What Have The Holidays Taught You?

What are your plans for the season?

A Practical Wedding | Newlywed HolidaysNormally we start the annual APW holiday conversation in November or so. But many of you have requested that we do it NOW PLEASE. This is the time of year when we all start the dance of figuring out who, what, when, where, how…and hopefully taking a moment to really think about why. (Which reminds me to order the baby his first Halloween costume. Why? Because, adorable.)

As children, the holidays have a certain simplicity to them. They happen the way they happen because that is how they’ve always been. The complex negotiations about how to balance multiple families and what traditions to include generally happened before we could remember them. And then we partner up, and it’s suddenly not anywhere near that simple.

This will be our fifth holiday season as a married couple, and our tenth (TENTH) as a couple, so it seems like I should be able to give you clear advice. But every family is so different that the best I can do is tell you what I’ve learned. So, to celebrate the end of a decade (!) of couple-dom, here are the wisest words I’ve got:

  • Listen to yourselves. Listen to each other. You and your partner are laying the groundwork of creating a new (or at least newly officially recognized) family. You’re not going to do that without breaking some hearts. You may well be used to doing what your parents say during the holidays, so when your mom tells you to come home, you feel like you have to. Guess what? You don’t. Adulthoooooooooood! Celebrate your complex newfound freedom by eating your pie before dinner.
  • Experiment. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never re-create your childhood holidays, and that’s probably a good thing. The best way to create new family rituals and routines is often just to try different things out. Sometimes they’ll be a total bust; sometimes you’ll discover something awesome and new.
  • It doesn’t have to be the same every year. Every Thanksgiving of my childhood was exactly the same. Almost every one of my coupled Thanksgivings has been different, and I’ve liked most of them. Highlights include one in England, one in New Mexico and also sort of Las Vegas, and one at home in our own apartment. Our family Thanksgiving tradition may simply be that you never know where you’ll find us.
  • Find new traditions (big or little). A few years ago I bought Christmas Crackers in an attempt to convince David that Christmas was not, in fact, the worst thing ever invented. While I don’t think I succeeded in my goal, we do now love Christmas Crackers, and we bring them along with us every December 25th.

So now I’m throwing it to all of you, for some much needed conversation. What are your questions and problems? What have you learned? What are your plans for the year? What are you proudest of as we speed towards holiday time? (And a particular fist bump to the other interfaith families out there. I feel you. On all of it.)

Photo: Julie Randall

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  • E

    His parents are divorced and don’t get along. They live near us. My parents are divorced, get along great, and live 7 hours away. We did last Thanksgiving with his dad’s side. It was the wrong decision. His mom doesn’t mind if we do holidays on the proper day with her- she’s fine with doing them on alternative days. This holiday season will be our first as a married couple and we have agreed to travel to my parents to have holidays for the actual holidays and find alternative days to see his parents.

    This is our plan indefinitely. It’s not equal, but considering all of the circumstances, it is the right decision.

  • Oof. I need this thread. We live in Minnesota, very close to my husband’s entire family. I grew up in Massachusetts, and my entire family still lives on the East Coast. My parents are also divorce, which further complicates holidays. For the last four years (of our six together as a couple) we have gone to Massachusetts to spend the week of Thanksgiving with my family. We spend every other holiday with his family.

    This year, we are not going to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, because I’m pregnant. I’ll only be 8 months along, and my midwife would probably clear me to fly, but I just cannot handle it emotionally. No way. We are not going, final. And it is so, so difficult for me to know that.

    We invited my family to come have Thanksgiving out here with us, but they all declined, as they’re saving their money and vacation hours to come out and visit in January when the baby is born. I told David that I absolutely could not spend Thanksgiving with his family this year. I just can’t. I am having so many struggles right now, and I will be missing my family so, so much. Even though we will be here, and will have no other plans, we’re not going to his family’s Thanksgiving celebrations. My husband is 100% on board with me about this, but I feel so, so selfish and guilty.

    And also a little nervous? Because it will be our first-ever holiday just the two of us. We’ve started spending Christmas morning alone (we used to stay up at his mother’s house) and that’s been lovely. But we spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his family, so the small cocoon of Just-Us-ness in the morning doesn’t feel like much yet. Plus we’ve only done it once so far.

    I am nervous that it won’t feel like a real holiday, or that any attempt I make to make it feel like a holiday will be kind of silly and empty. Couples who have holidayed alone: please share your stories with me!

    • Rachel

      Last year was our first year having Christmas alone (we make the 10-hour drive to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving every year) because I couldn’t deal with doing a whirlwind tour of the country (nor could we afford it)…and it was seriously the best choice we could have made. It was WONDERFUL. Both of us had the week between Christmas and New Years off of work and it was seriously amazing to have time off to spend AT HOME. Normally I don’t get to use my vacation to relax, I use it traveling, you know? It was such an incredibly cozy and restful week.

      Some things we did to make the season feel special and fun:
      – Went to a quote-along version”Elf”at a local theater
      – Cooked a good dinner on Christmas Eve
      – Made an awesome Christmas morning brunch
      – Went to our favorite museum on Christmas Day. I HIGHLY recommend this if it’s an option. The museum was surprisingly busy and also, looking at dinosaur bones kinda makes your holiday blues/missing your family feel silly.
      – Went shopping at the outlets the week after Christmas
      – Did home improvement stuff we never feel like doing on weekends
      – The two years prior we stayed in a local hotel on New Years Eve where we had dinner and did some other entertaining stuff so that felt like a fun/special/low-pressure night out

      This year, I plan to repeat all those things and ALSO have our house professionally cleaned the week before so it feels even more delightful and blissful. Super excited about it already!

      • Don’t Hassle the Haf

        This gives me hope that our first just-the-two of us Christmas has the potential to be good in Houston!

      • This sounds LOVELY! I so wish Christmas was the holiday that was causing me anxiety, because I can think of a million things we could, just us, that would feel Christmas-y and wonderful and warm to me.

        I think my struggle with Thanksgiving is that the holiday really is (in my mind) about hanging out with my family. There’s not a lot of movies or music or other, traditional things that I can cloak myself in to feel like it’s Thanksgiving Time. We have some of our own wacky traditions (uh, we have a contest to see who can make the best Oreo Turkey: http://www.theidearoom.net/2009/11/oreo-cookie-turkeys.html and we play charades) but it will be hard for my husband and I to do those things without a big group.

        I think maybe the key is to try to create a new meaning of Thanksgiving. Something that doesn’t try to mimic what the holiday with my family is like…

        Just need to figure out what that means in practical terms.

        • Paranoid Libra

          Try to Skype them in maybe for some turkey judging and we can charades?

        • Breck

          I remember reading about your birthday hotel stay-cation and being insanely jealous–would it be plausible to repurpose something like that for a couple nights for Thanksgiving? Maybe a cozy, affordable B&B in the middle of nowhere? Let someone else handle the cooking while you guys relax by a fire–a little baby-moon?

          • We were planning to do something like this again a little closer to the due date, but maybe moving it up to cover Thanksgiving isn’t a bad idea at all…

        • TeaforTwo

          What’s the weather like in Minnesota over Thanksgiving? Canadian Thanksgiving is so much earlier than yours that the leaves are turning, here, and it’s a perfect time of year for hiking, apple-picking, cider-making and other cheery autumnal things. Would it be too late for that where you are?

          • Sadly yes. Autumn only lasts a few weeks in Minnesota. It’s likely to be very cold and possibly snowing for Thanksgiving. BUT! I did get to go apple picking this past weekend, which was absolutely heavenly, as Fall is my very favorite season. I’ll enjoy the cider either way!

        • Rachel

          Those Oreo turkeys are awesome! Your family sounds fun!!

          I think the idea of doing something completely different could be good! And it doesn’t have to really be traditional Thanksgiving-y at all. One of the other things we did over Christmas last year was to go to a kind of fancy burger joint (oxymoron right?)…now we go on all special occasions, like Valentine’s Day and birthdays. Maybe just use it as an excuse to do all your favorite things in Minnesota and/or try a few new things that feel not, like, SUPER special, but more special than an everyday thing?

        • CW

          My sister and I started to do Thanksgiving together while she was in college and I had just finished, and we were thousands of miles away from family and couldn’t afford to fly back for 2-3 days. We each picked our favorite parts of the “traditional in our family” Thanksgiving dinner and just made those. Another year, she had to work a 12-hour shift on Thanksgiving, so we had green chili chicken enchiladas on Thanksgiving, and a more traditional meal Friday which she had off. We had things that made it feel like a holiday to us, without it being exactly like what it would have been if we had spent it with extended family.

      • Oooo, house cleaned professionally? Brilliant! I may need to add that to our traditions.

      • Natasha

        One thing that made a huge difference for me when I lived overseas and was away from family on some big holidays was to spend a bit of time/energy doing something kind for someone else. At the risk of sounding hugely cliche, it really is gratifying to give. Make a few batches of cookies to wrap up for neighbors. Bring $20 to the grocery store and see what you can get for the food bank. Visit a toy store and reminisce about favorite childhood gifts while picking up items for a local young moms program. It doesn’t have to be a colossal to be meaningful, and might become a really special tradition.

      • Chalk

        excellent call on having the house professionally cleaned beforehand.

    • garli

      I’ve done holidays alone with my husband.

      His parents live on another continent. So do his brothers and their wives and kids. His Aunt and Uncle live in town with some cousins. He loves Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays all of it.

      My mom and dad have been divorced since I was 5, hate each other to this day (I’m in my 30’s) and live a few hours away. Since I was old enough to escape I’ve never been around my family for any holiday. I’d rather skip them all. It’s always horrible fights and baggage and guilt trips.

      Anyway, for Christmas my favorite thing to do is go snowboarding. Especially Christmas day when there’s no lines and everyone is at home with their families. I started dragging him with me before we were married and now it’s one of his favorite things.Especially since we both work long hours and do too much fun stuff outside work and have too many friends? Just getting away from everything alone is super nice. I do compromise and spend most other holidays hosting his in town family and putting on a big thing but that’s ok.

      • Gina

        Oh my goodness, YES! One Christmas when my poor mother was tired of planning everything, she said “eff it” and we went to our condo in Mammoth and snowboarded all day and it was the best ever. Also, it gives you a killer appetite and no guilt if you want to have a deeeeelicious Christmas dinner!

    • Amie

      Do you have any close friends around that aren’t leaving town? Try having them over for dinner. Start your own “extended” family dinner. Through grad school, my friends and I did this. We celebrated American Thanksgiving after doing Canadian with our families, and we still do Ukrainian Christmas. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same and bring your family traditions to your friends, and theirs to you!

      • We have “Friendsgiving” on Black Friday. For me, it’s way more fun than shopping.

        • I was going to write in and say that my favorite thanksgivings were ones where I did them with friends. We lived in Juneau AK for two years and a lot of people would stay around for thanksgiving, since they were going home 3 weeks later for xmas and flights were expensive. Someone would host and do the turkey and stuffing, the rest of people would bring sides. We’d eat and then play board games – super relaxed and fun!

      • I’ve always secretly wanted to do this, but alas, all our local friends have concrete plans.

        • jashshea

          Me too! I was always jealous of TV characters that got to do it!

          • megep

            I’ve always been jealous of it too! We’re finally doing it this year. Friendsgiving is occupying most of my daydreaming time these days–in fact, I’m currently gchatting about the menu with the host.
            Last year we flew to Kentucky for his mother’s side’s family Thanksgiving. It was wonderful, but so expensive and frustrating that we’re refusing to do Thanksgiving travel like that again until we live closer to our families. (Both are in the Midwest and we’re East Coast now.)

            Christmas is a whole other ball of wax; ever since my dad died Christmas has been hard on my family. This will likely be the first year since my dad’s death I don’t spend that day with my family, and I’m really worried about what my mom and brother will do. It already feels too small and empty with my dad gone–with another person missing…

            Our biggest problem is that my family can’t afford to come out here very often, whereas his can afford to travel pretty much anywhere anytime. So making sure we make a point of getting to my mom’s is a big deal for me, since she can’t come out to visit us as easily as they can. In addition, my extended family is super close, whereas his is…not. So, to be honest, we both agree that holidays with my family are just more fun. His brother has actually come to some of my family events…and I think he felt it too.

            Families are hard. Holidays are hard. Money is hard. The three combined is the pits.

      • Megan

        I moved across the country for grad school and so did many of my college friends and sister. We now do a version of friendsgiving we call “danksgiving” (ask yourself, what are you dankful for?) In a more or less central location for all us transplants, and it’s absolutely now my favorite holiday. It takes family out of the equation, if my partner can make it great but if not that’s cool, and we still get to eat turkey and drink a lot of bourbon. It also brings together a different kind of family (friend family? Framily?) that I find I really vaue as a long-distance-relationship-having transplant because all other vacations and holidays are devoted to seeing my partner and family.

        • Greenbeans

          “Framily”, love it!

    • HeatherS

      When my fiancee and I were in grad school, we couldn’t afford the time or money to travel the either of our family’s celebrations, so we took a trip to Boston. It was tons of fun, and we went to a nice restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner! I loved it.

      Since then we’ve had several Thanksgivings with just the two of us, and I’ve loved them just as much. I love cooking, so I enjoy pulling out the stops and making a bunch of dishes. Last year I made Cornish game hens and that was delightfully decadent and special.

      In all of these cases, the most important thing for me was to find what makes me feel good and special (other than being surrounded by family) and go for it. Would professional house cleaning make you feel good? Creating a new tradition for you and your husband? Cooking a big meal and eating the heck out of it? Eating out so you don’t have to worry about cleanup? A surprising number of restaurants do a traditional Thanksgiving meal (check OpenTable, they usually send out an email a few weeks before Thanksgiving with menus).

      Whatever you end up doing, I’m sure that it won’t feel empty or silly (unless you are trying to be silly). Best of luck!

      • ooh, I really want to do cornish game hens for either Thanksgiving or Christmas this year! They sounds so festive and delicious!

        Also, my parents have started going to restaurants for Thanksgiving now that none of their children make the trek home for that holiday, and they love it. My mom doesn’t really like cooking, so it’s the perfect break for her, and they don’t go out very often so it makes it exciting!

    • scw

      I don’t have any good advice because I haven’t navigated this situation, but I want to say good for you for having the foresight to know that what will work best for you this year is just staying home. it’s much better than realizing it mid-november and dealing with even more guilt.

      would it help to change your thinking from “holidaying alone” to “first holiday as our own family”? I know you’ll still be pregnant, but maybe you and your husband can spend the next two months thinking about what you’d like future holidays to look like. do either of your families have any traditions you could start yourselves?

      best of luck!

    • CBB

      For the past three years, my husband and I have done Thanksgiving and Christmas just the two of us. WE LOVE IT. We both love and get along well with our families, but they’re both a plane ride away, in opposite directions, and we’d rather travel to visit them at less-stressful times.

      I thought the first Christmas away from my family would be sad, but it really wasn’t. Our tradition for Thanksgiving is that, if friends are around, we host a big traditional turkey dinner (we’ve done this twice), but if we’re the only ones around, we go to a great local restaurant that does all the fixings–I prefer to host, but the restaurant is fun, too–and no clean up!

      For Christmas, we do get a tree, which is important to me, and we have friends over for a decorating party. Last year, and I think we’ll do it again this year, we rented a little cabin a couple hours away in the mountains for Christmas Eve and Christmas. We just enjoy spending time with each other and our dog, hang out in front of the fireplace, and read. Then, on Christmas morning, we make pancakes, bacon, and mimosas, and Skype with our families.

      I love the holidays now, unabashedly, and there is literally NO stress.

    • jashshea

      We had thai food just the two of us last Thanksgiving and it was amazing.*

      *Granted, we were out of the country on our H’moon, so we had that excuse, but I would unequivocally love for us to be able to skip out on holidays here and there and do our own thing. Sitting around in PJs watching football while eating turkey & stuffing would be HEAVEN to me.

      My advice would be to let the day be what it is: If you’re sad, accept that, be sad, and move on. If you feel like trying to do it big, then do it.

      Good luck!

    • Breck

      We did a Thanksgiving camping trip with just the two of us last year, and it was amazing! We scored the absolute last campsite available on the beach in Santa Barabara, BBQ’d a turkey, and got raucously drunk by our fire while shoveling s’mores in our mouthes. There was practically no clean-up, no awkward convos with distant relatives or family friends, and no one to answer to but ourselves.

      No annoying familial expectations + s’mores made with fancy, salted dark chocolate + beach hikes = best Thanksgiving of my life.

      You and your husband will have a fabulous holiday season; I’m sure of it.

    • p.

      We had our own Thanksgiving one year and it was fantastic. I highly recommend it! We like cooking together so we decided to do a few different things with our meal rather than trying to recreate the meals we normally had with our families. We had turkey but we tried out a new stuffing recipe and also decided to make pumpkin-filled raviolis instead of having potatoes and gravy. We had good wine that we didn’t have to share with anyone else. And after we ate, we took a walk around our neighborhood that night and watched other people leaving their Thanksgivings with their foil-wrapped leftovers.

    • Miriam

      We are in a similar boat – we live on the East Coast and most of my family is in MN and my husband’s is in MI. So, we’ve spent every Thanksgiving on our own for the past few years. We love it and I can tell you why.

      My husband loves to watch the Lions game and I like not being rushed. I still make a quasi-Thanksgiving because I love the food. I only make a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey and then I make the sides I want. I leave enough out for the two of us and I freeze the rest for later.

      We usually skype with family (or not!) and we just sort of enjoy being on our own. It seriously is GREAT. Sometimes we’ve gone out for walks in the neighborhood and sometimes we’ve watched football all day. I like to bake, so sometimes I try a new recipe to have around for the weekend.

      You can do exactly what you want to do that day and at your own pace too, which is probably why I like it so much. IF and when we move back to the midwest, I will actually really miss our Thanksgivings spent alone.

    • Judith

      What do you think about doing some volunteering on or around Thanksgiving? I know lots of shelters do special holiday meals that require extra help. Helping others celebrate the holiday may help the day feel meaningful even if you can’t be with your own family.

    • Jessica

      We started not going to our parents for thanksgiving 2 years ago, and it is THE BEST. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we love our families….but there is drama and crying and stress and guilt-tripping and pressure to see everyone and resentment when we don’t succeed in spending every moment both of our mothers would like us to spend with them. We started telling them that we’re saving our money and time off to spend more time around Christmas with them. And seriously, it is the best. I had thanksgiving dinner ingredients delivered to my house, invited a couple of friends over, assembled all the dishes together in like two hours and spent the rest of the afternoon drinking mimosas, astonished at how damn easy it was (both the cooking and the emotional part). Friendsgiving all the way. Except this year we are skipping both and going to Iceland instead, where we will be glacier hiking instead of eating turkey and I have 0 regrets about it.

  • Laura

    Ah, I am ready for this discussion! I’ve got my parents in Ohio, and his are in Chicago. We live in Virginia. Can’t stay with his family due to my cat allergy, so visits there cost more money and time shuffling back and forth. This year, I’m feeling a real guilt pull towards my own family for christmas-I have a baby niece that will turn 1 on 12/27, and I’d really like to be a part of it. However, I hate talking about this every year because even though I know I can stand up, say no, and begin exploring new traditions with my soon to be husband, the idea of this actually makes me kind of sad-I really enjoy using the holidays to catch up with my family in a way that’s meaningful. Argh!

