Traditions and the Baby Family

So, I’m trying to find the right words to intro this post, and I feel compelled to tell you that when I had it in draft form, the only note I had on it was, “LISA!” Which sort of sums things up. Lisa was a wedding grad last winter, and she remains one of the only snowy or LDS weddings we have on the site (so other winter and/or LDS brides, get on it!) Lisa’s blogs at Random Giggles, and is always saying really smart feisty things in the comments with her sunflower gravitar. She’s been around APW for a long time, and I adore her. I think I mostly adore the fact that we have really different perspectives, and still grapple with similar things in really similar ways. So, when Lisa offered to write something about negotiating the holidays as newlyweds, I was all over it. I think you’ll find her wise. And today, the last day before the holiday season is upon us, I could not think of a better thing to talk about than creating and owning new baby family traditions (even when that means standing up to your family of origin a bit).

Traditions, whatever they are, be they how we fix a meal to how we decorate our lives to how we celebrate special events, are what tie us to our homes, our families, our pasts. They connect generations across time and space. They help define who we are and where we came from. However, over time, over years or generations, they will do one of two things: they will change or they will die.

In the wedding planning world we talk about taking traditions and making them your own. The dress, flowers, ceremony, decorations, activities (such as bouquet/garter toss or games of softball and frisbee) are all things that in some way have a tie to a tradition, but are modified and made personal and meaningful by each couple getting married (or not used if they have no meaning to the couple). And this is not a bad thing at all. Recognizing the meaning of the traditions helps keep us sane and helps us recognize that it’s two people getting married, not two stereotypes.

This same principle applies to the baby family as well.

Each of us has our own traditions that we grew up with. We all have them. Holidays are generally full of them. They are the things you do year after year that come to define the event, yet I have seen how these constants in our life aren’t always as constant as we believe them to be. They change or die.

We have holiday traditions in my family that in some form date back to when my grandparents were children while some started with my parents and so only go back one generation from me. Some have been modified more than others. Some haven’t changed that much. We now make Grandma’s traditional frozen salad with miniature marshmallows rather than cutting up big ones with scissors. We no longer include bananas in it since my mom is allergic to them. As my family has lived in different places over the years, going to see the lights at Christmas time has definitely changed as we’ve had to fit the community we lived in. My Grandpa always got a wind-up toy on his plate at Christmas dinner when he was a child. His were intricate and made of metal. Ours are simple and generally made of plastic.

And now we’re creating a baby family. This is an opportunity to evaluate our traditions and find the ones that really mean something to us and really tie us to others. What’s more, there are two whole sets of traditions to merge together.

It’s been a tradition in my family since 1982 to open a music box on Christmas Eve. When I moved out I started my own collection and threw a holiday party for my friends (which became a tradition for some of them) each year and would ask a special friend from the year to open it for me. Now that I’m married it’s moved back to Christmas Eve and we opened our first music box as a family last year.

We also made our own stockings last year. My husband is studying ancient Hebrew and Greek so he can read the Bible in its original languages. So when he got to pick what he put on his stocking he chose the aleph and tav. It really fits him perfectly. I decided to do silver snowflakes instead. My goal this year is to get our names on them.

Getting married at the beginning of November allowed us to jump right into the holiday season and its traditions as we started our family. Here are a few things we did that helped us.

1. Actually talk about traditions. Ask about them. What did your spouse’s family do for the holidays? How did they celebrate birthdays? Are there any foods they associate with anything? Decorations? Activities? It is a really fun way to get to know your spouse and their family even better.

2. Find the meaning in the traditions. What traditions do you particularly enjoy? What traditions mean something to you? Why do you enjoy them? What do they mean?

3. Find ways to merge the two sets of traditions. You might not keep all of both sets, but if you know what ones have meaning to you, you’ll end up finding ways to keep those, even if they do have to change some to fit your new situation. More traditions just means more ties to people and places. The traditions might even complement each other rather than conflict with each other so it won’t end up an either/or situation.

4. One of the things we did that helped the most, we spent our first holiday season alone with just our new family. That forced us to create our own ways to celebrate. Living in different states made that easy for us. If you live close to family, maybe set aside part of the day just for your new family while still spending time with your larger family. We did use web cams to spend time with our families, so we could watch his family play pinochle and my nephew open his presents.

