perfect because my mother was happiest cooking. Then college breaks/final schedules/sports got in the way, and we switched holidays to make things easier but we couldn’t eat mashed potatoes and turkey leftovers for a week anymore. So now, she has taken to cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal a week before Thanksgiving, just so she has the leftovers she wants. It makes her incredibly happy.

      • Rebecca

        Thanksgiving leftovers are the best, obviously. My husband and I totally cooked thanksgiving for ourselves and some friends the week after Thanksgiving the first year we were dating (and traveling to see family separately). Leftovers are the point of Thanksgiving. And pumpkin pie. For breakfast.

        • Sara

          My friends to that too! Its this weekend : ) We call it Friendsgiving.

          • We have two! Fakesgiving, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, includes the friends that will be out of town for the official holiday. Then Orphan Thanksgiving (named tongue firmly in cheek our sophomore year of college) is the sub-group that spends the official holiday together.

            Also, heck yes to pumpkin pie for breakfast – there is usually an extra one around here made with that in mind.

  • Katie

    I host Thanksgiving every year, thankyouverymuch, and I invite everyone. It honestly seems like a blessing sent from above judging from our parents’ reactions. This is my 9th year. If you want to set traditions or be considered a “family” by various and sundry other family members, I highly recommend getting in the holiday hosting rotation yourselves. If you can fly home, your family can surely fly to you. Planes go both ways. And then you can FINALLY roast a turkey the way you’ve always wanted to, or NOT serve pumpkin pie because you hate it. Just sayin. And it changes the whole conversation when you call to be able to say “we’d like to host this year. We’d love for you to join us” instead of having to say “we can’t come” or “we want to be alone and not see you”. I mean, unless you ACTUALLY want to be alone and not see anyone.

    • Bridey Heing

      We had my family down for a late Christmas last year, and it was fantastic! My brother and sister stayed the night before and helped cook the morning of, then my parents came around in the early afternoon. I’m hoping we get a chance to do something similar in the future (although our studio apartment may make it a bit tricky).

    • We’re hosting a belated thanksgiving for my husband’s family this year. It will be our first time hosting a big holiday meal and I’m really excited about it. I totally agree about how it changes how you’re viewed as a family unit. All look at us, all adult and stuff, hosting holiday get-togethers :)

    • Amanda

      Yes! I am hosting Thanksgiving for the first time this year. Looking forward to it!

  • This is my favorite thing about coming from a mostly Jewish holiday celebrating family. We rarely have clashing holidays with the fiance’s family so we get to go to both. This year is extra fun because we do our Hanukkah thing the last night and we’re doing Thanksgiving the same day since it’s so close, thanksakkah!

    That being said FMIL is going to be very upset when she learns that he’s not going to be speding Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning with them, that’s something that I want to do and won’t budge on. Making a stand for our little family is scary but feels so good when you hold your ground!

    • Breck

      We’re taking a similar stand for our baby family! No Christmas Eve Mass with the dude’s family, and we are NOT going over to their house at 7 am to open presents (which would result in spending like 12 hours with his family on Christmas… so, no). Haven’t broken the news yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

      • rachel

        Totally feeling you on the whole “12 hours with his family” thing. When we celebrate with my family we head over to my aunt’s house around noon and leave around 7 or 8 pm. When we celebrate with his family (we stay at his parents’ house) we have to be up and fully dressed to open presents by 8 am and then everyone comes over (aunts and cousins etc) and they stay alllllll day and dont leave until like 10pm. That is a really really long time with someone else’s family while not wearing stretchy pants. By the end of the day I want to scream IM READY FOR THIS DAY TO END!!!!!!!

        Whew! That feels good. Just needed to vent a little.

        This year we will be at home and my family is coming to us. I will definitely be sporting stretchy pants since I’m due with our first baby on December 4.

        • Class of 1980

          You can get dressy pants with an elastic waist! You just wear something longish over them. ;)

        • New baby and stretchy pants-sounds like a wonderful Christmas to me!!

          But yeah, I actually quite like his family–they have always been very nice and welcoming to me–but I don’t even want to spend 12 hours straight with my own relatives. Also, we’re going to be coming off some insane, whirlwind traveling (currently living in Venezuela, and we’re stopping in LA for a few days to see my family, then flying to the Bay Area on Xmas Eve night… so about a million layovers/flights), so I just don’t think I can handle being cheerful/polite/helpful all day on Christmas without some extra sleep.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Thanksgiving is fraught, and Passover/Easter can be really busy – but no fights over December 25 is one of the great blessings of mixed marriages.

  • kcaudad

    I want to propose another option: offer to host and have family members come to you! You can start a new tradition of trading off who hosts the holidays. Last year, my sister and brother-in-law hosted Thanksgiving in their duplex. This year, we are hosting in our new house! We all live in different cities, but the respective family members all go to that location for one of the holidays. You may not be able to host all 27 extended family members at your place, but maybe you could do a selected group of immediate family members.