    My question: how do I let go of my expectations of what the holidays should be, so that I can begin to experience something new with my soon to be husband?

    • ZOO

      For me, finding a good holiday groove has come from three places:

      1) Establish a predictable routine. For us, that means we just alternate which family gets us for Christmas. For you, maybe it means you start negotiating every Labor Day, or invite the family you don’t visit to meet you halfway at a B&B around Easter. I don’t know. But figure out some boundaries so everyone can adjust their expectations and you don’t wind up with dueling moms trying to call “holiday dibs” in February.

      2) Figure out what you like most about your holiday traditions, and bring them along! For me, that means that when we’re visiting his folks I resolutely read “Merry Christmas Festus and Mercury” to screaming, squirming toddlers on Christmas Eve, and on Thanksgiving I make pumpkin pie with homemade crust, dammit. For him, it means when we visit my family we find a church to go to on Christmas Eve. I’ve found that bringing along your own tradition can actually help the family you’re visiting, too, because they feel less guilty about keeping you from your folks.

      3) Find new traditions, either for everyone or for just the two of you. We’ve done a bit of both. Like Meg, we now bring Christmas crackers to every Christmas, and on Boxing Day we cook a big meal. But for just the two of us, we’ve started observing Advent in a minor way, and it’s become a really nice part of the holidays that’s just for our baby family.

      So in short – you don’t really have to “let go” of everything, just figure out what’s worth hanging on to.

      • Megan

        I especially second Zoo’s step (1) – so, so important! The hubs and I live in CA, his family is an hour away (also in CA), and mine is across the country in WV. We’ve made it clear to my folks that we can’t fly across the country twice in two months, so each year the negotiation is figuring out whether we’re flying east for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but the expectation is set that it’s one or the other, not both. The folks are also always invited to come here, which is what we ended up doing last year (Thanksgiving in DC, where my brother lives, xmas hosted here at our house, which was awesome).

      • Anka

        We’ve had a well established every-other-year Christmas thing going on the last 4 years. (His fam is close, so we always do Thanksgiving with his family, b/c it’s too expensive to travel to mine).

        However, it’s time to renegotiate, because we are adding a kid (or maybe 2 – we’re fostering) by next Christmas and I am not gonna want to handle traveling to my folks with additional people. I also think it’s really important for us to create our own traditions apart from our families, since we may not always live close enough to participate in holidays with either set. So I’m pondering whether to a) Just do Christmas with his fam, b) Tell my fam to travel or c) tell them all that we’re doing our own thing and we’d like to visit with them another time. But someone’s gonna be sad no matter what. :-(

  • KW

    We started off in a long-distance relationship. It worked out well that the bigger family gathering in my family is Thanksgiving and the bigger family gathering in his family is Christmas. From the beginning, that was our agreement about how to split the holidays. We visit my family around New Years instead since my sibs often get together for NYE.

    The trickier part was establishing traditions for us as a married couple, since we will always be traveling at Christmas unless we relocate to the Bay Area. We don’t have children and may never have them, so we don’t have to fact that into the equation. His family gathering is on Christmas Eve so Christmas Day is ours to ourselves. We’ve been spending it in SF itself (his family lives in the North Bay area). Last year, we went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum and had Burmese food.

    We used to exchange our gifts to each other that day, but now that we live together on the other side of the country, we exchanged our gifts before we traveled and had a nice dinner together at home. I think we will continue that this year as well.

    • KW

      Comment editor doesn’t seem to be working for me. Anyway, we live close to my family, so it’s a 2 hour drive for Thanksgiving versus a 7-8 hrs flying/airport travel to see his at Christmas.

  • This will be our first holiday season as a married couple, and we really want to spend it just the two of us, in our apartment. I think his family is okay with it because they just saw both of us at our September 14th wedding. However, I feel like future years might be a struggle. He’s an only child, and his family lives in central coast California, which can be quite a trek.

    I love my family, but there are 6 of us (7 including him), and the chaos of my family holidays tends to overwhelm both of us. We’ve also tried Christmas here with his family visiting, but our one bedroom apartment in our gloomy rainy city gets real old real fast for all of us.

    We’re going to try out this whole just us Christmas thing this year, but I’m worried it will feel a little lonely and sad without family.

    • You can always come over and have a meal with us! We basically always do holidays in PDX. (Why exactly does it feel so much more stalker-y to be saying this on APW than it would to say it on facebook?)

  • TeaforTwo

    Ugh. My heart goes all the way out to children of divorced parents, because managing two families at the holidays is so hard that the idea of three or four just makes my head spin.

    Fortunately my in-laws live about a 20 minute drive from my father’s house, and so we are able to spend Christmas morning with my family and Christmas dinner with his. It may not work when we have our own kids, but it’s enough for now.

    And frankly? It’s also hard enough for now. We spend Christmas morning with my immediate family, but skipping Christmas dinner means not seeing all of my cousins who I grew up with, and I hate it. He definitely feels the same way about missing Christmas morning with his family – his older three siblings all find alternate weeks to do holidays with their in-laws, so I know that he is jealous that they’re all in his childhood home drinking mimosas and opening presents without him.

    This thread is a good reminder of how lucky we are: to have huge, closely-knit families who get along at the holidays; to get along with each other’s families; to have families who live so close to each other, etc. But it’s still really, really hard.

    • Definitely thankful our parents are still married so we have less to juggle too!

      Can you flip the Christmas morning/dinner routine year to year so sometimes you see your cousins and he gets xmas morning with his family?

      • TeaforTwo

        That would work less well for us, since the am/pm split is what all of my siblings have agreed to do (we are all fortunate that our in-laws live nearby). So switching it up would mean seeing my extended family but not my immediate family.

        Although I get what Meg is saying above about how it doesn’t have to be the same every year, in our big family I find that consistency is important, because it means that by sticking to a similar schedule every year, we all get to see each other. It’s nice to know what we can expect and plan around it.

  • moe

    I grew up hating the holidays with my family, especially after my father passed. It just got worse without him. I don’t think I ever had the glowing happy childhood holiday experiences like others have.

    This is something that I’ve had a hard time conveying to even my closest friends. (even though they already know about how difficult some of my family members are) It’s also really disappointing to admit. My husband sees all these things and understands perfectly why I don’t want to spend anymore holiday gathering with them. He’s awesome.

    So we spend it how we like, dividing time between his various family gatherings and then making time for ourselves as newlyweds. I do find myself eager to start new traditions for our new family and it’s almost too eager. Last year We HAD TO go out and buy a tree together. We HAD TO decorate it together, we HAD TO have a special Christmas dinner…then there was that really uncomfortable realization that I was becoming the perfectionist, critical parent that made my holidays unbearable. Ugh.

    Does anyone else have experiences like this? Coming from bad childhoods and trying to make a new start as an adult and/or married person?

    • Laura C

      I’m going to guess that neither of my parents would classify their holiday experiences growing up as great. My paternal grandparents had a marriage that ranged from lousy to open warfare, and my grandmother was the sort of person who died the food green at St. Patrick’s day — massive public show of holiday spirit at all times, no matter how things actually were. My maternal grandparents would have had a lot of going to parties at which much drinking was done (they were the sort of people who were all scornful of NYE as amateurs night). My parents, by contrast, well, they don’t drink more than maybe a glass of wine, and that’s only when there’s company, and they are definitely not into decorations. So a lot of what my family does is probably defined by what my parents didn’t like about what their parents did. (The not drinking thing is not just a holiday thing, obvs.) But I don’t know what the early years were like, and while at this point it just is what we do and it’s all comfortable, I don’t guess you want to try to do the opposite of your family, except in the not being critical and perfectionist sense.

    • Going from difficult childhoods into healthy adult holidays aren’t easy! For me, I had fairly idyllic holidays when I was very young – but I no longer have a relationship with that part of the family. When I was older I had uncomfortable, dysfunctional holidays with family members on the other side who we only ever saw for the sake of the holidays.

      It’s made me very blasé about holidays. I don’t see the point in New Years drinking, I’m not into Thanksgiving and we’re having an ongoing discussion about what place (if any) Christmas continues to have in our very secular, agnostic lives. Which of course doesn’t change all the weird bits of perfectionism: I hold fast to the little holiday traditions I do have and work hard to maintain them.

      • moe

        There was a time (mostly after my dad passed about 10 years ago) where I was completely indifferent about the holiday season. It was a dark time in my life in general. I went through a period of transformation and came out of it. I got healthier, I moved, went back to school etc…and I also went to therapy.

        Eventually I reclaimed the holidays for myself. I spent them with friends, I travelled, I began saying no to some of the party invites because you just can’t do it all and it’s ok to say no. It removed a lot of the negative energy from the season from me.

        So feel like maybe I’ve done half the work by getting rid of baggage, but have no idea how to build the life I want.

  • Hey nonny nonymous

    I’m happy with what we’re doing this year, but it’s only kicking the can down the road. Very intentionally. We’ve spent two Thanksgivings together. His first year of grad school, when he and I were still long distance, my parents were temporarily living in the city he’s in school in. His family, by contrast, has for years done Thanksgiving halfway across the country with family. So it was a pretty easy call that he shouldn’t be trying to travel on a holiday weekend a couple weeks before finals. We had Thanksgiving with my family and various friends (his, mine, and my parents’). Last year, we all had Thanksgiving together–my parents, his mom, his brother, a whole bunch of his cousins and family friends–in his hometown, which is just a couple hours from my hometown. We’ve never done Christmas together–he was out of the country for Christmas last year.

    This year I said hey, let’s each do one final year of our respective families’ traditions. What I’m going for is a reset. As I discussed in a past open thread my fiance’s mother has issues with control and boundaries, and the holidays seem like a key area for that. Case in point: last year I said my parents and I were fine with me doing Thanksgiving with his family since he’d done it with us the previous year. Her invitation to them was obviously gracious and it was good for us all to spend time together, but there were some strong hints that she was feeling like, going forward, she’d rather spend holidays with my family than risk spending some of them without her son. So my hope is that taking this year to clear the slate will let us talk things through for next year without it feeling like we already had a tradition of dual-family holidays in place that we’re rejecting in our first year as married people. Plus, we both do have traditions we’d like to kind of get to say goodbye to.

    But next year…oy, I don’t know how these discussions will go.

    • Lisa

      This is kind of what my fiancé and I will probably end up doing this year. His family lives on the west coast, and we live in the Midwest a couple of hours away for my family. We usually do Thanksgiving and Easter with my family because it doesn’t make sense for him to fly home for a few days; however, he typically has taken his entire winter break (3-4 weeks) to fly home to stay with his family over Christmas and New Year’s.

      Since he’s unemployed and preparing for doctoral auditions, he plans to do the same this year, but since I’m working full-time, I can’t take that much time off to be there for Christmas and NYE. We’re planning to spend Christmas with our respective families one last time and have NYE with his family.

      We’re both very strongly connected to our families and our Christmas traditions so I have no idea how we’re going to compromise this one next year. I’m jealous of the people whose in-laws live near one another so they can spend part of each holiday with each family!

      • MDBethann

        I do fully appreciate that my parents, sister-in-law, and parents-in-law all live within an hour of one another and about a 2 1/2 hour drive from our home in Maryland. That said, splitting the holidays still gets a bit tricky. We had a nice set up going while my MIL was working – she is a now-retired ER nurse, so she used to work on holidays so other people could have the day off. We’d do our Thanksgiving with my in-laws a few days later (and my SIL spent Thanksgiving with her in-laws). This year, due to travel plans (my DH & I leave for a Christmas Market vacation right after Thanksgiving), we’re combining both families for Thanksgiving at my MIL’s – fortunately everyone gets along great & my mom is relieved to not have to cook. That said, I doubt this will happen every year so we’ll need to figure something out.

        For Christmas, we’ve made the decision to go wherever the children are for Christmas morning, which for now has been at my SIL’s. Once we have kids, we’ll spend Christmas Day at our home and travel to see the family afterward. I’ve heard too many horror stories from co-workers of present-laden cars to want to do that myself.

        I also second what some other posters have said about feeling like I never spend enough time with either set of parents when we go up to visit. They don’t complain or anything, but it’s the way they say “oh, you’re just stopping in on this trip?” or things like that. I love both of our families, but making sure everyone feels like they get a fair share of time from us is hard.

    • Anon for this one – MIL finds everything I do on the Web!

      I hear you about having a controlling mother in law! Everything is her way and This.Is.How.It.Is.DONE. They are always at her house, she cooks everything. I struggle a bit because we are local with them (my folks are 7 hours away) so if we stay home for a holiday (my husband is a doctor and often has to work on holidays) it automatically defaults to her routine. Eventually, I will start claiming some but for now I’ve just been going with the flow. I am hoping that buys me some good will later on but I worry that I am just setting precedents that will be harder to break.

      I wrote a post awhile ago (a year or two) about coming to terms/coping with having a controlling mother in law but never heard anything. I would be interested to hear other people’s experience about it too.

      • Hannah B

        This may not be comforting, but your comment totally reminded me of the scene in Everybody Loves Raymond where Debra decides to cook fish for Thanksgiving and the Marie (the queen of no boundary mothers) brings turkey anyway. I think in the episode they had a big fight and then talked it out? So, one can hope for that, right?
        One thought on holiday cooking: Often holiday meals are traditional/cultural/personal; what she’s doing likely has something to do with her childhood, right? Maybe you could make something that is important to you from your childhood, like if your grandmother had a special Christmas cookie recipe or a type of side dish that you loved as a kid. You can share the recipe with your MIL and make them together, to kind of “blend” traditions a bit (maybe plant the seed for this idea before the meal gets all planned?). Also, since your dish wouldn’t be the main focus of the meal, it could be an “in” to holiday cooking in general. Then you could gradually take over! Work from within the system.
        Unless she really is just tyrannical, in which case drink with FIL in the living room! It’s amazing how involved one can get in college football and the Macy’s day parade. Or go to the other room and Skype your family til your husband gets there. :-) good luck

      • MDBethann

        I don’t think breaking this pattern in the future will be as hard as you think as long as both you and your husband agree to a plan beforehand – like NOW. For example, as I noted above, my DH and I have agreed to spend Christmas morning wherever the kids are – which for now is at my sister-in-law’s house. So we spend Christmas Eve with my family & then go to the SIL’s so we can see the kids open their gifts in the morning & have brunch. Then we head back to my families for presents & dinner with extended family. It works for now. But we’re hoping to have children of our own in a year or two, and we’ve already told our parents that when we do, they are all welcome to come down and spend Christmas with us, but that we won’t come up to visit all of them until after Christmas Day. Less stress for us, less dragging of presents, etc. I always got to wake up & do Christmas morning at my house when I was little, so why shouldn’t my future children get the same opportunity?

        I think the most important thing is that you and your husband come up with a plan TOGETHER and stick to it. Revisit it and revise it TOGETHER as needed, but as long as you have one another’s backs on this and agree on the plan, then you can each take it to your respective parents & it will hopefully not come across as “my DIL is taking my son from me.” Also, agree to make time for her & her traditions, just maybe on a different day. after all, Christmas is 12 days, not just 1!

  • Audrey

    We have a difficult holiday season this year—our wedding is in December, a couple weeks before Christmas. We are skipping Thanksgiving with his family because it’s just too close to the wedding for us to travel there. We generally also go to his parents’ for Christmas, and this year we planned on going (because he is a bit of a creature of habit, and didn’t want to miss Christmas with his family) and leaving for our honeymoon immediately after. But now we’ve decided it’s just too much to have the wedding, Christmas, and the honeymoon one right after the other, and to plan and navigate everything, so we’re putting the honeymoon off. However, part of me would rather skip the family Christmas and do the honeymoon instead! This is mainly because it turns out some extended family members who tend to stress everyone out will be there, too, and I don’t know how much of that I can handle coming off the wedding. I just want to relax for a few days! I wonder if it makes sense to be as stressed out about spending Christmas with these people as I am; I worry that I am just building it all up in my mind because of the stress of EVERYTHING. It can’t really be that bad, right?

    • Another Kate

      You are a better woman than me. I don’t think I’d be willing to postpone my honeymoon to spend Christmas with my husband’s family! Honestly, if his family stresses you out there is really no better excuse than your honeymoon to skip Christmas with them just this year. I really think people will understand. That said, Christmas is such an expensive time to travel! Best of luck to you! And congrats! I got married in January so have a soft spot for winter weddings :)

    • moe

      Have you expressed any of this to your partner? What does he think?

      Take the honeymoon! I’m not as gracious as Liz is when she gives out advice on Thursdays, sorry.

      I was exhausted after my wedding, I just wanted to sleep. I managed to get away for a few days with my new husband even though we didn’t have a lot of money. I needed that time to rest and to just be together with him.

      There will be lots of other holiday seasons to spend with stressful relatives on both sides. Take your newlywed time for yourselves is my vote! :)

      • AUDREY

        Planning the honeymoon was a big source of stress for my fiancé. He didn’t have enough saved to get tickets for the trip we’d planned until recently (he’s been saving for the honeymoon while I save for the wedding) and the costs were so much more than they had been when we first started looking. With the stress of planning the wedding, trying to figure out the honeymoon as well was a little too much. So it makes sense for a number of reasons not to have the honeymoon right now! And without the honeymoon as an excuse, our usual Christmas plan is a little more difficult to get out of…

        We have discussed it, and on the one hand, I’ve told him the prospect of spending time with a few particular people is stressing me out. But I haven’t pushed for not going very hard, because I know he really wants to spend Christmas with his family. He should be happy, too! We have agreed to make it a short trip and spend the rest of the time off I have during the holidays alone together, and maybe to stay at a B&B near our place. I know intellectually it will be fine, and we will most likely have a lovely time with his family, but it’s hard to really FEEL that. At this point I am just worried about managing my own out-of-proportion anxiety about it!

    • I desperately needed the honeymoon, to process the wedding, to make space for the transition in my life, and to sleep. Spending that time with my husband, without anyone else around, was really special for me. Post-wedding life has been really intense for a variety of unexpected reasons, and I’m finding that those 9 days of quiet are proving useful to have in my reserve.

      If you think you need/want a honeymoon, I’d speak up. You don’t want to spend that Christmas, amid those stressful relatives, feeling resentful and tired.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      FWIW, we got married right before Thanksgiving and honeymooned in Rome over Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving dinner was the only meal I tried to cook in our apartment in Rome. I had limited ingredients and limited tools, as well as limited energy after a day of sightseeing, and the food was awful, but it’s a memory I’ll cherish.

    • TeaforTwo

      Audrey, you say that your wedding is a few weeks before Christmas – are you able to go away for a few days alone together? Not necessarily a full-scale honeymoon (whatever that means) but a few nights in a B&B, or at a friend’s cabin, or even just alone in your home together with your phones off?

      My wedding is on December 14th, and part of my excitement about that date was how it was going to sort of bleed into Christmas (I am a bit Christmas-crazed) and double-up on family time, especially since 3 of my fiance’s siblings will be flying in from far-flung places and then staying through for the holidays. But we’re still going away for a honeymoon from the 15th-22nd. I think I am going to need some time for just the two of us, to process the change and build up reserves, and then I can’t wait to charge full-speed into Christmas!