5. Start your own traditions. What has meaning in your relationship that you want to celebrate? How are you going to enhance your life together? These can be big or small. It can be the way you say good-bye to each other in the morning or celebrating the day you met or declaring Monday to be taco day.

Slowly we are moving away from my traditions and his traditions and towards our traditions. We’re tying ourselves to both of our families, while still creating our own.

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  • Rose

    Holidays are definitely tough ones. Both my husband and I come from close-knit families where Christmas is a really big deal. We agreed when we got married that we would alternate Christmas between the two families. Since we all live within about 15 mins of each other it wasn’t really a big deal because we could see both families on one day. Last year however, my parents spent Christmas out of town and since it was my turn, my husband had to spend his first Christmas away from his family – talk about pressure to make it a good one. It turned out pretty well I think. This year, I’ll be spending Christmas with my in-laws while my parents and sister are out of town. It’s tough, but it’s a fair compromise.

    I think it was good that we discussed privately how we were going to handle Christmas and then jointly told our families how it was going to be. As much as we love them, this is a decision just between the two of us.

    • Is alternating holidays superior to trying to see everyone in one day? I can’t decide whether it will tone down or amp up holiday stress to try to see both families. (Would involve some driving..)

      My dude and I both seem to be of the “My family makes me miserable, but it’s not the holidays without them” camp.

      • Rose

        I don’t think it’s really a case of one being superior to the other, just different. We’re also open to the possibility that things will change with time and circumstance – for example, my husband’s father passed away 6 months ago, so this year it’s a bit of a non-negotiable that we spend Christmas with his family, luckily it’s his year anyway.

        Alternating is just the best thing for us right now.

      • Two years ago my partner and I decided to alternate. But neither of us are actually willing to be the first one to give up their family first. So we’ve ended up doing crazy amounts of driving and schedule negotiations instead. It is stressful, but it seems like telling our families they won’t see us one particular year is more stressful.

      • Lauren

        Our first Christmas as a couple, we spent about eight hours with various family members- and eight hours driving. If our families had lived closer together, the driving wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but eight hours in the car was just too much! My advice would be to map out your day, see how bad the driving would be, and decide if you think it’s worth it. For us, it wasn’t. Also to consider- do your families do things at the same time? For both of our families, Thanksgiving dinner happens around 2 PM- and with large extended families, there’s no way that time is changing just for us. So we CAN’T do Thanksgiving with both sets. For us, alternating is better, but if the amount of driving isn’t too substantial, and the schedules work out, I think that seeing both families can work too.

        • DQ

          My partner and I spend christmas apart, because our families live in different states and it is honestly easier to deal with the family insanity by each spending the day with our own family (even of that means out baby family is apart – we celebrate together, just us, in the week leading up).

          However, we have decided that when we have kids, eff them, they can come to us!

  • This is such a fantastic post! I especially like your advice to “Find the meaning in the traditions”
    Merging family traditions has to happen for every couple but I think my husband and I have been super aware of it because we come from different countries and our traditions – although both having Christian and norther-European roots – are very different. Not least the day we celebrate!

    Last year, our first married, we went to my family for Christmas day but I was so aware that I did not want it to feel like he just had to slot in to our traditions as if there’d been no change at all. But he felt very strongly he didn’t want my mum attempting Danish traditions just to keep him happy. In the end we moved the venue up to my Grandfather’s Scottish country house but kept a lot of our traditions, and my husband enjoyed experiencing all of it as a way of getting to know me and my family even better.

    This year we’ll be in Denmark the whole season and I get the chance to see all that they do together. I’ve told my mother-in-law that I want the whole shebang! I want to learnt the recipes, decorate the house together, sing the songs, hear the stories…

    I figure in a few years time we’ll be having a Christmas without either family and then it will be good for us to know really well the other’s traditions so we can decide together what is meaningful to us and what we want to make part of our tradition.

  • Yes, yes, YES! Now, please explain this all to my Fiance and inform him that my traditions (even if they are secular or Christian in nature) are just as important as his traditions (which are Jewish and steeped in history)…no matter what kind of household we have committed to having (which might happen to be more Jewish in nature).