    • HC

      I have attempted this unsuccessfully. My parents live across the country and since they are retired, can be more flexible about travel dates (i.e. cheaper flights), but they (really, my dad) just won’t do it. Too far, too cold, etc. It’s very frustrating, especially since I know my mom would travel if the decision were up to her… so then I end up making the trip out of guilt and feeling resentful and cranky about it, which is no good.

      So this year, my husband and I didn’t even consider Thanksgiving with family. We’re going to the Caribbean!

  • Gina

    I love this. I would also like to advocate spending some holidays just you two, and some holidays with family! My now-husband and I have set a precedent of spending Thanksgiving together here in Colorado and traveling back to California for Christmas to see both our families. It’s amazing. Not only are we learning to be a baby family and avoiding the busiest airport day of the year (day before Thanksgiving, be warned!), but we’ve been able to establish new traditions.

    For the foreseeable future, our Thanksgiving tradition has become “Hutsgiving”– snowshoeing or alpine skiing to a backcountry hut up in the mountains and spending the weekend in solitude, playing board games or taking pow runs with the snow falling down and our dog curled up in front of the fireplace. Heaven.

    • That does sound like heaven! We live in an area where snow is not guaranteed by Thanksgiving (lately it seems like we are lucky if it is here by Christmas) or else I might adopt your Hutsgiving as well!

    • Sarah

      Hutsgiving! LOVE!

    • catherine

      This is kind of what it looks like for us. I’m an only child, and it breaks my heart to hurt my parents feelings, but my partner (now fiance) and I have a home that we love here and have a dog. We’ve put a lot of love into our solid home here and last year I really wanted to decorate, get a tree, and start our own traditions officially without having to leave it for a week. We had my parents come to California and her immediate family came to our place as well. We had a Christmas meal at our house and it was so warm and wonderful.

      And your Hutsgiving sounds awesome.

  • Becs

    What’s so great about this post and all the comments is hearing the different definitions of “family” that each of us has. And that each of us can have multiple definitions of family at different points in our lives. For instance, when I say “family”, depending on the context, it could mean just my husband and I, it could mean my family of origin, it could mean his family of origin, it could mean uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents from either or both sides, etc. And that doesn’t even get into the friends that we think of as family members. I really appreciate hearing all these different perspectives on what “family” means to you and how we choose to express those different definitions and boundaries around the holidays!

    • Yes, it is great to read. I think the problem arises (and I’m guilty of it myself) is when you exclude your inlaws as part of the family definition. It becomes a mine vs. yours struggle. I try very hard to keep that instinct/tendency in check, and to view his family as important as my family (of origin) but it can be hard.

      • Bridey Heing

        This is something I think about a lot. My guy’s family tends to celebrate with a huge group of extended family, whereas mine keeps things very small (immediate only). But this past year we had the chance to get his immediate family and mine together for a graduation celebration and our birthdays (J’s is the day after mine). It was so great having the entire family together, and I hope in the future we can work out a way to do more as a group.

  • M and I have been splitting the holidays on an alternate basis. When we lived in different cities, it would be us spending Christmas in our own city and the flying out to visit the other one for NYE. The he moved here, and we started alternating Madison and Boston, one for Christmas and one for New Years, every other year. Next year we will likely switch the direction of the flights but keep up the rotation. We celebrate Thanksgiving and Easter where ever we happen to be.

    I like the alternate visits. It gives us a mix of friend celebration and family celebration, it allows the one whose family (and many friends) are far away a chance to visit and catch up, but it gives us a few days to do so and we aren’t racing anywhere *on* a holiday. (well, we did have one Christmas day flight a few years back, but we got bumped to first class, and it was kind of awesome.) We also try to make the return trip be via train, which is super relaxing.

    Another thing about the alternate visits is that people *also* celebrate without us. When we are in Boston for Christmas, I usually have my Madison family over the weekend before. We still see each other and celebrate, and we don’t stress out about it not being “on the day.” Our priority becomes celebration, rather than a calendar date.

  • We’re both from the same county and moved a few states away after getting engaged and frankly I really enjoy having at least one major holiday either Christmas or Thanksgiving in our home. We always invite some parents or friends – but it’s been the perfect way to begin our traditions and it’s so much more relaxing than traveling for the holidays.

  • The most hilarious Christmas I spent was the year before my sister got pregnant. Neither of my sibs was seeing anyone, nor was I. Each of them was fighting with one of my parents (each a different one) and my parents had gotten divorced a couple of years prior. So we celebrated with just the three of us. I rotisserie cooked a cornish hen (the Crachitt family bird) and we went to the store and picked up whatever we wanted to eat: including pudding cups and toaster strudels. It was strange and offbeat and sweet.

    • Sarah

      Sounds awesome.

  • Jacky

    I JUST commented on yesterday’s letter from the editor about wanting to hear about how unmarried couples form families of their own, and was so happy to read this today!