      • AUDREY

        Mine is Friday, December 13! We picked the date because it’s our anniversary (our 11th!), and we even started dating on a Friday 13.

        I hope we will have some time to ourselves between the wedding and Christmas, but we expect all the family and friends who will be in town will want (and deserve—most are out-of-towners!) attention the weekend of the wedding, and then the next week we have to go back to work! Not very romantic, I know.

        I would love to take that week off work and have a trip then—having the honeymoon after Christmas would have been great, because my work (a University) has a very long holiday during which I wouldn’t have to use vacation days. Maybe I can at least take off a few days the week of the 16th—that is a good idea!

  • Rachael

    I amazingly ended up marrying someone from my teeny-tiny hometown, even though both of us had moved to different cities a few hundred miles away years ago. What is awesome about this is that our immediate families are (mostly) located in that town, so we can double duty holidays and trips “home”. Even more awesome is that our parents get along very well, which really helps in getting to see everyone during very short stints in the area.

    What sucks is that holidays (and heck, even the couple other random trips there a year) are absolutely chaotic for us. We have no down time whatsoever. Last year for Christmas, as an example, we spent late afternoon exchanging gifts with his immediate family, had dinner in the early evening Christmas Eve with his dad’s side, we were drinking in the late evening (and very early morning) Christmas Eve with my dad’s side, went to 7 am Christmas morning mass with my family then had brunch and exchanged gifts with my family, had an early dinner with my mom’s side, then a late dinner and late night drinking with his mom’s side. We’re also expected to help clean, prepare food, and get everything ready for these events.

    It’s not just that it’s exhausting, it’s that we are so rushed between events that we can’t sit and visit with anyone or really enjoy ourselves anywhere. We also have absolutely no time for just us. We have talked about nixing a trip to our hometown for Christmas if we ever have kids in lieu of starting our own traditions.

    We’ve claimed Thanksgiving, though. We stayed put for Thanksgiving last year and had all of our “holiday orphan” friends over. My sister made the trip as well, as she lives closer to us than she does our parents. This year, in addition to whatever “holiday orphans” we round up again as well as my sister, it looks like both sets of parents will also be making the trip. We’re establishing the “we’re a family, too” stance, and it seems to be working out.

    • We have this problem too, since all of our immediate family members are within an hour drive of us. Basically, we’ve put our foot down by saying just because we’re here doesn’t mean we’re attending absolutely everything. We don’t try to fit more than two “events” (and staying home and doing our own thing counts as an event) in one day, so at max we split the actual holiday itself in half. So far it’s worked well, and while we don’t always see everyone, we give the folks we didn’t see first dibs the next year, while including extended family that we need to travel to see.

      • Rachael

        Your method is great! We both like the idea of only hitting some of the events, but we haven’t figured out how to navigate that yet. Our issue is that we live about 4.5 hours from our families which means that we have to stay with one set of parents or the other when we’re there. It makes it impossible to get any time to ourselves for our own traditions or to even exchange gifts. And we’re certainly not treated as “guests”, so we’re put to work almost immediately upon arrival and every free waking moment. I think this year we’ll have to set some event time limits and ground rules because the last two years ran us ragged.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          My husband and I exchange gifts at home in private either before or after visiting our families. We take the attitude that the day the calendar shows when something occurs is of minimal importance.

          • Rachael

            We actually don’t even do gifts every year – last year we did, though, I think. I agree – the day of that certainly doesn’t much matter. I think it’s more the lack of time to appreciate one another over the holidays when we’re busy racing between events and constantly amongst family members that bothers me.

          • MDBethann

            Christmas is 12 days anyway, so take your pick!!! :-)

            I get so frustrated when so many people (not the posters here) act like Christmas is 1 single day and that everything must be packed into it or the days leading up to it. Christmas is a SEASON and is 12 days, so there’s plenty of time to do everything. Dec. 26-Jan. 5th = Christmas as well (it helps that my dad is a pastor, so he fully recognizes this and is okay with not cramming everything in on Dec. 25th, which is a relief)

    • Another Kate

      I hear you. My husband and I are from the same hometown as well, and I realize we’re SO LUCKY that we don’t have to navigate cross country trips to see different families every other year like some people, but being expected to see both families for every holiday can get pretty exhausting. And we live about 30 minutes from both families, so really don’t have an “excuse” to just do our own thing for any holidays, because we’re so close. But we didn’t even exchange our own gifts last year until the day after Christmas because when we finally got home we just collapsed into bed! Christmas Eve is the big night with my extended family, so we both did that. Then we got up super early, drove and did gifts with his immediate family so I could be there, then we left and did gifts with my immediate family. Then he went back to his family while I went to mass w/ my immediate family. I then went and had dinner/gifts with my extended family on my mom’s side while he ate dinner w/ his immediate family, then we both met up again in the early evening for dessert and gifts with my dad’s side of the extended family. Then our friend group typically gets together another town over at one of our friend’s houses for some drinks and catching up. Which is, of course, skippable, but after being with family all day it’s nice to see far flung friends that we don’t get to see much! This year will be our first married Christmas, so I think it’ll be a good excuse to stop the madness a little bit. I’m going to skip mass with my parents at the very least, and try to consolidate a few other things as well. Again, I realize we’re truly lucky to have this “problem,” but it’s still tough!

      • Rachael

        Yes! It’s so exhausting! We can’t figure out how to best and most evenly spend our time, but something has to give. That, and as I mention above, we have to travel to be with our families, so we aren’t in our own space which really, really makes things harder. We can’t get away from family and it raises the expectation that we’ll be at all of the events.

        • I’m SO with you on this. Now that we live so far from our families, we have significant travel to see them – usually a two day drive, but for the first time we’re going to fly for Christmas. Our immediate families live within 40 min of each other, and I feel like my partner and I don’t really spend the holiday together, even if we’re around each other for much of the day. It just feels like checking events/people off the list. Saw dad? Check. Meal with his family? Check. Church with Mom? Check. It totally saps a lot of the joy out of the season, and I always end up feeling guilty over not seeing somebody at all/enough.

          I’m the one, in particular, who feels quite heavily the weight of obligation- if someone else doesn’t put it on me, I put it on myself.

    • April

      This sounds like my childhood! I was raised by my single aunt – an awesome (if sometimes difficult) lady who has managed to be the only person still on good terms with all the various factions of our family. This meant that we’d sometimes hit 3 or 4 family gatherings over the course of a holiday. On the one hand – so many opportunities for presents / 3 different desserts! On the other – kind of exhausting.

      My aunt eventually learned not to try to do too much in a single day. We started doing Christmas Eve with one part of the family (Christmas Eve is actually a way more important celebration for us – is this a WASP thing?), Christmas morning just the 2 of us, and Christmas dinner with another part of the family. The rest we’d just make an effort to see in the next couple of days.

      • Samantha

        Sorry, didn’t mean to report you… Big thumbs. Anyway, this is a silly question maybe, but what is a WASP? What exactly does it mean to be that? Just curious…

        • LMN

          WASP = White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Maybe it’s an East Coast term? I grew up with it, and there are a lot of nuances to the term. Sometimes it’s used affectionately (in my family it’s a jokey word), but some other people don’t see it that way and might find it disparaging. Wiki actually does a pretty good decent job of breaking it down: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Anglo-Saxon_Protestant

        • k

          White Anglo Saxon Protestant.

          but I’m one, and Christmas Day was always a bigger deal in our family.

        • H

          White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant

          and I don’t think so, Christmas Eve isn’t really a big thing in my family. I don’t know…

          • amanda

            I’m a west coast white Catholic, and my extended family does a big Christmas Eve and Christmas day with nuclear families. It works great.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Different European countries have different traditions vis-a-vis 12/24 and 12/25. Of course, that means different traditions in the US. There’s a non-dogmatic Catholic tradition that Jesus was born at midnight. This means that Midnight Mass is a popular Catholic tradition. In my family, that means arranging 12/24 and 12/25 around attending church late at night on 12/24.

        WASP = white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. It was coined by a sociologist, describing a certain group of Americans who, in addition to being white and historically Protestant, are also historically reserved, upper-middle-class, and well-educated.

        • aine

          A lot of Catholic traditions are big into Christmas Eve as well- Midnight Mass (frequently at 8pm, these days) sometimes followed by ‘breakfast’ (because you fast before church) and sometimes by gifts- Some of my Irish cousins open all their presents after church on Christmas eve, which I found really really depressing because it really makes the next day boring- my family STILL does presents and stockings and whatnot Christmas morning, and my baby sister just turned 21!

          Italians have a tradition that Christmas Eve is almost a fast day- you don’t eat any meat, because that’s for the holiday, and dinner is “the feast of seven fishes” and you eat calamari and spaghetti with clam sauce, and about half the people there complain because they hate fish, but its tradition!

      • april

        That’s interesting. Christmas Eve is just more capital “O” Occasion. It’s the night everyone dresses up and has the more formal family dinner. It’s also when we do church (a candlelight carol service, though – not midnight mass). Christmas day is more laid back. We just kind of open presents and hang out.

        And yes, WASP means “white anglo-saxon protestant,” but I use it more in the uniquely American sense of a family that (in the words of one blogger) “has been in the US long enough to make a fortune, lose a fortune, and spend an ungodly number of years in well-known universities while doing so.”

      • Alexandra

        HAH! Your WASP comment made me laugh. I grew up in Connecticut and my family did it up big for Christmas Eve– so much so that Christmas Day was just lounging around in our pjs. Maybe it IS a WASPy New England thing after all :)

      • MDBethann

        I’m a WASP too but both Christmas Eve & Christmas Day are big in my family. Christmas Eve for church purposes though – my dad is a pastor, so services on Christmas Eve are really, really important & one thing we definitely do with my family, since his family doesn’t make a big deal out of church on Christmas Eve (his mom’s a nurse and often had to work then anyway).

        And as your aunt wisely learned, Christmas is more than one day, so there’s plenty of time to have dinner and visit with other family after Dec. 25th.

    • Sam

      Our parents live less than two miles from each other and we recently moved back across town and are now less than a mile from my family, so it has the potential to be complicated, since we don’t get the “excuse” of travel expenses, but I have this feeling that it wont be until kids are involved. Last year was our first holiday season as an independent couple, so it was the first time we ever tried to split anything. Before this, I would come to his parents’ Christmas Eve party and sometimes to their Thanksgivings. Luckily, my family has never been “into” Thanksgiving (ex. in my middle school French class, we had to write about our Thanksgivings and I struggled to find the translation for “pork enchiladas with chili verde”) so they don’t mind if I don’t come by. Last year, we had Thanksgiving with his family (who take the food part very, very seriously) and we spent Christmas Eve with them, too, out at the family cabin (which you can get to by driving across a frozen lake). We went to my parents’ house for lunch on Christmas Day (she attempted ham for my husband’s sake, since we usually have Chinese food), but we spent the morning and evening of Christmas Day by ourselves. My parents also wouldn’t have put their Christmas tree up if I didn’t help, partly because they’re old but also because they don’t really care. So while I’m over here feeling badly that I didn’t see them as much during the holidays, my parents are probably just fine with the arrangement. It means Dad can eat a whole can of cranberry sauce by himself in his sweatpants while watching sports and Mom can play computer games with no interruption.

    • We have this problem too, and while it’s not a bad one to have all things told it gets exhausting. Our moms are next door neighbours so we’re lucky enough that we get to just walk across a driveway rather than navigate the roads, but we spend the entire day going back and forth between the two houses. Then there’s all the peripheral events: his extended family dinner, some years visits with my extended family and while it’s nice to have the decision be as simple as whose mom gets Christmas day dinner the whole hoopla is exhausted. For a holiday that neither of us is actually sure we should be celebrating.

      We’ve agreed on a rule though that once we have children we will not travel on the holiday. Which means we won’t leave our home – if grandma wants to come over for dinner she can, but we’re not juggling the moms.

    • MDBethann

      You sound sort of like us, though we haven’t “reclaimed” any holidays for ourselves yet. My sis lives in New England and we’re in MD, and my SIL’s kids are so busy activity-wise that the holidays are the few times we get to spend quality time with them. Thanksgiving will probably continue to be a visit-the-families holiday, but Christmas we plan to claim for ourselves once we had children to the nest.

  • TC

    My best friends who have been married for five years were having a lot of drama surrounding who to spend Christmas with. Their couples therapist suggested they “take back the holiday” and not spend it with any family, so now their tradition is to go skiing by themselves. It works out great! They spend the rest of December juggling family expectations, but it’s always very clear where they’ll be on Christmas.

    My fiancee and I have family on opposite sides of the coast, so we traditionally do Thanksgiving by ourselves (or with friends) and alternate families for Christmas. It has worked out well for us and creates a shared expectation between both families, like, “OK, we’ll be on the East Coast this Christmas, but next Christmas it will be West Coast.”

  • Ellen

    I never used to stress out about the holidays before my relationship with my fiance turned serious! Now- well suffice it to say, this has been on my mind for a couple of months.

    We live about 20 minutes from his mom and about four and a half hours from my parents. Naturally, we see his side of the family a lot more often than I get to see mine. My fiance also works crazy crazy hours so he has to work a lot of holidays, which limits things even further. If he has to work then I go back to my family’s house, problem solved. Last year I went to see my family for Thanksgiving (he was working) and then made him miss his family’s Christmas for the first time in any of their lives. His mom was DEVASTATED. We tried doing Christmas on the 23rd instead- and announced our engagement then!- but she kind of put a damper on the whole thing by not doing anyone else’s holiday festivities then, even though everyone was there.

    This year we are spending an entire week just after Thanksgiving with his family, which theoretically means I shouldn’t feel bad about wanting us to go and see my family for Christmas, right? WRONG! I am already getting the guilt trips about it. This means that we’re going to end up driving to my family for Thanksgiving, then leaving from there for the airport to go on vacation with his family, and I’m still going to miss out on my favorite holiday to spend with my family and our epic 30 person Yankee Swap.

    To further complicate things, my parents are totally fine with doing holidays on some other date, but I can’t reasonably expect the other 26 people from the Yankee Swap to change around their schedules as well. And before I moved in with my fiance, I saw my family every other weekend. Now I only see them a handful of times a year, and I miss them!

    I know that I should feel lucky that each of us has a family that wants to spend the holidays with us, and this is a great problem to have, but the level of stress that I have over this is completely obscene. In a lot of ways I wish that we lived further away from his mom so that we could do our own Christmas solo and be done with it.

    A few days ago my fiance half jokingly said that we should start a family soon so that they all have to come to us instead. I’m beginning to think he has a point.

    • Cara

      I totally feel your pain. Last year was the first time I asked my partner (then fiance) to spend Christmas with my family because my grandmother was dying. We lived in the same city as his parents, and my parents lived 2 hours north of us. We were heading to Chicago, about 6 hours away, where my grandma had recently been transferred (she lived with me in Cleveland since I was in 6th grade, but was transferred home when she got seriously ill because that’s where most of her family was). We had been engaged for over a year and usually just did holidays separately, which was disappointing to our families, but understandable. When he told his mom he was spending Christmas with my family she was also DEVASTATED. I agreed that we could to stay in town for two more days than planned to go to his family Christmas party, but the whole time she kept making snide comments about how disappointing Christmas day was going to be without her son.

      My grandma died 2 days after Christmas. Christmas day was the last that we both got to see her.

      I feel like a total b*tch, but this year I want to spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family. I’m still angry that she tried to make us feel guilty about visiting my sick grandma (who I was extremely close with), and beyond that, we’ve since moved 2 hours further south (so 2 hours from her, and 4 hours from my parents) and she has only come down once to see our house, and we’ve gone up to visit a few times. My parents not only came house shopping with us and helped us move down here, but they’ve also come down multiple times to help landscape and work on our house, and a couple times just to visit. Plus, his family had multiple holiday parties that take place before Christmas and Thanksgiving that we could go to instead.

      But I know in my heart that’s not fair. Regardless, I’m not sure how to handle this situation…

      • AUDREY

        I know it’s not FAIR, but I am all for making plans in the spirit of revenge. It’s really the only way to handle my mother. If she is crazy manipulative about something (and she has been, about similar things!) showing that her actions have caused the opposite result of what she wanted is usually the only way to get her to see the error of her ways.

      • ANON

        I’m struggling with this too. His family (lives 4-5 hours away) has been very uninterested in visiting us and has even cancelled long standing plans to visit on the excuse of “I just don’t feel like it,” they did not help when we moved and the one time his mother visited, she was rude and combative to me over a political issue.
        My parents, who live only about 2 hours away, have been super helpful with our move, coming to visit several times over the past month and helping us with some house fix-ups.
        I do not want to spend the holidays with his family. I’m terrified that his mother will have another one of her episodes and start tearing into me again and I won’t be able to get away since we’ll be staying in their home for a week.
        How to be fair about splitting up holidays when one of you has the clearly better family?

        • ANON

          AMEN! So pleased the topic of disliking your inlaws has come up!

          • ANON

            I was reading all of these and I felt like such an awful person because it felt like everyone else was like “I have too much lovely family I want to spend time with, woe is me!”
            And I’m over here like “How do I avoid these people now and forever because they are not nice (while still being married to my husband)?”
            In-Laws open thread!!

      • Rowan

        Sometimes you just have to disappoint your/his family. It helps if you and your S.O. are on the same page. I would suggest telling them as a matter of fact: “We are spending Christmas at ____(not your house)____ this year. We will make sure we see you at _____(next christmas, thanksgiving, whatever you want to give them)____. ” No negotiating. Things change, parents will deal with it. They all went through it too, just one generation ago!

  • Lan

    We’ve been traveling abroad by ourselves for either Christmas or Thanksgiving over the last few years with my brother’s blessing (my mom passed away, my dad remarried and we don’t talk much). I live near the rest of my extended family so we see them fairly often so I don’t feel obligated to be around for holidays though if we have kids it may be different. If my brother wanted us to be around for a holiday, I would but he doesn’t mind so we travel. My husband usually goes home (4 hour flight + 3 hour drive) for whatever holiday we aren’t abroad and I’ve agreed to go with him every other year. So far it has worked out…

  • emma

    For better or worse my husband’s job decides our holiday location. He’s a coach and pretty much only gets Dec 25th off. Practice Thanksgiving morning, the Friday after + travel to a major city, and a game in said major city takes up that holiday weekend. Thankfully this major city is where my family is. However, for Thanksgiving proper we can’t be with our families which is tough.

    We hosted our first Christmas as our home last year, just with my parents and it was eerily quiet. Something I could get used to, but hard to adjust to at first, not having aunts, uncles, grandparents around. We’re campaigning to host again, given my sister + her new hubby will come (sibling issues following ‘but we have to be home!’ anyone??)

    My husband is a lot less attached to holidays with family. As a college athlete, he was never home for Thanksgiving and then at Christmas break left on Dec 25th to get back to school to travel for tournaments. He also grew up with all family within 10 minutes whereas my family sees each other mostly at Holidays so they’re important to me.

    • emma

      Also wanted to mention advice my mom got from her mom: Never do the same thing 3 years in a row. If you want to, by all means keep it going, but never get “stuck” doing something b/c “that’s the way is it”. It’s an easy way to also revisit the conversation and say, Do we LIKE the system we have?