    This is the hardest time of the year for me….

    Thank you for your insight and your tips for navigating traditions!

    • Harriet

      Meg had some really helpful thoughts on this issue, from Jewish/Christian interfaith perspective, in comments on a post a while back. I’m sorry I can’t remember where it was! She talked specifically about the difficulties of being Jewish and adopting traditions from other religions. I’m Jewish and it really captured how I feel, and maybe you would find it useful if anyone remembers where it is in the archives. I’m Jewish and my fiance is an atheist (from a somewhat observant Catholic and totally secular Jewish background), so I’m lucky that I’m the only one who cares about this stuff–he doesn’t even care about secular Christmas traditions, whereas I’m perfectly happy to help his mom decorate the tree.

    • meg

      I wouldn’t tell your fiance that because when you’re Jewish (secular or otherwise) it is much, much, much more complicated and fraught than that. I would really recommend doing an interfaith course together and/or finding a Rabbi to work with. These issues go deep and you want to get them to the surface as quickly as you can.

      Christmas always was my favorite holiday, but I pretty much gave it all up. It’s a really long discussion as to why, but no Christmas enters our doors, though we do Christmas with my family (for now). It’s tough, and I really feel you on that.

  • Sylvia

    Such a lovely post, thank you.
    This will be my first Christmas since our wedding and I’m really looking forward to it. G and I spent Christmas together with his family last year and he’s coming with me to mine this year. It is so much fun being part of someone else’s traditions (even if as mentioned above, they’re not necessarily long-standing) and it will be lovely this year to see my family traditions through G’s eyes and see how odd they really are! (hopefully my Dad won’t sprinkle raisins round the garden to look like the Reindeer have been this year!)
    For all of my childhood my Dad worked shifts which almost always meant that he would be missing for part of the day, because of this, my family have a really flexible approach to the ‘Christmas Schedule’ such as meal times and present opening traditions – Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve? Ok! Opening presents at 5.30am before Dad goes to work? Ok! Now he’s retired it’s a great time for my parents to establish a few new traditions – any suggestions welcome…

    I’m really looking forward to hearing about everyone else’s holiday traditions – A Practical Christmas sounds like a lot of fun!

    Ps, weirdest tradition I’ve heard of? – I know a family who always dress formally for Christmas lunch (black tie!) then pose for a family portrait together.

    • That actually sounds like a fun tradition. How often do we get to dress up black tie? Not as often as I’d like, that’s for sure.

      I love that you mentioned seeing traditions through the eyes of another. I’ve always loved traditions, but now I get to experience them through my husband’s eyes and explore them even more. It’s quite fun.

    • Bridette

      yep thats my family!!!! My fiance comes from a family that wears t-shirts to Christmas dinner. I keep explaining he has to wear at least a suit and he thinks Im kidding.

      Should be interesting!

      • This is my family too! But one generation back. On Christmas Eve we have a somewhat formal (not quite black tie, but I wear a dress or otherwise nice outfit and the dudes wear ties) dinner with my mom’s side, and then for Christmas Dinner we have a super-casual pot luck.

        And then my fiance’s family is even more casual, to the point where they don’t even have traditions! Ok that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but they do something different every year–visit different relatives–and that kind of non-tradition tradition just isn’t my thing, at least when it comes to Christmas (Thanksgiving, on the other hand, has always been different every year for my family, so I’m totally not freaking out that this year we’re doing it with his family).

    • Um. Can I just say I love that your dad sprinkled raisins around your yard!!!!! It reminds me of a friend of mine whose family always put carrots on their roof for a treat for the reindeer. But I love the raisins more. Haha…..

      • Once my uncle got some sheep poo from the paddock across the road, and left it in a little pile under a half eaten carrot. A little more authentic/gross than raisins!

        • Sylvia


    • I think that being flexible is the most important piece of merging traditions. Your dad trained you early!

      For us the routine is not yet set even after 5 years. I love that we are still figuring it out.

    • Bridette

      My fiance and I decided to alternate holidays and start this year (separate states), rather than the first year we are married. This came as a shock to our close-knit family but they accepted it and are adjusting. We both have quite controlling mothers, albeit sweet and loving too.