    Living close to both sets of parents is both good and bad for my fiance and I. It’s good because we get to see everyone on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, but bad because we’re kind of EXPECTED to see them and would have “no excuse not to.” None of the parents are more than 1 hour away, so I think it would be the same even if we had small children. So there have been some hurt feelings when we try to set boundaries, but everything works out in the end. Christmas morning is ALWAYS ours to spend alone, even if we’re visiting family later in the day.

    I kind of love being able to see both our families during the holidays though, largely because it means twice the amount of delicious holiday food.

  • Sarah

    Deciding on holidays was a surprise negative of my relationship with my husband. I didn’t expect my mother to take it so hard. There are layers of issues, some being that my mother doesn’t have a “side” of her family – it’s just my Dad’s family, so my brother and I are it for her blood relatives. Also, they are 3 hours away. My husband had two giant families and they are almost all in the same city as us. I noticed my mother getting a little pissy when we could spend holidays with his parents but not make the trek to mine. Not to mention that my Mom’s birthday AND Mother’s Day are the busiest time of work for me and it’s really hard to get away.

    We managed to avoid some issues by going away for Christmas one year but no more. It’s right in our faces. I am a little resentful that my mother can’t for the life of her be happy that for the first time EVER both her 35+ children are in happy, long term relationships and THAT’S why she has to share us with other families. Damn my brother and his girlfriend for being shiftworkers. They get away with saying “We have to work” any time they want to avoid the awkwardness.

    For my husband it’s simple: alternative Thanksgivings and Christmases. Host Easter ourselves. Sounds so reasonable. We’ll see how it goes. On the plus side, we all enjoy spending time with all of our families, which is more than a lot of people can say. I will try to remain positive.

    • Lauren C.

      I feel your pain! I also did not expect my mother to take it so hard. I finally have a stable, full-time job and am in a wonderful relationship, and this means that we might not be able to make it to Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, which is 7 hours away from where we live. His parents are a half hour from us, so we definitely see them more often, but my mom acts like it’s because we don’t like her. I understand that she’s upset – it’s the first time she’s ever had to share the holidays with another family – but I, too, am resentful that she’s making it all about her. It’s definitely turning me into a grinch!

  • Bunny

    I have such a hard time with family and holidays.

    We live in county A in country A.
    MIL Lives in county A in country A
    Most of my family lives in county B in country A
    FIL lives in country B – moved a few years ago
    My parents live in country C – moved a few years ago
    SIL and the nieces live in country D – moved a few years ago

    Between the two of us, we’re stuck with these choices every year. We can really only afford a “holiday” – as in flights and/or a hotel – once a year. In theory, we should be able to take turns spending the holidays with different parts of the family and also take an actual HOLIDAY holiday – a trip somewhere we want to see – once every other year.

    We should be able to spend the holiday budget on Crimbo with mum one year, then see MIL for Crimbo the next and save the money for a Summer holiday. Then spend the budget on Crimbo at FIL the next, then spend Crimbo with my extended family the next and have another Summer holiday etc etc, and get at least one Christmas in six as just between us.

    That has never happened.

    Instead we find ourselves constantly under pressure. They all want us to visit at least once a year, which is not only something we could never afford let alone get the time off work for, but leaves us absolutely no time to have holidays for ourselves. We’ve been together over a decade, are living together and engaged and we’ve never had a holiday together – never had time to go to a con or a festival we wanted to see. We’ve spent maybe three Crimbos together in that time because, in the end, it works out less fuss to go our separate ways and cover two families at once. But even that isn’t enough and they ask when the partner is visiting next, why haven’t they visited with them recently, etc. They’ve started competing now, asking us what our Crimbo plans are earlier and earlier in the year in the hopes of being able to reserve our time before anyone else gets in there, and it’s especially unfair when the MIL does it because she sees us once a month at least anyway.

    Urrrrrgh it is frustrating. I understand, truly, that they all miss us and want to see us. We miss them dearly, too. But they all chose to move away, and all in different directions. We didn’t make that choice.

    • rachel

      Sounds like if they really want to see you they can hop on a plane and visit you for the holidays!

      • Bunny

        Hah! You’d think so, wouldn’t you? You’d be amazed by the reasons they can come up with why they can’t do that.

        I am planning on laying down the law soon, though. No more Crimbo’s abroad. It costs too much anyway. They can see us at other times of the year or come to us if they want to see us so badly.

    • [i had to look up Crimbo, but now i have a new word!]

  • MC

    Aside from the fact that I am resisting the urge to go make bacon cinnamon rolls RIGHT NOW, this post is perfect. I’ve been struggling with this a lot right now because my parents are divorced and live in two different states, with my extended family spread out all over the country; meanwhile, Fiance’s family all live within two hours of each other. As a result, they are very family and tradition oriented, while my family just kind of rolls with it every year depending on who can go where. So it feels like I have to be REALLY insistent that we see my family sometime around the holidays, otherwise his family will book us for their plans like four months in advance. And it’s hard enough to coordinate time with both of my parents – having another family in the mix makes me crazy stressed.