    • Rowan

      Sounds like the only thing you can do is invite them. If they won’t come because “but we have to be at home” there isn’t anything you can do but say, “sorry we’ll miss you, we can’t be there b/c of husband’s work schedule. We’ll see you at __________”

      Well I guess there is an option to split up occasionally. My husband works holidays too (health care profession) and I haven’t had to yet but have told him that I will go to see my family without him on every third christmas. If that is the only time you’ll see some family then that is an option.

  • Oh man, I am avoiding this conversation like no one’s business.

    My (brand new!) husband and I live in a shoe-box of an apartment that cannot comfortably seat more than 5 people. We both have sprawling families that we are very close to.

    My husband is insanely allergic to dogs. As in–has been hospitalized as a child for spending too much time around them. All members of my family have a dog.

    My partner’s parents do not have a huge house, and they find hosting (even when my husband does all the cooking) to be Very Stressful, so having both our immediate families over their house isn’t an option either.

    We’ve spent the past 10 unmarried holidays doing our own thing. I have no idea what we will do this year.

    • Caroline

      I don’t know if it is feasible, but one year, we rented a hall with some friends (it was the big common room/great hall of the school one of them went to, which also had a kitchen) for 25+ friends to have a second thanksgiving together. Have you considered hosting in a rented space with both families (and maybe asking people to split the cost?) You might be able to rent a space with a kitchen owned by your local or state parks for a couple hundred dollars, which split over a lot of people isn’t so much.

  • C

    My general thought process on this is to have one holiday “at home” (where I live) and one where we travel. And that means some years we’ll see his family, and some we’ll see mine. But I just canNOT travel for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It would make my head explode. And I also like making my own holiday meal. :)

    Last year we went to my family for Thanksgiving and his parents came to us for Christmas. It worked well.

    But I do worry in the future that his parents will start to put more pressure on us to come visit because he’s an only child and his mom is pretty good at throwing down the whole, “Everything is CHANGING now that we have to SHARE HIM” and “We’re going to be so ALONE for the holidays,” etc etc. I have limited patience for that kind of attitude, which is why traveling for ONE holiday ONLY works pretty well. It’s as fair as fair can be and if they want to see us so badly, they can travel to us.

    • Rowan

      Can you invite them to visit you when you get the “ALONE for xmas” guilt trip?

  • Robyn

    In 6 years of dating we always went to our respective parents’ homes alone for Christmas so I was dreading the first “split Christmas” drama after we got married. But it was actually pretty smooth – I think the trick was to start talking about it and discussing potential options EARLY with my mom so she had time to get used to the idea. Since our parents only live an hour apart we were able to split the day in half which I imagine is what we’ll do until we have children and start doing Christmas morning at our own place.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    My husband grew up Jewish, and converted to Catholicism. I grew up Anglican and have remained in that Church. Everyone’s within an hour’s drive of our apartment.

    I find having Jewish in-laws makes the holidays easier. We spend Christmas and Easter with my family, of course. Holy Week is a bit of a mess with everything going on at two churches and with Passover, but we make it work by forcing our families to plan way in advance.

    This year, however, my parents, sister, and uncle are spending Christmas 4,000 miles away visiting my other sister in the Caribbean. I really don’t know how I’ll feel about it. Being a convert, my husband doesn’t get excited about Christmas, which was always a really big deal with my family. I’ll only have 12/25 off (a Wednesday in 2013), which makes it harder.

    • Rowan

      You get to create your own Christmas! I suggest cinnamon rolls in bed, then opening presents, then making breakfast. Then go for a walk. Pay homage to his Jewish past and go see a movie and go out for Chinese! I’m jealous actually, I would love to spend a Christmas like that.

    • Stephanie

      I’m Jewish, he’s Catholic… it always amuses me that the winter holidays get all the attention because for us the Easter/Passover thing is a way bigger deal than Thanksgiving or Christmas or any other holiday.

  • lady brett

    my favorite holidays we’ve spent were the couple times we had my family and her family both at our house for christmas through odd circumstances making it more sensible for my family to travel here than us to travel there. it was so much fun to host, and our parents get on at least as well as we do, so it’s kind of perfect. unfortunately (for this), my folks have upped their farm to the point where they can’t travel much (and my bro is in a legit relationship, so he doesn’t come around much anymore =), so that’s no longer an option.

    now we’ve been splitting holidays in a way that works perfectly well, but all the travel cuts a lot of the relaxing out of the holidays. and the previous version, while it worked, involved no juggling, which was great. now we do have to juggle her family, my family, our family and our kids’ family, which, while not awful, ends up being too much structure (and too much stuff!!!!) for me.

    p.s. halloween! so much more fun with kids/excuses to play. (also, both my wife and i were turtles for our first halloweens.)

    • Since all the other kids couldn’t make Thanksgiving last year, and we did Thanksgiving at my dad’s house with my husbands parents and it was AWESOME. And it will probably never happen again because I have too many siblings. But still. When it happens (and both sets of parents get along) it’s usually great.

  • Kristen

    My problem is literally having no one to spend Christmas with, other than my husband. This is an unsolvable problem until we have kids. I’m starting to think maybe I should volunteer on Christmas just so I don’t feel so lonely. I grew up with a big extended family that held holiday parties with all the cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, etc. They were the highlights of my childhood and its hard to think of Christmas without wanting that.

    • Laura C

      Do you have any Jewish friends to invite over for dinner? That’s what we did my whole childhood — they didn’t do Christmas but they had the day off and didn’t object to having a special meal at our house.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Exactly. There are also lots of Jewish events on 12/25 if you’re looking to get out of the house. In the Bay Area, there’s Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, which I think may be in multiple cities. Also, the Contemporary Jewish Museum has free admission.

  • Liz

    When I gently explain to my relatives that I’m not going to spend Christmas with them as usual because my new hubs and I are going on our honeymoon, they’re going to get all pouty and say, “But why?” And I’m going to be so, so tempted to say “Because adulthoooooooooood!”

  • Nora

    Even though we’re not married yet, we’ve been doing the holiday-splitting dance for 5 years now. Christmas is a huuuuuuuge deal in my family, so we’ve established a little tradition of driving back to Minnesota from wherever we’re living to spend the week with them. It’s worked out pretty well so far, because we get some “just us” time during the long road trips, and some full-on family time when we’re there. He comes from a much less “hand-on” family and has a hard time with the all-family-all-the-time intensity, so a week is just about maximum for a healthy, happy visit.

    However, we’re planning on moving to the Twin Cities before we get married in June, so I’m a bit worried about how to establish boundaries next Christmas when we’re so nearby. My family can be a bit overwhelming to my FH, especially during the holidays, so it’s important to us to get some time apart where he can just decompress. I’m ALL IN at Christmastime (perhaps the enthusiasm is hereditary), and love spending the whole week baking cookies and singing songs and opening presents with my family. I’m just not sure how to best help set those boundaries between my new baby family and my family of origin, since I would be happy to let our traditions merge together during the holiday season (my FH, not so much).

    • AUDREY

      If having some time for your new family alone is important for your FH, you could plan a trip for just the two of you at the beginning or end of your Christmas week. Go to a ski lodge or a B&B the next town over—you can make it a tradition that the two of you do a little “holiday trip” each year.

      • We do this during our traditional Thanksgiving plans. We usually visit my family for a week for Thanksgiving (halfway across the country from where we live). The day before Thanksgiving is the anniversary of our first date (it’s not our wedding anniversary, but since we’ve only bee married one year, we have five years of celebrating our relationship on the day before Thanksgiving, and we plan to continue). To get away from an intense week of All Family All the Time, we always spent one night in a hotel room or at a B&B doing our own thing, just the two of us, to celebrate our anniversary. Even if you can’t get a whole 24 hours away, planning a little day trip or afternoon outing for just the two of you can give you room to breathe in an otherwise suffocating family situation.

      • Nora

        Thanks Audrey, that’s a great idea. I think we’ll need some kind of travel to literally get us out of the vicinity, so that I don’t feel bad that I’m skipping out on some of my family (of origin) traditions just to be at home across town. It’s so much easier to draw that line when you live 1,500 miles away!

  • Laura

    Anybody else dealing with maternal hostility about this issue? My situation:

    My husband’s parents live 2 hrs. from where we live; my parents are 4.5 hrs in the opposite direction. However, my in-laws typically spend holidays 12 hrs from our home at their cottage in Canada, which complicates things.

    Given that the holiday season is the busiest time of year for me (Ph.D. program, final projects, etc.) and my husband (college admission counselor, traveling and incessantly reading applications), we try to keep things simple. Last year, we did Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with mine. This year, we’re flipping — Thanksgiving with my parents, Christmas with his.

    Here’s the rub: my mom is the type of person who doesn’t mind if we celebrate on the actual holiday itself, but she wants a holiday celebration at some point, dammit. I’ve firmly explained to her that it’s unreasonable for us to do “real” Thanksgiving with my parents, “fake” Thanksgiving with my in-laws, “real” Christmas with my in-laws, and “fake” Christmas with my parents. That’s way too much driving and family time in a six week period.

    This led to my mom trying to guilt trip me, talk about how I clearly don’t value family, discuss that my parents always made it a priority to visit both sides of the family, etc. What if they visit us? What if we don’t do it until January? Sorry, mother, but it’s not going to happen. I held firm and told her that, as an adult with a family of my own (even if it’s just the two of us), I’m entirely within my rights to sit on my couch and eat bonbons on Christmas Day if I’d prefer that to seeing family.

    My husband is totally on board with our plan, but my mom has a delightful ability to make me feel like I’m just being a huge brat. Anyhow, I’m sticking to the boundaries I’ve set, but this one is going to cause resentment for many years to come.

    Anyone else have similar issues about parents trying to expand the holidays into a season-long extravaganza?

    • Laura

      Oh, and add the fact that my husband is having surgery 3 weeks before Thanksgiving. He’ll definitely be on crutches, and we’re not sure at this point whether he’ll be able to sit in a car for long periods of time (it’s a somewhat invasive hip surgery). The conversation with my family went like so:

      Me: “So we found out that Husband definitely has to have hip surgery. Probably in late October or early November.”
      Sister-in-law: “Ohhh, that sucks.” (appropriate response)
      My mom: “…..but you’re still going to make it to Thanksgiving, right?”
      [Conversation moves on to more interesting topics.]

      Welp, mother, I guess that depends on whether he’ll EVER BE ABLE TO WALK PAIN-FREE AGAIN. But yep, cool, we’ll be there. Thanks for making this about you and your holiday needs.

      Makes my blood pressure rise just thinking about it.

    • Rachel B

      In a word: Yes. We don’t have to have any Fake Thanksgivings, but we do have to have Fake Christmas with whoever’s family we don’t see on Real Christmas. It just feels so forced and unnecessary to exchange gifts in January. Can we all save our money and time and just…skip it?

      We have been trading off Thanksgivings and Christmases between our families since our second holiday season. We’re now heading into our 8th holiday season as a couple. It’s our second holiday season as a married couple and I am due with our first baby the week after Thanksgiving. We live 2 hours from my husband’s family and 6+ hours from mine. The holidays are so exhausting. The first year we spent the holidays together we did Real Christmas Eve and Christmas with my family, then left on the 26th to spend Fake Christmas and 3 more days with his family, then drove home. NEVER AGAIN.

      We (I) have decided that we are not traveling at all this holiday season. It is such a relief to know that we won’t have to make the 6+ hour drive to my mom’s house for Christmas. I love my mom but she does not appreciate how big a pain in the a$$ driving from the Bay Area to LA is around the holidays. A couple people upthread have mentioned just traveling for one holiday per year (Thanksgiving with one family, then Christmas at home for example). I would LOVE to start doing that but my mom would FREAK OUT.

      This year I have the baby as an excuse to stay at home but going forward I’m not sure what we will do. I’d love for my kids to have memories of waking up and having Christmas in their own house, like I got to do as a child, but I will have a hard time making that work with the dynamic we have.

      Another thing I struggle with is that it seems like we have to spend several days with whichever family we’re celebrating with, instead of just the actual holiday. We don’t have any time with just us two. We haven’t been able to come up with our own traditions at all and that makes me sad.

      • Breck

        Bay Area to LA is THE WORST. Two years ago, it took my boyfriend something like 9-10 hours to go from our place in LA to his home in the Bay on the day before Thanksgiving. We’re flying from LAX to OAK on Christmas Eve this year, so I feel your pain.

      • Rachael

        I totally want to skip the gift-giving portion of Christmas (or fake Christmas). Let’s all get together and enjoy each others company instead of spending all the time and money that goes into holiday gift shopping.

        • Remy

          I think this year or maybe the next I’m going to institute Library Christmas: the week before the holiday, check out books that you think your dear ones will want to read, wrap, and present to appropriate recipient(s). They get 2-ish weeks (or more if you’re able to renew) during what is likely a slow time or time off work, and afterward there’s no extra Stuff to keep in the house. (Obviously, this would work best with local folks who like to read and whom you’d trust to return the books on time.)

        • Amy March

          To me this reads as “let’s all hang out just like we could do any old day and skip all that time thinking about each other’s wants and needs, and skip spending our money on the people we love because we can’t think of a better thing thing to do with it”


        • Elizabeth

          Yes. Gift-giving is a competition in the husband’s family and I loathe it. I feel so much pressure because Christmas revolves around gifts, which is weird to me because they don’t have a tree for religious reasons (a wood altar in your home). I would be fine getting one gift for everyone, but we are expected to get multiple gifts for each person with each one they open topping the last one they opened. *sigh*

      • Ana

        Yes! To the frustration of having to spend multiple days with our families around the actual holiday. When we have kids i plan to put my foot down about spending Christmas Eve and Day on our own home, then travel on the 26th.

      • MDBethann

        I think the answer to your question, Rachel B, is hidden within the question itself. You said “I’d love for my kids to have memories of waking up and having Christmas in their own house, like I got to do as a child.” Well, THAT is what you tell your mom! Something like: “You made such wonderful Christmases for us when I was little and I want to create that magic for my children in our home on Christmas morning. You’re welcome to come and visit and share in it, but we need to do Christmas at our house for the kids to create those memories for them.”

        Good luck!

  • K.

    Oof. My fiance and I are on our third year of navigating joint holidays and it doesn’t look like it’s getting easier! Really, it should be very simple but my parents (and mom, in particular) are having a rough time with the adjustment.

    Basically, my family prefers to plan things about 6 months in advance every year and his family prefers to plan things about 6 days in advance. So my parents get frustrated when we don’t give firm commitments in June and his family freaks when we make our plans before they’ve even started thinking about the holidays.

    And to make it more difficult and get to the real crux of the matter, the issue isn’t necessarily just a familial culture difference, it’s an actual cultural difference. So a lot of the times, we need to wait and see if/when his family from South American can/will be flying to his mom’s house. And since FI never gets to see his extended family (the city they are from is not safe for us to visit right now), their usually extremely short notice travel plans trump any plans we might have made. It’s an adjustment and one that really my parents have to get used to. My mom “makes concessions,” as she says, but always qualifies that she’s only okay with it if it’s “not every year.” Buuuuut chances are? It will be.

    Oh, and I guess I should mention that we live in the same city as my parents, which makes my fiance feel like her complaints are even less valid (and in every logical sense, I agree). I see them every day because I work with my mom and he sees them about once a week. He sees his family a couple times a year and for his extended family there are people he hasn’t seen in 5+ years. He knows my family extremely well, but even after 6 years, I still feel like I’m getting to know his. So for us, it is kind of a no-brainer to prioritize his family’s holiday needs…but it still makes me sad that it upsets my mom and that seeing my family on actual holidays is suddenly more difficult, no matter how irrational that is.

    • Marcela

      Would it be possible to split up the holidays culturally? I know in my south-american family no one cares about Thanksgiving, but to my husband and his family it is a Big Deal. What if you guys set it down that Thanksgiving would be sent with your family and christmas with his? I think that if the plans are more set in stone there would be less grumbling about the fact that things change last minute. Also you generally get more time off at Christmas than Thanksgiving so your husband would get more time with his family that he gets to see less often.
      I am, of course, speaking from magic world where holiday splitting is logical and no one is upset that they don’t get to have things happen the way they ALWAYS happened in the past. Unfortunately, I do not live in magic world and my husband and I are still trying to figure all this out.

      • K.

        I wish! The trouble is that a) his parents have been in the US for 30+ years, so she’s bicultural now and has a lot of Thanksgiving traditions, b) his mom is a teacher so it’s harder for her to host her family except at the specific holiday times (becoming an issue for setting our date too but THAT’S for the Friday open thread, ha…), and c) it’s actually easier for his family to travel on Thanksgiving because their country doesn’t jack the travel prices up at that time, unlike at Christmas. Really, what makes the most sense is to have Fake Thanksgiving and Fake Christmas with my family and since we live in the same city, it’s easy to do. And then we’d always go to his parents’ place for the actual events. It’s just my parents are very, very much value the traditions on the actual dates. Which is why I think they need to get over it a bit since it’s not really a good enough reason for us to stay, but at the same time I can understand why it’s difficult (because it’s still difficult for me too!)

    • Kathleen

      Oh boy do I get the 6 days vs 6 months thing. My family plans everything ahead of time, with detailed, family-wide e-mails, and as much coordination as possible (carpooling, who’s bringing what, etc.) This is in contrast to his family, where no one plans much in advance, everyone assumes things that may or may not end up being true this year, and it’s impossible to pin down a date more than a week ahead of time, much less any details.

  • alyssa

    I come from a huge and LOUD family, while my husband is one of two introverted children and no cousins in sight.
    When my husband and I discuss the holidays, it comes down to a) It’s important for me to see my family at Christmas because it’s the one time they’re all together and b) It’s important for him to see his family at Christmas because it would be REALLY lonely without him. Add a New Year’s Eve anniversary, and things are a little complicated.
    Right now, we are switching off Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and our parents on both sides have been so gracious about that. They’re sad whenever we’re not with them, but also understand because it’s about as “fair” as it can be. The compromise is that when we are at his parents’, we leave pretty soon after Christmas and spend the last couple days up until and including New Year’s with my big and loud family.
    I am not ready for kids yet, but one thing I’m looking forward to is staying at HOME for Christmas – meaning him and me! I hear that gets easier once kids are involved…

  • Shiri

    Interfaith holiday advice, anyone? I’ve accepted that we do Christmas with his family every year and forever will (because one of our deals was that we’ll never have Christmas in our house because I simply Just. Can’t.) and we do the High Holidays with my family. That maybe, eventually, will be at our house, if we live near my family. Thanksgiving seems to be an every other year thing, which I can get on board with in theory, but not having Thanksgiving with my family this year – for the first time in my life – is making me so very, very sad.

    I wish I could feel less icky about doing Christmas with his family. I try to look at it as celebrating the way you celebrate someone else’s birthday – it isn’t yours but you enjoy the festivities and do what they want nonetheless. I also wish I got to ever spend Hanukkah with my family, just to light the menorah with some other Jews and specifically get to give my Grandma the pleasure of watching us open her presents, but the timing this year will prevent that.