      I did it a year early partly because another year without my man would be sad but also to establish boundaries before guilt trips and orders could be laid out. I surprised them and it worked!

      That being said, its painful…my heart hurts. I define myself within the structure of my family. We lean on one another in a way that we do not lean on other people. This is true for my fiance too. We alternated holidays because neither of us could imagine missing Christmas every year or inflicting that on the other. I value that my fiance is so close to his family – Its part of why I love him. I appreciate that everyone is supporting the baby family…and that should come first. But family comes a close second. Part of my ceremony is going to be for our guests to take a vow to support our marriage, not just the individuals.

      The effort that we are making to fly around the country and to make adjustments for family is our way of thanking them for that support. Besides, for both of us, family reconfirms our true selves and make us feel confident and feel sure of ourselves. In a very confusing world with lots of stress and daily obstacles, home is where we can relax and get some comfort…though I know thats a special thing and not true of every family.

      We are trying to establish a little alone time with one another even in the midst of the family celebration – a trip to the local bar for a glass of wine so we can smile at one another goofily, saying what we are thankful for as we fly to each location, spend an extra 15 mins in bed alone before we get up – just trying to be present with one another.

      Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

      • Bridette

        woops, that wasn’t meant to be a reply! :)

  • Kinzie Kangaroo

    I have to say, we lucked out when it comes to Thanksgiving. His family invited my entire family over to celebrate. But Christmas will be a different story; we both are reluctant to giving up waking up with our families and having that first cup of way-too-early coffee with our moms. It’s a continuing discussion and for now, we’re just going to be apart for Christmas Eve (which is killing me) and then meet back up on Christmas Day after our morning rituals. But I think this might be the last year that I can manage this and soon, we’ll have to discuss other options. We’re lucky, though, that our families live about 15 minutes from each other.

    • Kinzie Kangaroo

      Also, happy anniversary!

      • Thanks! We had fun starting some “anniversary” traditions this year.

  • Caroline

    Thanks for talking about your solution to an always difficult subject.

    I am glad there are some people who are taking a different approach to just alternating. When we first started living together, we decided on alternating (our parents are on different continents, so there had to be some sort of negotiation). But I feel really dissatisfied by it so far. It feels like we are accepting that we, ourselves, are not a family unit,and that makes me feel like a child again. Yet I also know that my partner thinks that it is not Christmas without “family” – and that the two of us don’t exactly count.

    We get married on Monday (oh man oh man the errands still) and are spending this Christmas with his family, which will be my first with them. But I am really looking forward to having the time and space to really talk about it, and work out solutions that work for both of us. And ones that work for our new family unit. Next year I fully plan on pulling the “baby family card” as my friend called it, and fighting the fight, because I think it is important.

    also can’t shake, however, the fact that I feel selfish for wanting this, and wanting to experience holidays with just the two of us. Like, how selfish is it for me to not see my Grandma on Christmas, when she helped raise me and may not be around for many more years. Or to keep my partner away from his small close knit family that all lives in the same town. Does anyone else feel that way?

    • Lorr

      I don’t think it’s selfish, I think it’s normal. It’s hard to navigate the holidays as a couple; we’ve been doing it for 4 years and it still isn’t any easier. Like Lisa said, spend some time together just the two of you (or more if you have kids, I suppose) whether that’s the whole day you spend alone or just half so you join either family for dinner in the evening. And the best thing about the holidays like Christmas are that it’s not typically just one day; so if you wanted to spend all of the 25th alone, you could do your visiting on the 26th or 27th.

      • Caroline

        The problem with living in a different country than both families is that its hard to do a combination approach – either we are in the same country with our families, or we’re not. Although I think we will start spending more time on our own when visiting relatives anyways – even if it is just a night or so, it is really nice to have some space as a couple in the our home culture.

        • I agree, Caroline. I love going to visit my husband’s Danish family but I always need together time with just him while we are there and I think that will feel even more important this year when we’re there over Christmas. Somehow to be able to celebrate this special time as a baby family together, even while we celebrate with family.

        • Yep. Two countries complicates holiday visits, for sure! Last year, after only being married two months, we did our first married Christmas with as a joint family celebration with his AND my parents at the same events. (I am an only child, so this was possible.) Anyhow, it was a series of four different bilingual holiday meals within about that many days. (His parents are divorced, so that multiples how many events there are.)