    We are spending Christmas by ourselves for the first time, and I am so relieved and getting really excited about all the things we can do when we don’t have to coordinate with everyone else’s schedules!

    • Bridey Heing

      That balance is so hard to strike, especially when families are so different. Although our families live within 20 minutes of each other, his family is way more organized and involved — the same celebration every year with a huge group of extended family — and mine is very “go with the flow” about the whole thing. So I know what you mean about easily having your time subsumed by those with a more concrete plan. It’s part of why we are so glad to have the precedent sent to celebrate later – we get to plan a celebration on our terms rather than trying to shoehorn everything into a very small window of time.

      • Kathleen

        It feels like the opposite to me, though maybe I’m biased. Coming from a plan-ahead family, it feels like every holiday season (also, every summer vacation), I get an invitation to the family holiday event, or am asked to volunteer to bring something, or to carpool with somebody, etc., and am constantly saying “I can’t commit yet, we don’t know what the ILs are doing.” It’s very easy to put my (and my family-of-origin’s) holiday plans on hold while waiting (and waiting and waiting) for my in-laws to figure out what they’re doing, where, and when, or if they’re celebrating at all.

        (We’re still waiting to nail down Thanksgiving plans with the in-laws, so I haven’t RSVP’d to the Thanksgiving dinner invitation that my aunt extended several weeks ago. Also, I have to take extra time off work if we go to the in-laws’, which should ideally be requested in the next week or so, but there is no plan in sight.)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      We have similar family-of-origin dynamics: the plan-aheads and the we’ll-work-it-outs. Once I recognized this, I started reserving time with the we’ll-work-it-outs as soon as plans started to be made. Plan-aheads want to see us X and Y Saturdays in December? Great. I tell the we’ll-work-it-outs we have A and B days available to see them; they don’t have to decide right now, but it’s going to be really hard if they ask for X and Y dates. I also tell the plan-aheads that we’ve set aside A and B to see the we’ll-work-it-outs, even if those plans aren’t as complete as the other plans. Usually, the we’ll-work-it-outs work out their schedule around the parameters I set.

      Everyone’s local for us, and we’re the only ones of our generation who are coupled, and there are no school-age children or babies, so that makes it easier, but this is what works for us.

      • Anonforthis

        Ah, I come from a family of WorkItOuts and married into a family of PlanAheads. Your strategy sounds pretty brilliant…I shall try to adopt it, although the problem we have is that the PlanAheads use their titular characteristic to secure prime holiday dining time (sometimes intentionally, sometimes just incidentally), causing much resentment from WorkItOut parents.

  • SarahRose

    I’m only realizing in reading these comments that it hasn’t occurred to either me or my husband to want to spend any of our holidays by ourselves, and I don’t see it happening anytime soon. For us I think it’s that we get to see our family so seldom — one side is a four-hour flight away and the other is across the Atlantic. Sometimes that means we spend sums that other people would probably find irresponsible on traveling, so I guess it’s good that we agree on it.

  • Ashley

    Am I the only one who prefers holidays with my “origin” family? They live 1,000 miles away…I see my fiance every single day. I don’t get it. After we get married in March, we’re alternating, Thanksgiving/his family, Xmas/mine, then switch the next year. I love opening presents on Christmas morning with my siblings, the family poodle, snow (I live in a hot climate now), dad in his santa hat. I don’t care that I’m 30. I love my fiance but will cry all day the first time I don’t wake up Christmas morning at my parents’ house :(

    • I was sad all day the first time I didn’t spend Christmas with my family of origin. It was really weird and hard but I sucked it up and put on a smiling face for my husband and his family. I talked to my family a bunch of times throughout the day which actually made it harder. The second time I was away from them on Christmas it was much easier and I wasn’t that sad – even really liked spending christmas morning just the two of us (not something we can do when visiting my family since we all stay together). Things change, families change, everyone adjusts (you will too).

    • Incognito

      Keep in mind that people don’t always have great relationships with their family of origin. I know I don’t. My family is, in a word, toxic. Abusive. For me, going ‘home’ for the holidays means being subjected to emotional manipulation, screaming matches, traumatic memories, and possibly being stolen from. And that’s just my immediate family. I have enough issues trying to cope with the damage from them as it is.

      My husband’s family I just feel alienated from, like I have nothing in common with them except said husband. They’re not bad, but being around all of them at once is very stressful for me especially since they’re super extroverts and I’m much more subdued.