    • I go back and forth on how much resentment I feel about Christmas. Some years I’m totally fine with enjoying it with family and just focusing on being with family I care about (I don’t go to services ever). Other times I’m feeling particularly sensitive about distancing myself from Christianity (I am Hindu but I look Christian and I have a chip on my shoulder about it, I’m afraid). I’m not sure that one of those reactions will ever win out over the other.

      • Shiri

        My Christmas resentment is mostly aimed at people I don’t know (clerks who say “Merry Christmas” when I buy something, absolutely anyone who plays Christmas music in a public setting) but it’s definitely there, and definitely a problem. I try to control how much it is aimed at the people I love, but… I’m only so successful. I hate feeling like I’m actively assimilating.

        • Oh man, I have the same thing! I get really grouchy in December because I feel like Christianity is getting rammed down my throat every time I leave the house.

          My best friend is Jewish and somehow she doesn’t mind just smiling and saying Merry Christmas back. I don’t know how she does it!

    • Caroline

      Oh man. I so have no advice for you, but lots of sympathy/hugs. I have the major Christmas icks, and we spend it with MY family. (I’m a patrilineal jew and convert). His family is really far away. It’s just that Christmas consumes everything, and everyone assumes you celebrate christmas (the store clerks shiri mentioned, drives me CRAZY). And Christmas is such a big deal in my mom’s family. It is also one of the very few times we see my mom’s extended family, who are important to me.

      Neither my mom nor my fiance really understand how Christmas is not a secular holiday to me, since it is to them. My fiance doesn’t understand, but gets that for some incomprehensible reason, it is to me, and is fairly supportive. My mom is not at all.

      I feel like a lot of my stress about Christmas is both the holiday itself and also thinking about how we will handle it when we have kids. I can’t imagine not spending christmas with my mom’s family, because I would feel left out missing the one big family reunion every year and the family dinners that are so rare. On the other hand, what on earth do you do with Jewish kids at Christmas? Santa? No way (as much as both my partner and I have lovely childhood memories of it). So I tell my mom we aren’t doing Santa, devastate her, she does Santa anyways, and we tell the kids Santa isn’t real but don’t tell the cousins who believe in Santa? Oh and the other kids get metric tons of presents and you get a few gifts from papa?
      How do you really communicate “This isn’t yours and mama’s holiday, but Papa and Grandma and Grammy love it, so we help them celebrate their holiday.”

      Another complication is his family. For now, we don’t have to deal with whether we see my nom’s family or his for christmas, because my mom lives near us and we can’t afford to visit his parents much (and chose to do it at other times of the year). I barely tolerate Christmas as a total grump, because I have a blast seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins. I don’t think Christmas with his family, without the benefit of seeing my family, is doable for me. I’m sure (I hope) we won’t always be such broke students that visiting them is difficult. But I also have no interest in visiting them for Christmas. Traveling for Christmas. What a horrible, horrible, horrible thought. I imagine it may be a compromise I have to make, but it will be very very difficult for me.

      Christmas for me has gotten more tolerable as I’ve started doing more for Jewish holidays, but it is so rough.

      • The “put the Christ back in Christmas” bumper stickers are really not helping with the whole “relax, it’s totally just a secular holiday.”

        • Liz

          Leaving aside my personal feelings about bumper stickers, I think that those are the very people who would like to see Christmas deescalate in the public sphere and return to being strictly a religious occasion.

          The issue I see is that the holiday has morphed into a semi-secular season of festivities and gift-giving, and so it has solidified its place in US culture. What was originally a minor Christian celebration has been co-opted by businesses for whom this holiday is a tremendous economic boost. (Weird that sales clerks tell you “Merry Christmas.” Do you live in a small town? I’ve noticed that ads and sales campaigns have been increasingly sanitized of religious references, and try to appeal to as broad an audience as possible.)

          In fact, in recent years, it seems like Chanuka is becoming similarly inflated as businesses have latched on to the fact that the holiday happens during the Thanksgiving – New Year’s season. (If you’re Jewish, I’d love to hear your take on my perception).

          I am not Christian, either. There are people for whom Christmas and Advent are real, important, religious occasions, and they deserve our respect because its not just a secular holiday for them. If anything, we should all be annoyed with the business interests who are appropriating religious occasions as a chance to make $$$.

          • That is so true. This secularization of Christmas is bad for religious Christians as well as being bad for non-Christians.

            For a while in my youth I found that things were sanitized. Everything was “happy holidays” and representation of all religions, etc.

            Now I’m seeing a backlash against that. People angry about “Happy Holidays” and forcefully insisting that they will wish everyone a “Merry Christmas” and why are we so sensitive and PC these days? blah, blah, blah. Maybe it’s that Facebook is more in my life now so I SEE all the people on both sides getting annoyed and frustrated.

      • (Oh, and I’m also definitely concerned about how we will handle Christmas when we have kids. My husband is a lot less bothered by it than I am. I don’t want my kids to feel left out. I’m hoping to make our Diwali so fabulous they won’t, but who knows if that will work?)

        • Liz

          Darn it, reported your comment when I meant to reply to it.

          The suggestion I’ve seen advanced by Humanists is that we let Christians have Christmas, and instead celebrate Yule or Midwinter secularly as a nation. Because let’s face it, a lot of people in the US enjoy twinkly lights, trees, gifts, festivities, songs, etc. and its completely separated from religious tradition.

          This year, my husband and I are celebrating YULE for the first time ever!

          • M.

            I’m not sure if you’ll see this reply, but I’d love to hear what your ideas for celebrating Yule are. It really appeals to me as a holiday-festivities-loving, German- and Swedish-speaking atheist. It’s a great idea to celebrate family, life, and togetherness during the darkest months in a way that’s still festive — it really mitigates the odd feelings we (I) have as non-religious folks celebrating Christmas.

    • Stephanie

      No advice, but plenty of sympathy. Plus ranting…

      I’m Jewish. I feel uncomfortable about Christmas at my Catholic inlaws too, especially because they are the “keep the Christ in Christmas” type and it is a VERY religious holiday for them. We only just got married in Feb but while we were dating/engaged I kind of subconsciously instated an every-other-year policy which I hope we can keep up.

      Last year was the off year because it was just before our wedding and we were saving vacation and money for the wedding/honeymoon (we only get Christmas day as a holiday day off) so didn’t want to fly out to visit them. The year before we went there, and the year before that he went without me (we hadn’t been dating very long at that point).

      I work a job which is staffed 24-7-365 so I feel pretty badly about taking off Christmas. Most of my coworkers are Christian or at least secular Christmas lovers, and my taking off means an extra one of them who actually wants it off will get stuck working.

      Of course the “take a year off” didn’t go over very well. Literally every time my husband talked to his parents between Halloween and Christmas, his parents tried to convince him to go home for Christmas. Every. Time. They offered to pay. They said just to come for 2 days. They begged, they pleaded, they whined. But we decided we didn’t want to set the precedent that we’d go every year, or that whining actually worked.

      To make things more complicated, my husband isn’t huge on Christmas (well for a Christian person, anyways… he’s got nothing on my lack of enthusiasm) but loves Thanksgiving. I hate traveling for those holidays (cost, so many people, security acting extra ridiculous, weather causing delays and havoc- don’t ask about the time I spent the night in Nashville because it was ) and really only want to do one per year. I’d rather go home for Rosh Hashana or Passover anyways, so that means 1 of these 2 holidays can be at his parents house, but NOT both. But, see aforementioned whining, apparently 1 of the two major holidays isn’t good enough for them.

      • Stephanie

        Hah totally didn’t finish the story of the time I’m flying from Texas to Philly and get stuck in the Nashville airport because it’s snowing in Chicago.

        Even if you live in a hot place where it never snows, you can still get effed up by snow.

  • Anon

    Although I’m not married or engaged, it’s conversations like this that stress me out. My family is teeny tiny, only my parents and my now-married brother. My boyfriend’s family is huge, including his step mother and his mother and they all live in the area (my family lives on the west coast and I live on the east coast). Holidays are easy now because we split up – I stay here for Thanksgiving due to budget and travel reasons and go home for Christmas. I have no idea how we’ll handle the holidays if/when we get married. I can’t bear the thought of not spending Christmas with my family, esp. now that my brother is married and will be spending Christmas with his wife.

    • Remy

      Could you invite your parents (next year, at least, if your brother won’t be with them) to join you on the East Coast for Christmas? It won’t be the location and traditions you’re used to, but you’d get the right people. Maybe some of the time you and your new husband can spend at your home with them, and some more time with his parents/family at their place, or even all together. (It all depends on who’s hosting — and whether they’d be cool with a couple extra people.)

  • Zoe

    I feel very fortunate that my brother and sister-in-law navigated this territory before I and my new husband have to. My family is Jewish, but growing up my Mom always felt left out at Christmas and thought the celebration looked like fun, so here we are, a Jewish family celebrating family around a tree. As a result, the date is not very important to any of us. Our compromise is to all celebrate “calendar Christmas” with our in-laws, and have our family celebration on another day, usually the Saturday after.

    This is awesome and easy for my oldest brother who lives near both families, but still challenging for my other brother and I, who live far away from our immediate family, and our respective in-laws.

    For now, the system is our best bet. It allows us to spend Christmas with everyone we want to, and for now that’s taking precedence. Still, traveling to two different cities, far away, and taking off enough time to make it worth it, and paying for it on a grad student/non-profit budget, is challenging.

    For anyone else who may not feel connected to the date, and has siblings who have to similarly negotiate, I would definitely recommend considering this as a solution.

  • Kristin

    We still haven’t quite figured out our Thanksgiving ritual. It’s the one time that my entire mom’s side of the family from across the country gathers in one place. For my husband, his mom’s family also gets together, but all live within 45 minutes of us all year long. I of course want to be with my family, and he with his. We tried splitting the day between the two families a few years ago, but the fact that the two locations are 2.5 hours apart (not including some awesome holiday traffic) ensured that it was the last time. We’re been going our separate ways on Thanksgiving for the past few years, and it has actually worked out well. I obviously miss him, but it’s so nice to be with my cousins that I rarely get to see all at once. This Thanksgiving, there will be a baby thrown into the mix, and I know the families are going to give whoever doesn’t show up with the kid a hard time.

    Besides alternating families each Thanksgiving, or having our own just us, does anyone have any advice on what to do? Is it completely unreasonable for me think that we should always go to my Thanksgiving because my family is the most spread out, and we could drive to my husband’s Aunt’s/Mom’s/Sister’s house any day of the week?

    • Samantha

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to expect him to join you with family who are traveling from far away.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Can you convince one family to have the big celebration on a different day of Thanksgiving weekend? People who have to travel far may appreciate moving the big dinner to Friday, letting them travel on Thursday when tickets are cheaper. Or maybe the people who don’t have to travel are therefore more flexible.

      For various reasons, I’ve celebrated a few Thanksgivings on Friday instead of Thursday – totally worth it for the super-calm train trip or the super-empty visit to Disneyland.

      • Kristin

        That’s a good idea. One of my cousins works in retail, so she’s of course crazy busy on Friday. But I could ask my husband’s family. Although that one year when we split the day between the two families, just asking his mom to move the dinner up from 2:30 to 4:30 was the biggest deal ever.

    • LM

      As someone who lives near my family with a spouse whose family is a few hours away, I would be really sad to never celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. Even though I see my family more often, that doesn’t make holidays with them less special. We’re alternators, and I don’t love it, but it seems the best option for us. Being an interfaith couple, Thanksgiving is the one holiday both families celebrate, so I guess we are lucky in that sense.

      • Kristin

        I appreciate the input from the other side! My husband is super close to his family so I know realistically going to my family’s Thanksgiving every year would never be the case.

    • Another Kate

      I was going to say that you should continue going your separate ways until I read your comment about having the kid, which makes things a little dicier. My (now) husband and I have always gone our separate ways for Thanksgiving, and I love it. We both prefer to be with our own families, and neither of us feels strongly that we need to spend the day together. This year is our first year married and we’re going to try and do both families in the same day with a little coordination and compromise from both sides as far as timing, etc., but I’ve never had a problem being separate. However, we live very close to both families, so it’s not like it’s the one time of year for my family to see him, or his family to see me or anything like that. We all see each other quite a bit throughout the year. Good luck to you! My dream is to have a huge house someday and for our home to be the “go to” for all holidays, and that way we can just combine the families.

      • Kristin

        Yeah…that’s the dream for me too! Good luck to you as well!

  • Samantha

    This is out first holiday season engaged. Not sure on thanksgiving plans- probably go to my parents (though turkey day is never the same for my family). Christmas with my family for sure. Future plans involve Christmad with my fam every year. Probably thanksgiving with his. Christmas with his family last year was awful for me- will never do it again. We are skipping them totally this year due to their hateful reaction to our engagement. Assuming they behave better in the future, we’ll see them Thanksgivings. I’m so relieved to get a break from them this holiday season. Definitely the best choice for us.

  • Amy March

    We’ve celebrated Christmas all over the world (3 continents in 3 years!) as a family, and as a die hard traditions person here are some things that have worked for me:

    1. Music. The same 5 Christmas CDs will be played every year. Totally portable.

    2. Ornaments. I totally wind up travelling with one of those plastic ornament holders, and TSA is always lovely about it.

    3. Church. From thousands in Westminster abbey to 10 in a tiny cottage church in Australia, Hark the Herald Angels Sing means Christmas.

    4. Love. I owe this to my mother, who worried about my lack of flexibility and always emphasized that the most important part of any holiday was taking time to be grateful for the people you love, near and far.

    • p.

      This is really lovely.

    • MDBethann

      That is absolutely awesome Amy March!

  • Elle

    My (new!) wife is an atheist Jew and I’m an atheist who grew up Catholic but not super religious. We live in Chicago 15 minutes from her parents while mine are in Texas. I have a tough relationship with my parents and have spent very little time with them over the past 4 years. Since she’s not attached to Christmas in any way, religious or cultural, and I don’t have family here we’ve started our own Christmas traditions which I LOVE! We walk to a fancy restaurant in our neighborhood for Xmas Eve dinner and it’s PERFECT. We wrap presents while watching The Grinch and Elf and bake lots of cookies then wake up in the morning, do gifts and have a lazy fun morning all to ourselves. Her parents were a little offended at first that they weren’t invited but I just pull the “sad daughter-in-law with shitty parents” card and they backed off quick.

    Then in the late afternoon her parents’ best friends have us all over for Christmas day at their condo overlooking downtown. We hop in the hot tub that has the perfect skyline view then eat dinner together. It’s perfect because I’m with people I love and I don’t have a chance to miss my family, fucked up and terrible as they are PLUS I don’t have the stresses of hosting or making anything other than cookies, which I do to release stress anyway :)

    I’ve given up on Thanksgiving. It’s my favorite holiday and I do miss my extended family (I have aunts&uncles, cousins and one set of remaining grandparents) but it’s not worth the stress of dealing with my mom and dad. Maybe I’ll reevaluate when my brothers or I start having kids but not yet. Wife and I just work in the kitchen with her mom all day and eat usually just the 4 of us. It’s okay but it’s tougher than Christmas for me. I want to do something different but not enough to cause waves. I got what I wanted for Christmas so I’ve compromised on Thanksgiving :)

  • Jacky

    My fiance and I are fortunate to live close to many family members from both sides. Christmas is easy because our families celebrate on different days: on his side, the “big get-together” is always on Christmas Eve, but on my side it’s always Christmas Day. So we get to see both of our extended families for that holiday.

    We always leave Christmas morning for just the two of us, as we’ve done ever since we moved in together. That was a big adjustment, since we both used to travel back to our parents’ house the night before and spend the morning with them. But that was probably when we first realized that the two of us were becoming a family of our own.

    Thanksgiving is a bit complicated because both sides celebrate it on the same day. First, I cook a big “Thanksgiving lunch” (essentially Thanksgiving dinner, but at lunch time) at our house so we can spend the first half of the day with my dad and brother. Then we drive an hour to my fiance’s grandparents’ house for a big dinner with his extended family. This is always exhausting for both of us: me because I wake up super early to cook Thanksgiving Lunch, and him because he has to fight TWO food comas to drive us back and forth to his family’s celebration. Despite how tiring it is, it’s worth it because we’d both really regret not seeing our families on that day.

    On my fiance’s side, both of the big holiday celebrations with extended family are hosted by his grandparents. But his grandfather is very ill and his grandmother is getting up in years. I don’t know what will happen after his grandparents no longer have the energy to host 30+ people at their house. I hope somebody steps up to continue the annual parties. Maybe in a few years, it’ll be us! After we’re married, out of our small apartment and into our first house.

    • TeaforTwo

      My extended family has always been 30+ for the holidays, too. After my grandfather died and couldn’t host anymore, my father did, but my father recently moved and now no one has a house big enough to fit everyone. We are spending Thanksgiving this year in the party room in my cousin’s apartment complex.

      We all fit there, but I dread what’s coming: I have 16 cousins on that side of the family, and as we are all marrying off and starting to have kids, eventually we won’t be able to get together every Christmas and Thanksgiving, and it breaks my heart. The 16 of us are only about 9 years apart from oldest to youngest, so we really all did grow up together, and I hate to think about the first year that we don’t bother…I keep hoping my fiance and I will somehow be able to buy a house big enough to fit my whole extended family, but that’s not actually realistic.

      Change is the worst.

      • Jacky

        Oh yeah, change IS the worst. The only reason I’ve thought about holidays without his grandparents is that MY side’s extended family gathering used to be 30+ people too… Until my maternal grandmother passed away and nobody else could host everyone. The party we attend on Christmas Day now has less than half of the people who used to show up years ago.

        I guess in a way, everyone marrying off and having kids of their own is a happy problem, because then you have lots of smaller families you can visit throughout the year. But there is really something special about having everyone in the same place, and no other way to replicate that experience. The first couple years of diminishing headcounts at “the” holiday party can really suck.

        • TeaforTwo

          One solution is that this summer my maternal extended family took a weekend camping trip together. There were 30+ of us, and we rented a huge group site, and had the whole weekend to spend together. It wasn’t Christmas, but with none of the expectations of the holidays, it was a really lovely time to catch up and all be together.

          The highlight was on the Saturday night, when my uncle had brought champagne for everyone to toast to my engagement, which we had announced two weeks beforehand. Another cousin had gotten engaged in the intervening weeks and announced it there, a third cousin announced that she was expecting a baby, then we toasted my brother’s baby who was 5 days old at the time (and not on the camping trip, obviously)…after all of those announcements, people were shouting out all kinds of good news “I just finished law school!” “We just bought a farm!” “I’m moving to Thailand next week!” and every announcement got a huge round of cheers and a gulp of champagne. It’s one of my warmest fuzziest memories. So yes, even if we are all growing up and it’s sad, we’re also all growing up and it’s awesome.

      • MDBethann

        A friend’s family does a HUGE family reunion/Christmas party between Thanksgiving & Christmas so they can still get together and see everyone, but on a day when they don’t all have other demands on their time. Might be something to think about doing with your cousins – find a hall in a central location & everyone agrees to bring a dish. Family potluck and no one person has all of the burden of cooking. Good luck!

  • No joke, as soon as I read the post title I literally groaned. Audibly.