          Whew. That was exhausting and I kept stressing out about inclusive conversation, which is hard when not everyone from both sides speaks both languages. (And when someone on your side finally starts to say to you at the fourth event, “But why don’t they speak English?” in the home of people in a French-speaking country, when one of the hosts doesn’t speak English. Uh…yeah…exhausting to navigate all that.) This year we will just be with his side, as my parents can’t travel up and we can’t go there either. It will only be my second Christmas away from them, so I suspect that though it might be less stressful in some ways, there will probably be some sadness too.

          • Definitely agree about the sadness. I’m lucky that we both have very supportive families who get that we have to pcik between them for holidays, but this will be my first Christmas away from my family and it just hit me this morning when I was emailing with my sister about presents and realised that even though they’ll spend a weekend with us in December, I’ll be missing out on the Christmas morning traditions of waking up together.

            I think it’s important not to feel guilty about the sadness of course – it reminds me of the post a while back about grieving the path you didn’t take, even though you feel confident you made a good choice. It’s both a good change to be spending Christmas with my husband and a sad change to be away from my family, and that’s ok.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I think the magic of the holidays is really what you make of it. My husband’s family can never get all together on Christmas morning so his mom makes everyone a stocking and sneaks it into their rooms in the wee hours of the morning whenever they get together. They do Christmas morning over as many times as necessary. Last year he and I got a big Christmas morning pancake breakfast and opened our stockings and exchanged presents on December 31st. It felt just as special and we didn’t feel like we missed out – we got to do Christmas morning twice.

    • Also Caroline – congratulations for Monday!! How exciting :)

  • Yes!

    This is our first Christmas since we’ve been married, but we seem to have fallen into the routine of spending Christmas with my family over the years we’ve been together. This isn’t to say that his family and his traditions are not important, but we do spend most other holidays with his family.

    Even in my own family the traditions have begun to change to suit our growing family. I have three siblings, two in-laws, three nieces, one nephew, and my child! As our family has grown and each unit has begun to develop their own traditions, so too have the traditions of the whole begun to change. This is not a bad thing! It’s a lot of fun to watch everyone come together and celebrate, and this is one of the only times a year I get the opportunity to see my entire family because we are so spread out. (My brother lives in Japan, my parents 6 hours away, my sister 4 hours away.)

    This year is even more exciting because not only are we married, but Wade’s parents are going to be coming with us! We are so glad to be including them in all of this and I hope that having a joint Christmas can become a new tradition. It’s not often that two separate families merge this way, and I think it’s great and really begins to show what the holiday season is about.

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I think for me (and what I’ve seen in my family) the most important thing is to establish a holiday tradition that doesn’t turn every holiday into a negotiation. My family is huge and has always maintained an “opt-in” approach to the holidays. Our family matriarch establishes (a year in advance)s when and where the family gathering is, if you can make it, great! if not, there are no hard feelings. Some of my cousins have never attended as adults, some come every year without fail, some only come when it’s within 100 miles of where they live. This is a *good* system. If my sister or I can’t make it to the big family Christmas my immediate family just plans a separate gathering, usually a week early or a week late.

    My husband and I decided a few years ago (before we were married) to rotate Thanksgiving and Easter between families and make an effort to do Christmas with both each year. So far, so good. With a set plan, there’s no arguing or guilt-tripping over not spending Thanksgiving with my family this year, and Husband’s family already know that there’s no way to convince us to come down for Easter. That works for us.

    • Rose

      Absolutely agree that some ‘ground rules’ are useful so you don’t have to negotiate every holiday forevermore. Sometimes circumstance might require deviation from the ‘rules’, but at least you have a starting point.

  • Jennifer

    I love love that #5 is about traditions beyond the holidays – both because I think those sorts of little traditions and customs are what wind up sort of defining a family unit’s identity, and because it takes the pressure off of holidays; if holidays are the only times we feel we’re observing family traditions, than they may start to feel more like something that must be done the same, always, no matter what.