    • Remy

      I would hate to spend Xmas away from my extended family of origin. I know it will have to change someday, but by then I hope I’ll be able to take over hosting duties! If not, we’ll have to make our own traditions. Here’s a tearjerker Hallmark commercial on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-eeOIcr5HE

  • Anon

    I am very excited to read about holidays and such this month! My partner is Jewish, and I am close to a year in (and almost done!) with my conversion studies. Last year we both spent Thanksgiving seperately with our immediate families and I went home for Christmas, while he went on the tropical vacation his family goes on every year (putting the vacation time everyone gets the week of Christmas to good use). This year we are spending Thanksgiving with my family, and going on vacation with his. Needless to say, my family is having a hard time, especially because most people we know do not split holidays until they are married. (We live together, but are not engaged yet, although it should happen in the Spring). I’m from the South, and again, most people I know from home don’t live together until married/engaged, so there’s that too. We now live in New England, which is where partner is from.

    So while this year is “solved”, even harder, I’m not sure as a now Jew that I want to do the Christmas thing, even as a bystander, or celebrating my family’s holiday with them, or whatever. Most converts I know do this, and it’s something Meg has also written about. But I mean tropical vacation > Christmas, in my mind. And even though we’re light years away from kids, I’m not sure I want them doing the Christmas thing either, even if it’s not at our house.

    Are there any other APW converts that have similar feelings and are uncomfortable with participating in Christmas? Or is everyone (but me) missing Christmas trees and advent calendars?

    • KC

      Not an APW convert, but we have experienced a variety of holiday traditions (since little clumps of family are sprinkled all over the place due to people moving and divorces and whatnot), and I think it’s fair, barring other overriding factors, to split time by generally going with the “best” holiday, the holiday that either warms the cockles of your heart more (or drives you nuts the least…) or is most meaningful for each family “clump”. (the other way we’ve done it has been going to the geographically-closest bits of family for the shortest holidays and geographically-most-distant family for longer holidays, as we’ve also moved around)

      For your situation, I’d vote for splitting by Thanksgiving->your family, Christmas-season->his family and calling it good indefinitely. If you’re not into celebrating Christmassy things now, then that seems like a really nice division and a way out of being impolite/suffering through Christmas carols et al, especially if you can add a day or two to your Thanksgiving length with your family (since that’s often shorter).

      • Rowan

        This sounds like a great compromise. And yearly tropical vacation, yes please!

      • Anon

        Thanks for responding! I’m actually thinking this is the way to go, but it’s nice to here others weigh in.

  • One thing I am struggling with is how to start your own traditions when half of your family is local. It is easy when you have to travel, you can just say, “sorry traveling won’t work this year, we’ll see you at xxx.” But if you are local then you are blatantly changing traditions/rejecting theirs.

    Not that it shouldn’t be done, I’m just a pleaser and hate confrontation. So I’m not looking forward to it. I won’t be doing it this year, maybe next year…

    • Corrie

      I’m with you on that one. My parents are divorced and they each live 20 minutes apart from each other, as well as 20 minutes from my partner’s parents. It’s just close enough that we COULD see everyone on Christmas day, but who really wants to spend 3 hours at 3 different houses? Since my parents divorce about 5 years ago, we’ve alternated who gets xmas morning and who gets xmas evening between each of my parents. My partner goes to his parents’ house late in the morning for brunch and presents, then meets up with me whereever I am. We spend Thanksgiving separately, as it’s the only time of year my mom and us kids go to my grandma’s house out of town, so I don’t stay home with my partner. My partner and I have been together almost 10 years and will likely be engaged by the end of the year, so I really think it’s time for us to stop separating on some holidays.

      My partner grew up in a household celebrating Jewish and Christian holidays, even though the Jewish holidays are most important to his mom and my partner identifies as a cultural Jew. However, his mom loves Christmas because she enjoys the spirit of the season and giving. I just made my first attempt last night at trying to find a way that we can be together for the holidays instead of separating to respective families and then meeting up later. Partner agreed that this is a good idea, but when I brought up the idea of not going to his parents’ house on Christmas day, he got angry and said “I will absolutely not give that up. It’s not MY fault that your parents got divorced and I’m not changing just because of that.” Of course, that made me insanely angry and I retorted, “Well it’s not MY fault that your mom’s Jewish and just thinks it’s a fun time to celebrate Christmas.” He told me that I should talk to her about that then and I told him I don’t think that’s my responsibility. That was the end of our conversation. Personally, I think that my family should get priority at Christmas, since we celebrate all the Jewish holidays with his, PLUS some of the Christian holidays, and Christmas is most important to my family. I don’t forsee this conversation going well again in the future…any suggestions?

    • CII

      Would also be interested in this particular variation on this topic.

      Our families live a few minutes from each other, but about an hour’s drive from us (long enough to make it a “drive” but short enough that it’s not a “can’t travel” distance) and Christmas is THE holiday for both – Christmas eve for my parents (and they have no other family but us – so when we aren’t there, they are just alone), and Christmas brunch for his (although we also eat two Christmas dinners). We have built Christmas-related traditions of our own but we seriously dread Christmas itself.