    My husband’s sister was just bugging us about Christmas the other day and I cannot handle it. Throughout the past six years we’ve been together (probably 4 of which we’ve seriously split holidays) she has never done so. She’s has boyfriends come and go, but has never given any of her holiday time to them and their family (to be fair she doesn’t ask it of them either). But my point is that she continues to judge us and our holiday choices and has actually said to us “well my family is more important so when I have to do this we’ll spend all of our time with my family.” FAT FREAKING CHANCE. I want to scream at her: “good luck finding an orphan.” (nothing against orphan’s, just saying that’s the only way that situation will work out in her favor). She’s never been in the situation we are, so don’t act like you understand our plight and try to tell us what to do. Another part of it is that: you’re just his sister. You’re not the matriarch of your family, so you don’t get to voice your opinion. Butt the hell out.

    While I would like to just spend all of our holiday time with my family, that’s not realistic. And what I’ve come to realize since getting married (this will be our first holiday season as husband and wife), is that when you get married his family IS your family. A lot of the qualities I like about my husband are a result of his being raised in a loving, but kind of crazy, family. If I don’t accept that family and make myself a part of it and its traditions, they’re not going to like me (hint to sister-in-law: maybe this is why we don’t like the guys you bring home).

    I like Meg’s advice that it doesn’t need to be the same every year, and the experiment is a good one too!

    • OH! I forgot to add that I don’t believe in “fairness” when it comes to this topic. One side of the family will always get a little less time than the other. There is NO way to be completely 100% fair, so don’t even try.

      • Anon for this one

        I am reminded of one of my favorite expressions “Fair doesn’t always mean equal” :)

    • TeaforTwo

      As the third of four kids, I will say this: when my older brothers (8 and 5 years older than me) got married and started spending the holidays with their in-laws, IT SUCKED.

      I obviously understand it a lot more now that I’m navigating the whole thing with my own partner, but a lot of our Christmas traditions are about siblings: for most of my life, Christmas morning meant waking up with my brothers hours before our parents and ploughing through our stockings and sharing (or not sharing) candy and playing board games and a camaraderie that we didn’t always have during the year when we were more focussed on hanging out with our friends.

      I’m not defending the guilt trip, but if she is his only sister and doesn’t have a partner to split her holidays with, I don’t think you have to be the matriarch to want everyone around.

      • Remy

        Man, the year my (younger) sister was in the UK for grad school on Xmas, it SUCKED. For starters, the attention from my parents was on me and my then-fiancee/now-wife, so it was even more awkward than the Thanksgivings one or the other of us was away at college. I went away first, too, so I gather than my little sis was lonely then — still in high school and the oldest kid left. (She organized an American orphans’ Thanksgiving during the UK year, and visited a friend’s family in freakin’ NORWAY for Xmas, so I think it was okay for her.)

      • I guess I’ve never really thought about it from her perspective. I think in part because it seems like she imagines this close relationship with her brother that I just don’t see – he never calls her and always seems annoyed when she’s around (not that I agree with his behavior or condone it, they could be closer, they’re just not, so I don’t get what the big deal is).

        Their family is also super small, while mine is gigantic, so as others with small families have said, one person is missed more in a small gathering.

        I think if she acted like our mothers do – they’re bummed and mopey if we’re missing, a little guilt trippy but not bitchy – I could deal better. But when she acts like we’re intentionally hurting her and she’ll NEVER be like this, it really irritates me. I should point out she and her brother are only a year apart in age.

    • Breck

      Ughhhhh I am so with you. My boyfriend and I are living in Venezuela for 6 months for his job, and up until we boarded our flight (so, via text messages) his sister was begging him not to go. And when we had the holidays discussion with his family, his sister said she would never speak to him again if he didn’t come home for Christmas. Nevermind the fact that we normally live about 20 minutes from his family and see them on a fairly regular basis. We offered to meet them at some kind of half-way point (Christmas in the Bahamas? There are worse things.) so that travel wouldn’t be so difficult and expensive for us and my family could join us, but his family doesn’t like to travel. So we’re stuck with a very pricey vacation at home.

      I think I’m going to go back and read that one open thread where everyone bitched about their families for some cathartic release.

      • Rachel B

        OMG where’s a link to that? I guess I missed it the first time around.

    • Ana

      Where to spend the holidays was one of the biggest fights we had when we moved in together a d decided to start splitting them. It took about an hour of raised voices and random accusations before we realized that we were fighting about who’s family was better/who loved their family more/who’s parents had more pressing needs. News flash: both families are equally as important for no other reason than they’re our families and we love them. We’re in a solid pattern of Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with her family now.

    • Ugh. I am right there with you on this, only I’m getting the guilt trip from my family (mainly my sister). Until now, I have been the only married one of my siblings, and my parents are divorced, live in different states (Dad is 6 hrs away, Mom is 4, and it’s 5 between them), and expected to see all of us for both TG and Christmas. Oh, and sister lives by mom and brother lives by dad. I was constantly being called the “difficult, selfish one” (again, mainly by my sister) because, even though I really, really want to see my family for the holidays, I don’t want to spend all my time off traveling over a four-state region, and since I’m the one doing the most traveling, I usually suggest the schedule of when to be where.

      Plus, my husband isn’t close to his family and I don’t think it’s fair to make him constantly travel to mine just because I’m used to it. So, we decided Christmas Eve is OURS. We don’t travel or have visitors then and we have made the best traditions. I will travel to you on Christmas Day if necessary, but don’t mess with my Christmas Eve.

      Luckily, with my brother getting married next week and my sister recently getting engaged, I think they will both start to understand the needing to see the in laws and having their own baby family time thing and get off my back. My almost-SIL’s family sounds kind of like your in laws (very close and loving but a bit crazy and over the top), so my brother’s got that coming to deal with. ;)

      Even better, my dad announced last year he wanted to start switching which holiday he “did up” every year. So we started alternating TG and Xmas between my parents, and it was so.much.less.stressful.

  • Good timing on this thread, as we just decided what we’re doing for our first holiday season as a married couple. I’m SO excited to have Christmas at our new home in California, and my parents are going to come to us! Woo!

    We moved to California this summer from Massachusetts, where we were within an hour of his family, so we automatically did pretty much all holidays with them. I LOVE Christmas, just everything about it has always been my favorite thing ever, so I was proud of myself the last two years when I couldn’t go home for Christmas (not enough money, and wanted to be with my guy) and I managed to make it ok, and even had fun with his family while still missing my family and our traditions. This year his parents offered to fly us out to MA for the holidays, and my parents offered to drive down to us (they’re in Oregon, and have lots of other relatives in the area to visit, too), so I was worried it was going to be a huge argument and everyone would be angry. But somehow it all got decided really easily, and everyone agreed, with the stipulation from his parents that we do Christmas with them next year. I’m guessing we’re going to do an every-other year thing in general.

    Thanksgiving is a whole other thing… we’re staying here, and no family is coming out to visit, so we have to figure out what we want to do. I feel like a two person Thanksgiving would be really lonely, but maybe it would actually be fine? We’re going to see if any of our friends out here will be around and want to do something together, but I guess we’ll see what happens…

  • Breck

    Ahhhhh the holiday shit is raining down on us right now, and I like it not at all. We’re in Venezuela for my boyfriend’s job until March, and in case you hadn’t heard, there are literally no available flights out of the country for the rest of the year. Luckily, my boyfriend works for a big company with many expats in the same position, so they’ve offered to let employees from the US use the company charter to fly to Trinidad before the holidays, where there are actually plane tickets to be purchased. Unfortunately, flights are crazy expensive from Trinidad, so to get to LA (to see my family), then the Bay Area (to see his), then to Grenada (where we’ve decided to spend New Year’s), then back to Trinidad for our return charter flight, we are spending ALL THE MONEY.

    I have so many feelings about all of this: partially upset that we are spending so much money on trips to places… we’ve been before and will see again/spend the rest of our lives (i.e. home), frustrated that my boyfriend is bending to his family’s requirement that he/we be with them during the holidays, guilty about being with them and not my own (tiny) family (who I feel like kind of need me) on Christmas Day, etc.

    In my dream world, we kind of blow everyone off equally and take the $$$$ we’re spending to fly to California and go on an amazing trip through Chile or Uruguay or around the Caribbean. Ugh, family.

  • jashshea

    Apologies if this has been covered, but I would love some advice. My parents are in MA, I”m in NC and I have one sibling who lives in CA. We both got married in the the last year and everything is awesome, yadda^3.

    What’s the prob? My brother’s wife’s family is in CA and my in-laws are in NC. It’s obviously so much cheaper/less stressful/easier for us to “stay home” for holidays. But…I feel so guilty that neither of us is with my parents. And it makes me sad to know that having all of us together with my parents will be super duper rare, especially on a holiday. Any words of wisdom?

    • Can you invite your parents to come join you with your in-laws in NC? It’s not that difficult a trip from MA (I’m from MA and my dad is from NC)

    • Rachel

      We “stayed home” for the first time last year and my best advice is to just try it and know that the guilt will pass when you experience the relief of NOT traveling. I feel like it’s one of those things that won’t have a perfect solution, but I found that you can feel like…happy and sort of guilty at the same time, if that makes sense? Sometimes you have to do what’s right and feel kind of bad and glad at the same time?

      How is your brother feeling about this situation? If he isn’t feeling too guilty, maybe that’s a good sign that your parents will miss you but ultimately understand?

      • JASHSHEA

        My parents and I talk pretty openly about what we can/can’t do, which is great, but this is likely to be the 3rd straight year that my parents will be alone Christmas morning. Just makes me sad/guilty/sad again, you know? :)

        I think talking to my brother about it would be helpful so I can see if I’m just being sensitive or if there’s a real issue. I miss him like crazy as well and would love to spend fun quality time with him w/o the holiday chaos.

        I also like the suggestion of having them join us for Xmas this year and will definitely float that. My mother is a teacher and my father’s business is seasonal, so it’s comparatively easier for them to come South.

        Thanks, ladies!

    • Rachel B

      Is it feasible for you and your brother to do Christmas with your in-laws one year, and then the next you BOTH go to your parents’ house for Christmas the next year? Not the same situation, but one of my cousins has divorced parents and I’ve been alternating years for the holidays with my now-husband. My cousin and I got on the same schedule so we’re both NOT with our mutual family one year and then both there the next…if that makes sense. I mean, your parents would still be lonely on the in-between years (unless they travel to you or your brother), but every other year is better than 3 years in a row!


    I have a bit of a novel solution to the problem of finding holiday time for your new family while dealing with pressure from your families of origin to devote all your time to them.

    My fiancé is really invested in spending holidays with his family (but really, who wouldn’t be: his mom is a kitchen and decorating goddess). My family is messy and complicated, and doesn’t do holidays well, anyway, so there’s not a lot of pressure on us from that front. But we basically have to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family—and they’re a little disappointed that we go home for New Year’s! This is a combination of pressure from them, and my fiancé’s own wants.

    My family did have a couple of excellent holiday traditions growing up though, and I have repurposed one of them into “our” holiday time. My mom is Dutch, and so on December 5, us kids always put out wooden shoes in front of the fireplace to receive gifts from Sinterklaas the next morning.

    My fiancé and I do the same, and exchange little gifts (usually winter themed). And we also use that time to really break out the festivities: we decorate the house, watch holiday movies, and drink lots of hot cocoa. We create our own little holiday oasis at the beginning of the month for just “our” family.

    I realize not everyone has the cultural tradition to draw from to make this kind of extra holiday feel “real,” but it’s really fun (and nice to have an official “holiday decorating” day), and I totally do not mine you appropriating it. We Dutch deserve all the cultural appropriation we get as penance for the ridiculously vile Zwarte Piet.

    • Rachel

      I…omg…is that Santa’s blackfaced-assistant?

      After reading the entire Wikipedia entry, it seems like a less-racist starting point would just be having him portrayed by an actual black person….?

      (Love your “pre-holiday traditions” suggestions BTW.)

      • Laura C

        David Sedaris has a hilarious essay about this titled “Six to Eight Black Men.” Looks like the text and audio of him reading it is online here.

        • Rachel

          That was the first thing I thought of when I saw this, but somehow I missed the part in David Sedaris’s essay when the 6-8 black men were actually in blackface haha

      • AUDREY

        Isn’t it horrendous? My mom never really mentioned Zwarte Piet when we were kids, DEFINITELY never mentioned that he was a white guy in blackface, and now if she ever does mention him she is definitely in the, “Oh, his skin is black because of… coal, or something,” camp.

        I wouldn’t give up our “extra” holiday for the world, though. Despite Zwarte Piet I love all the surreal matter-of-factness: Sinterklaas? No, he’s not magic or anything, and he doesn’t get anywhere by magic, or live at the North Pole. He lives in Spain, obviously, as you can see him arrive by boat, with oranges. Plus there are some really fun traditions we’ll incorporate if it’s ever more than just the two of us—traditionally, in addition to the shoe stuff, Dutch and Belgian people exchange gifts that are sneakily wrapped to look like other things, along with cute poems about the gift recipients.

  • Erin

    Holidays are a mess for me. It’s my ninth year of holiday sharing (our fourth married one), and we still haven’t figured it out. We live four hours away from our hometown, but our mothers (and my dad, and almost all of my extended family) live about 30 minutes apart, and so they (especially my mother-in-law) want us to do everything. To divide and conquer it all, it means that my husband and I usually stay at our respective mothers’ houses and then meet up for gatherings. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than trying to stay at each mom’s house (especially since the guest room at my mother-in-law’s is a twin bed).

    Since we got married, we have had a combined Thanksgiving with our families, and then do something with my dad another day. This has helped a lot But this year, my mother-in-law wants to go to the beach (8 hours away), and have us come with her. She says that my family is invited, but it’s very hard some of them to travel, so it’s pretty much a non-starter. So basically, she is forcing us to choose one family over the other. I don’t want to go, but I don’t know how to get through it all without hurting people’s feelings and still getting to spend time with my husband.

    It is even a harder to figure out, because it will be the first holiday together since my grandmother died. And my mother-in-law had some very serious health issues this year that caused my husband to be away from home for weeks at a time. It’s not her fault that she got sick, but the whole situation was very stressful on our marriage and each of us, and I feel like she’s asking too much.

    • MDBethann

      I’d just tell her that going to the beach at Christmas may sound nice for some people, but the idea doesn’t appeal to the two of you (make sure you’ve cleared this with your hubby first) and that you hope she has a wonderful time and will celebrate with her after she gets back (Christmas is 12 days after all and lasts through early January). That way, it’s not that you don’t want to spend the holidays with HER its that you want something more traditional and not the beach. Sounds to me like she’s the one changing plans, not everyone else, so it doesn’t seem reasonable for everyone else to have to cater to her.

      And for the future, an earlier poster said they come from nearby families who want them to do “everything” so they limit themselves to 2 “events” per day. As long as you “equally” turn down attending things for both families, you can set some boundaries for yourselves that way. We live just over 2 hours from both of our families, and we try to let them know we’ll be home for things when we can, but that we can’t attend everything every year like we did when we lived closer (and before we got married). Our families have been pretty good about it, which is a relief, though it is still rough sometimes (and exhausting!)

      Also, on the whole where to sleep thing: we run into that a bit since our parents live within an hour of one another. My “room” at my parents’ home has 2 twins, while his parents have a double bed in their guest room. So honestly, as much as I like spending time at my parents, we probably end up sleeping more at my in-laws and then just spend a few more meals and/or afternoon outings with my parents to make up for it. At the holidays, we often take our cats with us for the week & my family is fairly allergic to cats, even more reason for us to stay with my in-laws.

  • Kess

    This is the first Christmas my fiance and I are spending together (in the past he’s always gone home to his family) and I’m having surprisingly mixed feelings about it. I’m glad he’ll be here and excited for spending a holiday together like a real family. But at the same time, the holidays have always been a special time for me and my mother, I move into the family home for a week or so and we spend a lot of time bonding, eating, hanging out. That’s not going to happen this year. My fiance is happy to spend Christmas eve there but does not see the logic of us staying there longer when we live in town. When we are there, it’s not going to be me one on one with them anymore. I’m excited to have him there for christmas morning and dinner and all that fun stuff, but I’ll miss that alone time and the intimate feeling of being in the heart of my family again, like I’m a kid. I guess it’s time to accept I’m not a kid anymore!

    I feel guilty for complaining about this when I know I should be grateful! Especially since we’re not going to see his family at all until New Years. And I mostly am. I’m surprised at this sadness that welled up over what I really thought was going to be a fully joyful thing.

  • Elaine

    I don’t mean to come off as smug, but does anyone else actually kind of relish in the chaos of holidays spent with family? For us, this is never even an issue. My husband and I have the majority of the other 362ish days a year together; for us, Christmas and Thanksgiving are days spent with family. Maybe it’s because we both grew up far away from our extended families and always just spent low-key holidays with our nuclear families, but even though they bring some stress, I always look forward to his aunt’s big Christmas Eve celebrations, waking up at his parents’ house on Christmas Day, etc., etc.

    • Jo

      I LOVE spending the crazy holidays with my family.

      My husband and I do still like to have our own traditions and celebrate on our own together, but we’ve done that in the past couple years by having our own separate “holiday” that we call “Harvest holiday” that we celebrate on Canadian Thanksgiving (Columbus day) where we do our own weird holiday traditions and make the food that we really love. It’s sweet, romantic, wonderful. Official holidays I love to spend with my crazy family, especially because I don’t get to see enough of them as is!

  • Chilly Canuck

    My hubs and I made this decision due to Canadian problems early on. We live 45 minutes from his family, and 6 hours from mine. We are making the trip this Thanksgiving no problem but we stay close to home at Christmas due to unpredictable and nasty weather.
    So far, we have split Christmas between his family and just us, and both have been great. I am really looking forward to “getting away” with more just us holidays once we have kids.

  • Put me down as not a fan of “the holidays” at all. Our first year as a couple was really hard because I was thrust into my husband’s family and holiday traditions. It’s getting easier now. I’ve made my boundaries very clear about not traveling the span of our state to visit people on a designated day when it could be done the week before or after. (I sound so grouchy, but I just think it’s silly to visit up to 5 houses on one day to please everyone.)

    Before my husband came along, I spent holidays with my Dad and my friends.

    But what I’ve learned is that if I give a little, they give a little back. So while it’s okay to visit MIL’s house for Thanksgiving proper, we can all wait until that following Saturday to visit FIL’s house. And since my dad is the sole uncoupled parent in the mix, he actually gets dibs on what he wants to do (seeing as he’s alone and all).

    Diplomacy is critical in navigating 3 divorced parents and friends who all want you to come visit. I’m very lucky to have a husband that handles that stuff well. Because I can be a bit of a pouty snothead when I don’t get my way.

    Now that we have the wedding behind us, and it was an incredibly great bonding experience for me with my 2 MILs, I’m looking much more forward to things this year. And I think they all finally get that I truly want them all to feel valued during the holidays and not cheapen it by running here and there spending just a couple hours at each house.

    Plus the baby gets a say. And that means he wants to play with his cousins. So there’s another trip across the state.

    We are really fortunate to have so many people we love who we want to spend time with and who want to spend time with us. I think managing expectations, being firm in boundaries and being flexible make my holidays happy. Or at least happier than when I’m a stubborn twat.