      This is our first year as a married couple, and I would love to carve out a part of Christmas for ourselves, but I just don’t know how I would even have that conversation with my parents – it would devastate them. One parent has an illness that will result in a shorter (but indefinitely so) lifespan, so each year I get all worked up when I try to create a boundary because what if this is the LAST Christmas. Maybe this year we’ll try to skip the double Christmas day dinner…maybe…

      • MsDitz

        Why not Christmas Eve with your parents and then Christmas brunch with his, and then head home for your own little Christmas day dinner? Both families get their big ticket time and you get a little time to yourself. Good luck!

        • I was thinking the same thing! Do the “big” thing w/ each family, then carve out Christmas night for your own “just you” traditions.

  • Anna

    Our families of origin are on either side of the Atlantic, and we have lived on both sides at various points in time. So we came up with a three year cycle – one year with his family, one year with mine, one year on our own (with maybe some visiting on the 24th or 26th of whichever family we are closest to). It works really well for us, and keeps the parents happy too!

  • Our first Christmas together was spent at home just us. We pulled out the webcam and saw our families, and that was great. But we loved it being just us. We kept some of our traditions from childhood and a few new ones were born just because we did them that year and enjoyed them. This will be our first Christmas with a kid, but definitely not our first at home. We’re so glad we did that first year just us.

  • SarhT

    May I offer a different perspective? I’m a mother of 4 in my 40’s, and my daughter gets married in just a few months. This will likely be her last Christmas to be “home” and that does make me sad. Not because I want to force her to celebrate my way, or make it hard on her and her soon-to-be husband. Just because she is one of my favorite people in the whole world, and spending time with her at Christmas would be lovely. I remember feeling that whole “I want them to recognize that we are a family” when I first got married 25 years ago. We had our own Christmases and didn’t travel, and at the time I was glad. But from my perspective now, having lost both parents, I wish we had been more open to seeing them at holidays.

    • KC

      Question: I’m not on the other side of the coin yet, but… one specific branch of my family often seems to spend more real “quality time” and work together better at times other than Christmas. (Whole family picking blueberries or going camping = great time. Whole family trying to figure out how to be Appropriately Celebratory for lengths of time = not as great of a time, sorry, because we’re split between “it’s not properly festive unless you’re continually making a loud noise with lots of laughter!” people and, um, quiet people, with not enough loud people to maintain loud without really awkward efforts) That said, we still do holidays with family more or less on rotation, ish, as circumstances allow. It’s just often less tiring and more enjoyable to spend time together at times other than Christmas, possibly because the expectations match reality a little better, and possibly because the travel is less insane. But each branch we visit is different.

      Does your regret about not spending more holidays with your parents (and your regret at not getting to keep one of your favorite people around for Christmas now, which definitely makes sense [hey, I even have *friends* who have moved away who I want to ship in for Thanksgiving]) stem more from sheer quality-time-spent, from traditions shared, or from some other identifiable source? (no problem if this is unanswerable – I’d just really like to know what are likely regrets so as to work with/around them as much as possible!)

  • Heather

    I’m cautiously optimistic about our first Christmas in our own home together. This will be the fiance’s first year not going home for Xmas, and it will probably upset his dad (although I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be that bad), but I think both of us are pretty relieved about not spending the money on travel, the time off work, and the stress filled week full of quality family time. I would really really love to just spend the day with ourselves making hot cocoa and watching Doctor Who episodes, but we will probably get pulled into going out to the suburbs to do the big family meal thing with my brother’s in-laws, since a lot of his wife’s family lives in the area. Because it’s easier to make people happy by letting them include you (which is a sweet gesture on their part), than to try making them understand that no, you’re totally cool being on your own on Christmas.

  • Bridey Heing

    This is a bit off topic, but I just wanted to thank everyone who has been involved in this discussion today. I’m still very new to writing (this is the third piece I’ve had picked up and run) and get very nervous when I know something I wrote is going live.

    Everyone has been so fantastic, and I have so enjoyed reading every comment.

    Thank you!

  • Rachel

    Not going “home” for the holidays was one of the best decisions we made last year. We felt extremely guilty but financially and, like, emotionally, we just couldn’t do that much traveling. Having a week off of work in our new house was so good and I’m really looking forward to doing the same this year. It feels sort of brutal to put it that way, because I am really sad we can’t see our families, but having a week of quiet to look forward to at the end of the year is just amazing.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Some more perspectives: My mother is an obstetrician, and often worked holidays and birthdays growing up. Even today, we won’t know where we’re having Thanksgiving until that week, because it depends on when one of her patients delivers – and if the patient goes into labor on Thanksgiving, Mom won’t be home for dinner. I learned early that the actual day on the calendar doesn’t mean anything; it’s the people and traditions you surround yourself with, whenever you can fit them in.

    My parents are actually the ones leaving us this Christmas. They’re vacationing in the Caribbean. I only get December 25 off, so my husband and I have some simple quiet plans for the day. It’s not what we would have chosen, though.

    My point is that holiday traditions get interrupted and remade all the time, for all sorts of reasons, and the families are still loving, and the holidays are still special. Oftentimes it’s beyond our control. So don’t feel guilty as you make your plans – You could just as easily have to make your plans around your parents’ plans, or a stranger’s healthcare.

    • CII

      This is a mature perspective, and is fairly close to my own view of matters. But the struggle comes when your family is not as open-minded, and when the introduction of a “baby family” is the first experience with interrupted / changed holiday traditions. My parents have done the same thing for Thanksgiving and Christmas since I was a small child, every year, without interruption. They would never make plans to do it differently, and they have always had those days (and sometimes only those days) off from work. I’m not saying that’s the way to be, just that it’s the way it is for them. So I’m the only variable that would cause those traditions to change, and that’s what’s hard.

  • rys

    It’s interesting reading these comments — I nod my head along to some and find the tone of others really problematic. I’ve never loved the “baby family” terminology, and I guess in these discussions I feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines, even though boundary-setting and holidays, it seems to me, has more to do with adulthood than with partnership/marriage, even if the latter forces a discussion that may not occur otherwise.

    Marriage creates a more readily understood reason for not going home, which can leave other adult children/siblings in weird places. For example, my sister, the only married child, has made her choices and while I respect her right and interest in doing so, they’re often announced rather than explained, which has hurt my parents and left my other sibling and I to pick up the pieces.

    Separate but not unrelated, I often feel somewhat infantilized when I go home for holidays; as the unmarried child who lives far away and thus stays at my parents, I’m the one subject to requests about cleaning, dish-doing, and other things that make me feel like I’m 12 again (in our family dynamics, I was the “helpful one” and that expectation endures). Although my parents try very hard to be reasonable and respect my need for time/space along, I don’t have an easy out for separating myself.

    So…I guess I’d suggest that making decisions for oneself/one’s relationship/one’s new family can be great, but family dynamics at the holidays often affect more people than many of the comments suggest — more than just parents and children. And the parent-adult child dynamic is presumably one that can be and gets altered in myriad ways independent of marriage, and that needs to be part of the conversations we have — here, with our partners, with our siblings, with our parents, with our extended families.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’m curious what could smooth over the “announced rather than explained” hurts. Do you feel yours is a family where “We can’t afford it” is appropriate to say? (Not all families talk about money.) Reading the comments about “We want a ‘real’ vacation” and “We need to make our own traditions” – Are those good explanations for your family? I’m genuinely curious, because everyone in my family and my husband’s family just announces our plans, and a lot of the explanations we’re discussing on APW wouldn’t go over well in my family – they’d be considered too weak an explanation.

      On helping out: A couple Christmases ago, I fell asleep Christmas afternoon at my parents’. I only get the one day off from work, but my sisters, who lived with my parents, were students who’d been off for several days. My mother asked one to set the table, and apparently (so my husband told me) she said, “Elisabeth’s better at it” and refused to get up. I guess Mom set the table. So I feel you on unbalanced chores, but in my family, everyone’s expected to help out at Mom & Dad’s house. Even when I’m not spending the night, I help cook dinner, and my husband helps wash up.

      • KC

        Some of our family members have been on Team “if you explain rather than announcing, that means your decision is still up for endless debate and we can decide for you!”, which means that one announces (sometimes with an explanation, but definitely a “this is what we will be doing” not a “this is sort of where we’re leaning”) out of sheer self-defense. I’d hate to think of anyone else dealing with “fallout” because of that, but honestly, some family situations are just not great and there just isn’t a way to make some people happy, with the hopeful exception that if one holds a line long enough, they’ll start respecting it? But that holding-a-line will potentially make situations rough for those around the people trying to cross that line for the interim, and that also seems unfair? (most of these family situations in our family have improved, but we had feuds-minus-shotguns going on for a few years there, and it was horrid to be in the middle of.)

        Obviously, there is a big grey area between “identifiably totally healthy family dynamics” and “identifiably totally unhealthy family dynamics”, and someone who’s dealing with parents who will explode with vitriol in all directions if they’re not getting all of every single holiday with every child will ideally use a different set of negotiation/interaction tactics than someone who has parents who really do understand that it’s not possible/reasonable/desirable to travel for every holiday but who still want to see you sometimes and who still want to feel wanted/included.

        (regarding how to get people to consider someone as an adult who might not want to do *everything* you did when you were 12 and might not be exactly the same as you were when you were 12, I have no idea, and yes it is somewhat insane. Some of that doesn’t change even after marriage, but there was definitely a pretty big shift with marriage, at least with some members of the family, in terms of what levels of privacy/autonomy/etc. were assumed… which was pretty weird.)

      • rys

        Good questions!

        Travel/money etc are all things that make sense to my family — when I lived across the country, they understood that T-day travel was just absurd, in terms of time, money, and aggravation, and were totally fine with that. Basically, practical things (time, money, work, exhaustion, etc) make sense to them and, handily, most things can be framed as practical if necessary.