  • Jo

    We’re lucky to currently live almost right in the middle between our two families – it’s a 3 hour drive west to one, and a 4 hour drive east to the other. We’re finishing up our dissertations this year and could be anywhere in the world next year so this will be the last year we can spend both Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families. For the past 3 years we’ve alternated which family we spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with. It’s fair, and makes sense, but I always have a hard time being away from my family when my husband’s family is just so different.

    I come from a very large, loud Italian family and our holidays always span several days of get togethers (the holiday, then leftovers the next couple days) when we spend a minimum of 6 hours each time just eating, enjoying ourselves, and hanging out. With my husband’s family, holidays almost seem like an inconvenience – they get together for an obligatory hour or two, eat meals amazingly fast, then they’re out the door immediately and back on with their lives. I adore my mother-in-law and all of my husband’s family, but this way of celebrating the holidays is really depressing to me and just misses the whole point of holidays!

    I know it’s just a matter of sucking it up and dealing with it, plus for all we know this might be the last year this happens, but it’s still sad.

  • Anony for This


    We just booked our flights for Christmas last week and so it is on the brain for me too.

    We live near my family in the midwest, and his family is on the East Coast. For the past two years, we have done Thanksgiving with my family here and an early Christmas, and then we flew out to spend Christmas Eve through NYE with his family. I’ve been fine with this arrangement, although it’s a bit sad on the actual holiday to be away from my family. My mom has been totally supportive. It’s my sister who appears to be struggling the most…

    See, my dad died 7 years ago. That first Christmas, my mom couldn’t handle the holidays, so we went on vacation. Not the best, but we were all struggling to cope. It sucked. The year after, she was in the middle of a kitchen and living room reno, and so the house was all torn up. Christmas was without any decorations at all, and involved playing the Wii on a bare living room floor. The three of us had just sort of started to reclaim our own holiday traditions in the few years after that when my fiance and I started dating. We spent our first two Christmases dating with our own families. For the second two, we decided to spend them together with his family. It was hard to leave my mom and sister, but felt like the right thing to do, especially because we didn’t have the time to travel for Thanksgiving.

    This past year my sister had a meltdown when I returned for New Years. My mom and sister have spent the last two years going to other people’s families holiday parties rather than spending time with our extended family, which leaves my sister feeling absolutely awful. Where she thought it would mean that they’d have some quality time, my sister feels like my mom wants nothing to do with her and would rather just hang out with her friends. She begged me not to go this year.

    We’re going. I love my new family, and owe it to my fiance to make this trip happen. But I’m not sure what to do for my sister. Do I confront my mom and ask her to focus on my sister this year and give them permission to create their own new traditions without me? Do I see if they could both come with us to the East Coast (not sure how that would go either)?

    I just don’t know what to do.

    • Breck

      I’m in an oddly similar situation. My family, even when it was intact, was always super devoid of extended family (my mom’s dad died when she was a child, and she’s estranged from her brother and mom; my dad had two brothers, one died, the other divorced with no kids), so we always went to holidays at the home of my childhood friend whose big extended family had wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas get-togethers. Then, about 10 years ago, my dad got really sick, and my parents’ marriage (what there was left of it–they were never very happy together) completely disintegrated. People took sides, and my childhood friend’s family took my dad’s, while my younger brother and I were bound to my mom.

      From that point on, we’ve been doing what you describe: bouncing around to other people’s family holidays. We’ve gotten into a bit more of a routine/tradition (we go to the same family’s house each year), but it’s still not the same as having your own family around you on the holidays.

      This is the first year my boyfriend and I are spending the holidays together, and we’re doing a few days before Christmas + Christmas Eve with my family, then flying (on Christmas Eve!!) to spend Christmas and a few days after with his family. My family opens presents on Christmas Eve anyways, so it seems like a good split. My mom is on board with it, but I’m worried still worried about her and especially my 16-year old brother. I’m still sad to think of them waking up on Christmas day with just each other.

      I don’t know your family at all, but if I were you, I’d try to see if everyone could come to the East Coast and be together. That’s our plan for next year: we buy a house and have everyone from both families over. It doesn’t solve all the problems and might be kind of awkward at first (mixing people and traditions), but it seems to be the best choice for us.

  • Amanda

    My fiance and I are from the same hometown, but we currently live a 6 hour drive away from it. Due to his job (the reason we live down here now) he doesn’t get much time off around the holidays.

    This year he’s not working Thanksgiving, so we’re trying Thanksgiving alone for the first time. I like to cook so I’m excited about this.

    In the past for Christmas we’ve spent time alone with our respective families while also spending time together with them, for example Christmas brunch with my side, splitting up for the middle of the day and then I’ve joined him for the evening of Christmas Day.

    My problem is now the time between Christmas and New Years. In the past I’ve just stayed with my family at that time, but after we get married who knows, maybe that will be cut shorter so we can spend that time together.

  • My parents live in cross country, hers about a four hour drive away. We’ve been trading off Christmases and doing Thanksgivings with her parents (I haven’t had Thanksgiving with my parents since 1999). It’s her parents’ turn this year, which also makes sense since we adopted a dog and don’t want to pay to board her while we’re out. But for undisclosed reasons (including to family), I (probably) have to be really stingy with vacation time this year, which may mean Thanksgiving just us and little to no time away for Christmas. I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out and it’s making me a little anxious.

  • Grace

    So I am pre-engaged to my boyfriend of 4 and a half years, who I live with, and we have NEVER spent Christmas together!! We’re British. I have spent every Christmas with my parents and brother all my life and he only has his mum, and we live 200 miles away from each of our separate homes. I could never bear to leave my family to join him, and I would never ask him to leave his mum alone at Christmas, so every year around December 22nd we kiss goodbye for a week and then reunite at his house so I see his mum then we travel back to my parents’ for New Years Eve. It’s a crazy, exhausting plan which suits us both fine right now, but I can’t help but wonder what we’ll do when we eventually get married?! We live so far from family and friends that I look forward to Christmas as a time to catch up with everybody, and neither of us is prepared to give that up yet.

    We’re fine with this but friends of ours can’t believe we spend it apart every year. Are we weird?!

    • Liz

      I kind of love your separate Christmas plan! If I could get away with that, I’d definitely try. But I know my in-laws would feel slighted if I didn’t go with my husband to their house, so it’s double holidays for now. *sigh* I don’t think you’re weird at all–just savvy about what you want to do and good at knowing what works. Cheers to that!

    • ElisabethJoanne

      Whether you’re weird isn’t important. Doing what works for your families is.

      fwiw, There are times I wish my husband didn’t join me for all my family (of origin) events, and, in fact, he doesn’t join me for all of them. When he’s there, I have to worry about topics of conversation and the pacing of the day, and just plain whether he’s having a good time. And sometimes I have to whisper to him that my family views his behavior as rude (usually reading or sleeping in the presence of non-family guests; I tell him where he can lie down alone). One of my favorite Christmas activities – decorating cookies – would be torture to him.

    • TeaforTwo

      I don’t think it’s weird – if giving up time with your family seems painful, I would say put it off for as long as you can.

      Both of my older siblings waited until they were married to start splitting holidays, and I think it would have upset people if they hadn’t. My fiance and I only started splitting holidays last year. We weren’t even engaged at the time, but my father had just remarried and I knew that Christmas was going to feel strange with his new wife and her kids around, so I was ready for a bit of a change.

    • My cousin and his wife were the same way. For the years that they dated, I never met her! Because she was always doing holidays with her family and he was with us. Then they got engaged and I met her for the first time (she’s totally delightful!) and now they’re navigating and switching between the two families. But seriously, for years they just went to their own parents each holiday.

    • megep

      Nope. We did this for 6 years–last year was the first year we did holidays together. (And I kind of miss the separate holidays, because as much as I like his family, I love mine more.)

      If it works for you, keep it going as long as you want.

    • Another Kate

      Definitely not weird. We always go our separate ways for Thanksgiving, and some friends have thought it was weird, but I think it’s great. We both prefer to be with our own families, and if it works, there’s no reason to stop. I’d love to keep doing it, but this is our first married year and I think I’m going to buckle since we’re more of an official unit now. Not that we weren’t always, but you know how it goes.

    • MDBethann

      I don’t think you’re weird; you’ve found something that works for the 2 of you. But if you plan on expanding your baby family beyond the 2 of you, you probably won’t be able to continue the splitting up for the holidays thing, because then the kids will miss out on spending the holidays with a parent. Grown ups can usually deal with that sort of thing better than a small child can. So I say go with it, but start talking sooner rather than later about a Plan B for if/when your family grows. Maybe your parents invite your MIL to join them? Or both families go to your home? Just some thoughts. Good luck!

  • Since M and I started dating and were living in different states, we were already used to traveling to see each other, often on long holiday weekends. Once he moved out to be with me, we settled into an every-other-year pattern for Christmas and NYE. One year would be Christmas in WI and post-Christmas through NYE in MA, then we would switch and do Christmas in MA and head back to WI for NYE. I think that pattern will continue after we move out there.

    We haven’t really done the travel thing for Thanksgiving. I have been the one cooking and hosting for my family for the past few years, though it might do back to my mom’s place this year, since our new place is tiny. I imagine that we will celebrate Thanksgiving mostly with M’s family once we get to MA, and maybe host it ourselves once we have a reasonably-sized place.

  • Kater

    oh hallelujah! I am so going to come back and read every comment on this after our wedding weekend (WHICH IS 16 DAYS AWAY). For now, I will just vent.

    My fiance & I live in Vermont, my family is in Massachusetts, his parents are in Tennessee, his sister & her 2 kids live in Minnesota. I often have to work holidays. He traditionally spends Thanksgiving in VT with friends and his family celebrates Christmas in Minnesota at his sister’s; my family does all holidays in Mass. My family is big, his family is small.

    Last year he celebrated Thanksgiving Day with friends in VT (I had to work), and we celebrated an early Thanksgiving down in Mass with my family (this worked surprisingly well – no traffic, the grocery store wasn’t bananas, etc). We both spent Christmas in Mass (he had been scheduled to fly to MN but it was cancelled b/c of weather).

    My extended family is really large (which makes me even more hesitant to miss holidays b/c I rarely get to see them & they’re fun!), his family is really small (which makes his/our absence at holidays very conspicuous).

    Add to the holiday mix: it is STRONGLY SUGGESTED that we spend every July 4th down in Tennessee. Never mind that TN is a TERRIBLE place to be in July (at least for us) and it breaks our hearts to leave Vermont in July (seriously, it’s glorious!) This year, while we were down there, we broached the subject of maybe visiting Tennessee at a different, less miserable time of year – this suggestion was met with tears. It did not go over well.

    So – to sum up – I find the whole thing exhausting. I should probably just say f it and stop trying to please everyone while feeling guilty about it all.

  • I feel like being interfaith has been an advantage. Our holidays don’t tend to conflict!

    • Caroline

      As a kid, after my parents split, this was a good thing. Christmas was automatically with mom, Hanukkah with dad. Easter with mom, Passover with dad. Thanksgiving was briefly a fight, but we see dad’s family more often than mom’s, so my sister and I put our foot down and went to mom’s family’s every year.

      As an adult in an interfaith relationship, with interfaith parents (on my side), it is not easier, because I have such complicated feels about christmas.

      • That’s a good point. I was just talking earlier in the comments about how I do have a really hard time dealing with Christmas. Some years I’m fine just enjoying family enjoying the holiday and other years I feel angry and resentful about Christmas.

  • Emmy

    We’re tremendously lucky in that all three of our parent sets are super chill about the holidays and let us do what we want. Our big holidays are Thanksgiving and Christmas. We usually try to be at my parents’ at whichever one my brother has chosen to come home for because while we live 200 miles away, he lives 3,000. Then we do the other one with each of his parents, who live in separate places each only about 45 minutes from us.

    I’m most proud that I finally spent Christmas away from my parents last year. Despite being atheist/agnostic, Christmas is my very favorite holiday. I definitely cried after missing the first of 28 straight Christmas mornings, but we got through it. And we started some new traditions for just the two of us, which is the most fun part.

    We view it as an adventure and try different things with the understanding that we’re experimenting and this is not The Way Holidays Will Be Forever, which I think is the key to enjoying holidays.

  • Stacey

    “You may well be used to doing what your parents say during the holidays, so when your mom tells you to come home, you feel like you have to. Guess what? You don’t.”

    I needed to see this! My mom and brother are completely trying to micromanage our holidays! My mom is a nurse who has to work every other holiday. My brother put us on a “rotation” with his wife’s sister so that he and his wife can spend every other holiday with either me or his wife’s sister (we live in different states). Problem is, he decided we would all spend this Christmas at my parents’ house this year, and my mom is pissed because she has to work. She wants to mess with the rotation. Then my brother hatched a secret plot to take her on a cruise instead, a few days AFTER Christmas. He wants us to pitch in as a gift to her and my dad, and also fly to Florida to come along.

    Complicating matters, I got knocked up WAY sooner than intended, and we just bought a house. There is no way we have money or vacation to gallivant around the country to take cruises – I just blew all my vacation on our honeymoon! And I’m not sure pregnant ladies should even be on cruise ships? All I’ve heard recently is that either everyone on the boat gets a gnarly infection, or the ship runs aground somewhere and is stuck for days without power and diminishing food. Or it gets boarded by pirates, but probably not near Florida.

    Even planning for my birthday is a headache. My mom wants to come see our new house REALLY bad, but I don’t want to see her or tell her about the pregnancy until we have CVS results back. My CVS is Oct. 14th and my parents would potentially arrive for a birthday visit on Oct. 25th. Since my parents haven’t responded to my birthday invite, my husband thinks we should just un-invite them and suggest they come for Thanksgiving instead.

    But mostly I just want to say “NO NO NO NO NO. My new husband and I are staying home in our new house, thankyouverymuch.” For all of it.

    • Stephanie

      I’ve been on very many cruises where nobody got sick and we were not marooned. Honestly they’re so touchy about the virus thing that they Purel you nearly to death- before every meal, before every show, 5 times in every hallway, etc.

      It’s up to you about the risks you want to take, especially while trying to grow a baby, but really cruising is not nearly as dire or dangerous as it’s been made to sound in the media. Just… stay away from Carnival, maybe?

    • MDBethann

      Check with the cruise line. Pregnant women are not permitted on sea-going cruises after 20 weeks or so (I had a colleague find out she couldn’t go on a long-planned Alaskan cruise because she would be a week beyond the pregnancy cut off during the cruise). We’re currently TTC but also planning a river cruise for this December. I cleared things with Viking before booking and because they are on a river, they don’t have pregnancy restrictions.

      Airlines also have pregnancy restrictions – something in the 30+ week range (check with the airline to be certain).

      Cruise lines do have Purell everywhere and if you get sleep & stay well-rested, you should hopefully be fine. Maybe your doc can approve Airborne or some other immune system boosting thing for you if you decide to go.

      All that said, if you don’t want to go on a cruise, then don’t go. Propose the alternative idea of you guys hosting Christmas or Thanksgiving and have all the family together then. And you can spring the baby part on them. You can even reject the cruise by claiming new house expenses as well as post-honeymoon vacation depletion. Honestly, you aren’t being unreasonable at all. And when the rest of the family hears about the baby, they hopefully will think you’re very reasonable.

  • KATA

    Timely post! This will be Christmas #8 for us, and it will be the 8th Christmas we’ve spent apart as a couple. We’re from the same hometown (even though we live across the country now), so you think it’d be easy. But his family travels every year for Christmas. My brother lives in the same city as us, so it’s cheaper for just my dad to fly out here than us going home.

    He gets a lot of pressure to be there from his family. I struggle with not spending it with my dad because my mother died and he has no close family besides us kids. So it’s been very hard. Plane tickets were already bought for this year, but I finally had the talk with him at that we really need to start prioritizing our needs as a couple in this (it bugs me more and more every year!). he agreed.

    next year… next year…

  • This year will be our first married holiday season, and we are REALLY excited to start our own tradition. We had been trading Thanksgiving and Christmas back and forth between his family in New Hampshire and mine in Ohio, but we’ve told both families that from now on, we are staying in New York for Thanksgiving. It’s a terrible time to travel. It’s really expensive. The risk of bad weather hitting is fairly high, and neither of us can afford to not be back in the city for work.

    Our new tradition: we stay in the city and volunteer during the day, and then we have a thanksgiving dinner in the evening, with all our New York friends who can’t go home for whatever reason. Each family will get Christmas every other year. If we move or have kids, it’s a plan that would have to be totally reworked, but we are REALLY pumped to start it this year!

  • Jessica B

    Bllerrrgg, holidays were easy last year (Thanksgiving brunch with his family, dinner with mine; Christmas Eve with my family, Day with his–they live 5 minutes apart from each other). This year though, he will be at training out-of-state for Thanksgiving, and deployed for Christmas. I will hopefully be going to see him for 4-5 days over Thanksgiving, but Christmas is going to be super hard. I know I’m going to make appearances at his family’s house for the holiday, but I don’t really want to spend 8 hours with them if he’s not there (lovely people, however, we have almost nothing in common). I also don’t really want to spend it being pitied by my family, but my grandparents are on the decline health-wise, so I can’t just go out of town. On top of that, because of my divorced grandparents, we usually end up having 3-4 Christmases anyway, which I definitely don’t want to do.

    The whole thing makes me sad and anxious and BLLERRRGGGGed.

    • Kater

      YES: “The whole thing makes me sad and anxious and BLLERRRGGGGed.”

  • Kathleen

    Our first married Christmas, we tried to split it, spending Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with his, even though our families live 5 hours apart and it meant getting up at the crack of dawn to drive to DC, not getting much of a Christmas morning anywhere, and being too exhausted to enjoy the rest of the day. We decided we could never do it again, and last year, after we found out my grandmother had terminal cancer, I pulled rank and said we were spending Christmas with my family. My grandma passed away this summer, and now I feel like I want to spend this Christmas with my family, too – like it’s just too much to ask my mom to spend Christmas without her mother OR her daughter. But I don’t think that’s going to look reasonable from my husband’s or my in-laws’ perspective – I mean, how long do you get to use dead/dying Grandmother as an excuse?

    I strongly suspect that the first year without my grandmother will be the year the changes everything in terms of our family celebration, and I just can’t imagine not being a part of it as my family navigates that. At the same time, I feel like I should just be grateful that I got to spend last Christmas with my grandmother before she got too sick to enjoy it, and that now’s the time to suck it up and spend the time with my husband’s family, no matter what’s going on at home.

  • Hope

    Having lived in America for the last 9 years I’ve only spent Christmas back with my family in England once in the last 7. As a teacher it makes more sense to visit during the summer when I can spend a longer time with them. My husband and I have brought together Christmas traditions from both families and started our own which include a brunch for other orphans in town.
    This summer when we were in England my husband started talking about going back for Christmas as we have some plans that might make it impossible to be there next summer. I got all excited and started looking at pictures from my last Christmas at home and thinking about all our traditions. Then I remembered that my husband has to work Christmas Eve.
    It barely seems worth going back to England for “Christmas” if we wouldn’t get there until Boxing Day at the earliest. Then you’ve missed the fun and it’s just cold and grey :( I’m contemplating flying to England alone and having hubby join me after Christmas but I don’t love the idea of spending Christmas apart from him. The sad thing is his work situation is unlikely to change so maybe I should go this year.