        In terms of the announce v. explain, the real issue viz my sister is religion — we grew up in a Jewish home but my brother-in-law is not Jewish. My sister is willing to show up for meals but never attend anything else, and she has never explained her religious path/preferences/choices/values which mostly means that my mother always feels like she is getting the short end of the stick (e.g., you’ll go to husband’s family for xmas, including church, but you resist coming to my house for Jewish holidays). Frankly, I think my sister’s choices are just that, her choices, but I think my parents would handle it better if they knew her reasoning (e.g., I really value family but find no meaning in religious observance, therefore I choose to come over for mother’s day or for meals but not services, etc.). Even if it were “we want to make our own traditions and thus do xyz,” I think that would be helpful–it may still sting, but there would be a space to develop understanding. Instead, my parents are in a vacuum and can’t comprehend how things they find important and meaningful (family + religion) don’t feel that way to their child, and my brother and I have to offer explanations that we come up with, having little to no bearing on reality, and thus never really productively move the discussion.

        (And, yes, this all assumes a fairly sane family dynamic, rather than a vitriolic/traumatic/unhealthy one.)

        The unbalanced chores, well, let’s just say there are 2 children who cook and clean up and one whose participation generally consists of “if you forgot anything, I’ll swing by the store on my way there.” I think my parents decided to let that go, to avoid a fight, but neglected to think about how that affects others. This year, I told my parents that I would be exhausted by the time I got home for T-day (totally true, given current life circumstances) and thus while I would certainly contribute, I will not be the go-to person for extra things. We’ll see how this works out…

  • Andrea

    Oh my, allow me to sing the praises of Skype Christmas.

    Last year on my dad’s side, we put the iPad in the living room, they put theirs in my grandparents’ living room, and everyone just walked up to “us” and chatted. We had more one-on-one conversations, more relaxation time, NO driving, no sense of “how much time are you spending at X family vs Y family’s house”, Plus we could get up and tend to the kitchen whenever we wanted. It was amazing. I’m actually looking forward to it this year in the same fuzzy way I might if we were actually going back. Highly, highly recommended.

    • Sara

      I did that one Thanksgiving when I lived overseas. It was great! For my they put a computer in the kitchen, and different family members would wander up and chat or I would just watch the room/listen to my aunts cook.

  • CJ

    I’ve always cherished opportunities to build new traditions with my partner. The process of planning a special meal or putting up decorations has lead to lots of really interesting mutual self-reflection on where the emotional resonance of holidays really sits for each of us, and how to build our own baby family traditions that honor the things that personally matter. Building our own holidays as a couple has always felt like one of the most joyful exercises of being “we” rather than “you and I”. And when those strong foundations last and get built upon in following years – such a good feeling.

    As a child of a divorce without any strong sense of nuclear family the roles of Holiday Host and Upholder Of Tradition don’t necessarily reside with my parents’ generation. I still visit my mother every 2nd or 3rd year, but without a critical mass of extended family there’s not a lot of established expectations around the holiday. I’m hoping to move to a point where my mother visits me some years.

  • If you are still in Saint Louis, you should join us for our meetups! Email me at emmalouklues at gmail dot com if you’re interested! Great post.

    • Bridey Heing

      Oh no! We moved to DC in August! If we were still in StL, I would love to. Thanks so much for the offer!

  • teafortwo

    I find it interesting that conversations about the holidays always seem to skew toward an exercise in setting boundaries – as though the primary concern is getting out of spending the holidays with family.

    My partner and I have the opposite problem, in that we are both very close with our large families, and hate having to miss some of our own family traditions to be with the other’s family. (I love his family, I just love mine, too.)

    I understand the “baby family” stuff, and the need for boundaries. (It certainly has come up a lot in wedding planning.) But on the other hand, the two of us are so fortunate to come from large and closely-knit families – to be surrounded by dozens of strong and long-lasting marriages – that I don’t think of our marriage as creating a new family so much as it continues and expands the families we are already a part of. With that in mind, ducking off to spend the holidays on our own just wouldn’t make any sense to either of us.

  • I have always done a ton of traveling for holidays, as a child of divorce whose parents first lived an hour away from each other and then starting in late high school lived 5 hrs away from each other, and always expected to see all of us for both TG and Xmas. I decided several years ago that it wasn’t fair to my husband, who isn’t close to his family, to travel so much and be with my family for every holiday, even though it does suck to not be with them.

    My family FINALLY started trading TG and Xmas last year, so we aren’t hauling ourselves all over 3 states to see 3 families at TG (Xmas is a bit easier since we’ve always been flexible about the celebration not needing to be the day of). BUT, we made a rule probably 5 or so years ago of “Christmas Eve is OURS and off limits for guests or traveling”. We have all sorts of lovely traditions that day that are just for us. And then have no problem getting up on Xmas morning and driving to one of my parents’ if that’s the plan for that year. It doesn’t always make everyone else happy, but it works best for us and makes the holiday so much more enjoyable!

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