  • Kari

    This beautiful piece by Michael Chabon is worth reading if you’re torn about where to spend Thanksgiving: http://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/holidays/article/michael-chabon-reminds-us-that-thanksgiving-is-where-the-meal-is

  • Mimi

    My husband and I lucked out in that all of our family holiday events seem to fit together. We live about 10 minutes from my parents and 45 from his, so everyone is close. We spend thanksgiving day at my parents’ house. Usually, his family celebrates thanksgiving on Friday up at their cottage in northern michigan, so we go up Thursday evening or early Friday. For Christmas, we do Christmas Eve dinner at his mom’s and see his side then (his parents are divorced but friendly, so his dad is there too). Christmas Eve is my brother’s birthday, so we usually have lunch or something earlier in the day to celebrate that. Christmas morning, we have a little time to ourselves at home and then my whole family heads over to my parents’ house for most of the day. I have 4 siblings and this has worked great for all of us the past couple of years, fortunately!

  • Sara

    My parents are divorced. I grew up with 2 Christmases: Christmas Eve Night and Christmas morning with dad, a quick shower and change and then you go to mom’s for Christmas Day. We’re all used to being busy, rushing, and compromising on time.

    My boyfriend’s parents are together, and for them Christmas is a PRODUCTION. All of Christmas Eve and all of Christmas Day are used in a series of elaborate traditions that all seem to have equal importance to everyone. If we don’t show up for any single tradition, they make a huge fuss. In past years, when we were younger, I invited boyfriend to join my family on Christmas night or at other parts of the day, but his parents refused and acted like I was trying to destroy their family.

    So for the past couple of years, boyfriend and I have spent the 2 days with his family, while my parents found other things to do. Then we had the holidays on alternate days with my dad and my mom.

    I feel SHITTY about this. It’s a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease. Just because his parents will freak out, we cater to their wishes. Just because my parents are used to having messy holidays, we let them be alone on Christmas.

    I feel like I should fight to share time among the 3 families, but it will be such an uphill battle. Do any of you ladies find yourself bowing down before the person who will raise a fuss, essentially rewarding bad behavior?

  • js

    I just want to say, I have won a tremendous personal vicotory with Thanksgiving this year! Everyone is coming from
    Wisconsin to Michigan to our house this year, instead of us always going there and all the guilt. A new tradition begins and I can’t wait!

  • Gina

    This is our first year being married and our third doing combo-holidays. We have come to the happy compromise that Thanksgiving will be here in Colorado, doing a “Friendsgiving” annual backcountry hut trip (if you haven’t done one of these, you need to strap on snowshoes/skis and do so immediately), and Christmas will be back in California split between both our families. It gives us the warm comfort that we can start our own traditions and be “grown ups” but also enjoy traditions with our immediate and extended families like we have for years. Thank goodness I love Christmas morning at my parents’ house and he loves Christmas dinner at his grandparents’ house and they’re only 30 minutes apart from each other!

  • Faith

    We are going into our third (WHAT?!?!) holiday season as a married couple and I think we have figured out a pretty good system for us first, and also our faimilies.

    We live near both of our immediate families who are both tightly knit and do holidays pretty big. So, we feel like we need and desire to share the holidays with all the family we can. Thanksgiving is evenly split between his and my parents’ houses. They have arranged it so that one meal is lunch and one is dinner.

    The Christmas season can get a little tricky with everyone’s, including our own, expectations elevated and wanting to DO ALL THE CHRISTMAS THINGS! We basically try to give equal time to both families on Christmas Eve and Day including sleeping at his parents’ on Christmas Eve to have the traditional Christmas morning with them. However, we have been very clear that we consider the following day, the 26th, our Christmas Day. We open our presents around the tree and shop sales, play with our new things, and just enjoy each other. Maybe this year we will go away since we’re both off for a week and a half!

    It’s totally a balance. Just like your wedding can’t be just about the two of you, neither can holidays, or your life for that matter.

  • Mezza

    Despite having been a couple for 10 years, we’ve actually never spent Christmas together. Both of our families live in the same city, halfway across the country from us, and for whatever reason we got in the habit of each staying with our respective parents and just hanging out with each other sometimes while we’re there. I had grand plans of making this year the one where we finally start behaving like a couple, particularly since we’re getting married in October, BUT. Now my job is probably going to send me to the OTHER side of the country for the whole Christmas/New Years period. She’s planning to come with me, but it means that neither of us will be with our families at all.

    There’s really no getting around this, because…work, but I’m afraid it’s going to be really rough on my mother. This is only the second holiday season without both of her parents, and she was upset last year by how different all the family gatherings felt (doesn’t help that her brother, my uncle, is difficult to organize).

    On the other hand, though, I’m kind of glad it’s all going to be messed up this year because it means I can put off the question of how to treat my dad’s family who are refusing to attend the wedding, whom I usually see at Christmas. And maybe Christmas in Vegas, though totally not what I’m used to, will be fun?

    • Rebecca

      Way late to the game, but just wanted to reassure you that Vegas around Christmas time is pretty cool. I’ve been there in mid-December twice, and all the casinos get all dolled up in their Christmas best, which since it’s Vegas is pretty darn fancy. The Bellagio has had the best decorations when I’ve been. You could do guerrilla christmas and exchange gifts under one of the way done up trees?

      Plus, it’s likely to be both warm (or at least warm-ish) and sunny, which is usually an improvement from most other places around the country.

      Sometimes you can score Vegas flights for super cheap- would you want/ would your mom want to join you guys? Really different can be easier than sort-of different, on occasion.

  • Sarah

    Christmas has been a bit stressful and overwhelming the last few years, but I don’t know how best to fix it or if it can be fixed. Our parents live in neighboring towns, so everyone wants to see us for as much as humanly possible at all holidays (which I get). Christmas Eve we spend with my future husband’s family from early afternoon deep into the evening. On Christmas Day, we wake up at our house early, opened our gifts quickly, drive 30 minutes back to have Christmas morning with my parents, then he wants to see his family again and exchange gifts. Then we drive 40 minutes to see the rest of my family and spend the rest of the day with them there.

    I realize all the short distances don’t seem like a lot and that I’m whining, but I feel like on Christmas day going to three different houses and rushing from my parents to his parents and then to my aunt’s house feels like I don’t get to enjoy any of it for the first half of the day or see my family as much as I’d like. I’ve tried to bring up not seeing his family on Christmas Day and just exchanging gifts with his family on Christmas Eve since they’ll all be there, but I’m getting a lot of resistance from all members of his family.

    I’m worried that when we start having kids it’ll be a whirlwind of activity and not enjoying a quiet moment on the holiday. Is this something where I should just suck it up, knowing it’s one day, or try to see if we can separate out the families over the two days?

    • You’re not whining – all that driving back and fourth in one day can be exhausting. What I’ve tried to remember is that the “Christmas Season” is not just ONE day. I don’t see people immediately taking down decorations on Dec. 26th. It can be hard to translate this to parents – heck, one of my aunts traditionally has a low-key get-together at her house on the 26th every year.

      • MDBethann

        Sadly, I have seen people put trees out along the curb on Dec. 26th or 27th along with the wrapping paper.

        If more people would remember that there are 12 Days to Christmas and be willing to be more flexible, I feel like our family time-splitting problems would ease up a lot and we’d look on the holiday season with less trepidation and dread, especially in this day and age of not-living-in-the-town-your-family-has-lived-in-for-generations.

    • Your experience sounds eerily similar to mine- and given our shared name, for a nanosecond I asked myself “Wait, did I post already?”

      My partner and I live two days’ drive from our families, but our immediate families all live within 30 minutes of each other. I always feel like I’m wearing ruts in the expressway between our two towns. Last year was my most successful to date in avoiding tons of time on the road and tons of guilt, mostly due to some convenient snow and ice (I’m just so worried about driving! I’ll have to stay where I am! Gee darn!)

      We stay with his parents, as they have the space, their house is wonderfully comfortable, and I get to avoid the whole “choosing sides” bit with my divorced parents. Last year, we drove to see my family, came back for Christmas Eve dinner with his family, and happily the snow thwarted a late drive back to my dad’s for further quality time. The next morning, I got up early and drove back to my dad’s for church with him and my brother, then the three of us drove back to my partner’s family for brunch. Dad left after the meal to go see his extended family. My brother stayed until after gift exchanging, then he, my partner, and I drove back to my mom’s for Christmas dinner and gifts. Then partner and I returned to his parents’ house and said a final goodbye to his sister, who had to get back home.

      And that’s just two days out of the four or five we spent there. You’re right, all the travel and rush sucks all the magic out of the day. Not last year, but in recent years past, in attempting to split the holidays, I’d walk in to my mom’s kitchen to find her crying (or trying not to) while she cooked. Oh, the heart-squeeze. Plus, my dad had a pretty solitary life, so I feel bad basically whenever I don’t spend time with him, but visiting my mostly empty childhood home is sad for me- hence, trying to include him in brunch! Except he still wanted to exchange gifts (hurriedly) at his place before we left. Add in the extended family, our friends (chosen family!), and not actually being able to host things, it’s tough.

  • yet another Meg

    I am rather concerned about Christmas. My mother loves the holidays and doesn’t deal well with change. Last year I was accused of ruining Christmas when I left for two hours to open gifts with my not yet inlaws. She’s already made comments about my husband and I staying at their house over the holidays, which is absurd since we live 10 minutes away. Anyone have any suggestions on how not to be the ruiner of Christmas this year?

    • I would probably just redirect any hints or suggestions of Christmas ruining by using a “reason for the season” argument.

      Example response: You know, Mom, it is hard, but the Christmas season always reminds me to be grateful for the precious time and loved ones I have, and I’m just so joyful that my family is expanding to include my in-laws.

      I mean, it’s easy to be mad at someone if they’re defensive and snippy. Very hard to maintain anger/disappointment with someone just glowing with love and gratitude, in a Scrooge post-ghost-visit kind of way.

    • Rose

      I had a pretty similar experience last year, which also included being told that I ruined Christmas. That being said, i was also informed that they would’ve felt differently if i was actually married… So maybe your mother will be more understanding this year. We’re pre-engaged pending graduation and other activities related to growing up, but 7 years together doesn’t mean anything unless they see a ring. This year is looking like it will be exactly the same, and this post did a great job of reminding me what i have to look forward to. Due to various excuses provided last year, my options include getting married in the next 3 months, buying a house, moving very far away, or contracting a mysterious illness that will allow me to spend the season in a coma ( must be easily curable, but only after December 26). How do i spend time with all of the people i love without hurting anyone?

      • MDBethann

        Meg and the other APW staff often say words to this effect on APW in other posts, so I’ll paraphrase & reiterate them here: YOU can’t control how other people feel. YOU need to make the decision that is best for you and your partner. That is all the rationale you need to justify your decision. You are a unit and you get to address YOUR unit needs first before those of other family members, even if those people are parents. At some point they put their spouses ahead of their own parents, and now is your time to do so as well. How your parents or your partner’s parents feel about it is not on you; it is on them.

        Warning them in advance to soften the blow is probably a good idea, but you’re not ruining Christmas. It still happened, it didn’t disappear, the house didn’t burn down, the tree didn’t catch fire, you didn’t steal anything or kill anyone, so no, you didn’t ruin Christmas. Your mom chose to let your absence damage her Christmas celebrations, but that was HER CHOICE.

  • Lacey

    We are also in divorced-parents land. 5 sets of parents. 3 in one city, which is convenient, and 2 other sets in different but relatively nearby states. The pressure to see everyone each year is exhausting, and we finally got the routine down after 6 Christmases together: Christmas Eve lunch with my stepdad, Christmas morning with my mom, Christmas lunch/ afternoon with his mom, Christmas dinner with his dad. We go see my real dad on a neighboring weekend.

    This year, though, our first (and last) as an engaged couple and our seventh Christmas together, thins will be different. He’s started a health care job and will definitely have to work Christmas day. As we don’t live in the same city as any of our parents, and I don’t want to spend Christmas away from him, we will not be home for Christmas day. We will probably try to either invite one or two sets of parents up here, or we will go down there on a close weekend. I anticipate that no one will be happy about this, but as it’s out of our control, I think everyone will be cool.

    Honestly, as sad as I am to spend my second Christmas day ever NOT in my mother’s house, and my first without her there at all (possibly), I am also very relieved. I feel like we may have a restful holiday instead of a frantic one.

  • Liz

    This thread gave me a kick in the butt to figure out our holiday plans. We live in MA along with my in-laws, and my parents live in Austin. This is our first year married, and we’re taking it to ourselves. We just decided to go and spend two nights over Christmas at a very modern inn in the Berkshires. I’m thrilled!

  • Mary

    I have horrible guilt about Christmas. We have a wonderful Thanksgiving tradition at my mom’s house every year (my husband hasn’t celebrated Thanksgiving with his family since many years before we met, so that part is easy). But then comes Christmas… we’ve spent it far (a plane flight) away with my husband’s family for the past few years. His family is great, and I enjoy spending Christmas with them. It seems totally fair, since we spend Thanksgiving with my mom, and my mom’s side of the family has a tradition of getting together after Christmas to celebrate. But… my mom is single, and as previously mentioned her family celebrates after Christmas, so she doesn’t have a family event to go to on the day itself. She’s bopped around between random friends and acquaintances for the past few years. She has some clinical depression and I know she’s always really blue on Christmas — before I met my husband, my mom and I always had special dinner and a movie, just the two of us, and she was often down even then, but now I know it’s worse. She can’t fly to join us with my husband’s family because of her work schedule. I call her, of course, and we both fight tears the whole time. She hasn’t *tried* to make me feel guilty about it, but I love her and know it’s hard for her, so I do. Anyone have ideas?

  • It’s funny reading through this whole thread that, single parents excepted, many of us can be so excited to claim a holiday just as a couple, but feel horrible wrenches of guilt for leaving parents to spend a holiday just as a couple. I’m not on this boat, but the thought popped out at me while catching up on comments.

    After two lonely Thanksgivings by ourselves in our new town (it is insanely too expensive to fly, and we don’t have nearly enough time off to drive back to our parents), I think this year we will finally be with family again. Personally, I’m a fan of rowdy holidays, have traditionally spent Thanksgiving with about 30 family members in a very loud house. Spending the fourth Thurs of November just the two of us never really cut it for me (all nice restaurants are usually closed, with some exceptions if there’s a football game the next day and away team fans are in town). We’re going to invite ourselves to an aunt and uncle’s gathering that’s at least within a long day’s drive.

    Christmas is another story. I have very little time off available to me at my new job, so for the first Christmas since moving, we are flying back and will only be able to stay a couple days, max. I’m hoping to use these time constraints to reduce the shuffling back and forth between households and get it down to one solid visit, and maybe one goodbye hugs visit for everyone. The clincher is my extended paternal family. I’ve never been super close to them, having visited them a handful of times a year while growing up (we lived two hours away, and I never remember them visiting us ever until I graduated HS), with Thanksgiving being the primetime holiday event, and the time I most enjoyed being with that clan. Last year, the threat of snow kept me from traveling to visit my extended family on the 26th. Turns out, roads were mostly clear, but I actually felt the holidays, sitting by my FIL’s fire, reading my new book, sipping coffee.

    Now my conflict is feeling the obligation to go see them (1 1/2 hours from where we’re staying, but near an airport we can fly into), especially since my last visit was a whirlwind to a funeral, and my deep-down secret desire to kind of let those relationships cool a bit. I love them and wish nothing but good things for them, but visiting them doesn’t (always) fill me up (though sometimes it does). If I could visit at a large family gathering every time, that’d be great, but usually over Christmas I just hop from house to house to say hello and goodbye to each family, which feels weird. As if I have a timer “Okay, I think that was enough catching up, so we’ll be moving on now to the next household.”

    I think our strategy this year is going to have to be setting our own priorities first, then setting a flight plan, then some clear communication on when we’re available and what we’d like to do with everyone.

  • H

    I think we’ve made the big decisions for holidays for this year, since seeing both of our families involves plane tickets, but I’m cautiously optimistic about how things will work out and hoping there won’t be any fall-out, so venting is nice. Growing up, I was very lucky in that both my mom and dad’s families got along and many lived in the area and so Thanksgiving would alternate b/w our house (w/ mom and dad’s fam) and my mom’s cousin (w/ mom’s + even more extended family on her side) and Christmas Eve at our house (w/ both mom and dad’s, even though mom’s side is Jewish), and Christmas Day as immediate family, often celebrated the traditional Jewish way with Chinese food and going to the movies (still probably my favorite way to celebrate). As people died or got married, those traditions changed, so as an adult, Thanksgiving has been much more important for me to celebrate with extended family, and since moving for grad school, Christmas has involved my parents coming down to visit my brother and I near or on the day (and after my mom’s passing, my dad with his new lady).

    So, since Thanksgiving was way more important, it’s been easy for me and my now-fiance to go up to see my family then and for a couple years we’ve gone to see his family for Xmas (which has been a harder to get, more $, more stressful trip). His relationship with his family (and consequently mine) is not the greatest, and going up for a really long trip at the holiday stressful holiday times and getting snowed in has made it harder. And it makes me super uncomfortable how much of an emphasis is placed on gifts (many small gifts with a few large ones, which we then have to figure out how to pack into carry on bags already containing a weeks worth of winter clothing or jettison without them finding out) and I like giving and receiving gifts, but not to this degree and its hard to do when you have a very surface relationship. Soooo, this year, we’ll be figuring out things all over again, since my dad just got remarried- last year they spent Thanksgiving apart, this year who knows what’ll happen, and it’s the first year my brother is not also coming home for the holiday. I’m pretty determined that fiance and I will go to the family one we’ve been going to and find other ways to celebrate with my dad and the new joint family on or around the day, but since we haven’t discussed it yet and my Dad is the pretty stoic type and his new wife can be sensitive about things, I’m hoping no ones feelings will be hurt, but a little worried they will. For Christmas, we are staying put (so excited!) since we got the obligation out the way by visiting in the summer. His dad will probably make him feel super guilty and/or call and crazy yell at him at some point (they’ve been invited to visit us here, but I think it’s unlikely and I’m kind of hoping it won’t happen), since he’s super into Christmas and fiance has never not been home for it. But, I’m really hoping for and looking forward to a stress free time with just the two of us- potentially getting out of town just the two of us so that we’re not sucked in to spending christmas with my brother’s in laws (nice people and it’s fine, but I just want to spend time with my guy, drink mimosas, and watch boatloads of Dr. Who, not make small talk with people who are lovely, but I barely know).

  • Erica

    My boyfriend (/preyoncé) is coming over to spend his winter break with me in Japan. It’ll be both of our first times away from our families on Christmas, and I’m actually pretty excited! We’re spending a few days before Christmas in Hakodate, Hokkaido, a really cool city that has a Christmas Fantasy (I’m totally into that sort of thing and Boyfriend tolerates it for me – plus there’s a great beer hall for him, which is a rare find in Japan). Christmas day will be mostly just chilling. Or we could incorporate a Japanese Christmas tradition, which would mean either going on date (similar to Valentine’s Day), or eating cake. Yay, cake!

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