    I feel like I need a shame-blaster much more for the holidays than I did for the wedding. I think it’s because for the wedding, there were so many guests that it was much easier to shrug things off with “you can’t please everybody” but with a much smaller guest list (5, including my husband and me) for Thanksgiving, I feel like I should be able to. And of course that’s still not possible. And we’re hosting, because it was the only way not to abandon any parents, but I feel all sorts of guilt and shame and awkwardness over the state of the house, while the wedding was not in our home. Etc.

  • faith

    I love hearing how others navigate holidays!
    our families live close and both do the big holidays at their houses. So, we feel we need to do our best be there for our family. One thing we are starting this year is that on christmas day, we are going to do back and forth and be at each house for presents and dinners gladly. The day after will be our day, to do as we want and it will be our christmas:)

  • Oh yes!

    We’ve been together long enough now that we’ve had to deal with Christmas issues twice, but until this year it’s never felt like a problem. The first year we were lucky and my family went to a relatives house that was closer to the hubs’ family, so we did Christmas Eve with his and Christmas Day with mine. The second year we invited everyone to our house, so it worked perfectly. This year is going to be differet. We’re leaving for Mexico on December 18th (our 3 month anniversary) and coming home Christmas Day. This poses a problem because we get to the airport around supper time, but my family is two hours from the airport and his family is almost three. Our dog is spending the week with my family since they live on a farm but his family has a reunion the next day. We need to get our dog but I don’t want to drive 4.5 hours the next day for their “reuion” (Aka breakfast… at 10am… meaning we’d have to leave my parents at 5:30am, when we won’t get there until at least 9pm). His family is mad that we’re not coming to their reuion. My family is leaving Dec 27 so we NEED to get our dog. I’m so torn.

    I seriously thought coming home Christmas Day and having this be our third Christmas that we’ve spent together, this one would be easy. Boy was I wrong. Next year I’m going back to like Lisa and her husband. We’re so setting aside us time and then doing the other family stuff.

  • Ruby_Lou

    The holidays were always frantic for me as a child. I’m an only child so I had to shuffle between my father’s family, my mothers’s family, and my stepfather’s family for each holiday. For the last 4 years I’ve now added in my live-in boyfriend’s family (which blessedly only celebrates once, all together). Plus, my stepfather and my partner in crime’s mother passed away recently so we each have guilt that when we’re not with our parents they may be alone on a holiday. We really want to feel like we have our own traditions, but there’s not always enough time. I feel like we’ve got Christmas down pat at this point. His father and brother and my mother come over for a fancy-schmancy (with cloth napkins!) meal at our house and then he and I open our presents alone together. Then all the rest of the holiday – morning at my mother’s, lunch with my father’s family, and dinner with his family.

    Now, if I could only figure out how to make three meals make sense on Thanksgiving…

  • So much to say, but I want to focus this comment a little – Lisa said,

    “One of the things we did that helped the most, we spent our first holiday season alone with just our new family.”

    I have to wholeheartedly agree with this. We spent last Thanksgiving and will spend this Thanksgiving alone as a baby family. I know this has religious connotations that some won’t agree with, but the essence of “leaving and cleaving” is wrapped up in starting your own baby family. You can’t go on whining and complaining that you won’t be spending time with your family. You and your spouse ARE family. You are with family! I know it’s hard. I miss my family and all of their traditions. Yet, I have a family (my husband) and I have to put effort, time, and energy into building family (complete with traditions) with him. I think it’s an important paradigm shift to see this action as building a hopeful future, rather than an abandonment of previous identity with your family. You will have to mourn (I think that’s a normal and healthy part of the leaving process), but then you must go on. Get on with nurturing your baby family. CLEAVE.

    I’m not sure where else to go from the urgent, capitalized “cleave,” so Happy Thanksgiving all!

    • I love the CLEAVE.

    • Definitely!

      That, and the money to travel, and that we’d just traveled for our wedding, was the big reason we did it just us last year.

    • CLEAVE! I love it. Cleave on.

    • oh, i love this idea!

      my wife and i accidentally created a solstice tradition when we started dating, and now we have solstice together every year, just the two of us. we still do christmas with my family (see sad comment below) but we have this one day that is special and sacred to us, and i love that it’s just the two of us.

      • Lethe

        so cute. my fiancee and i actually got engaged on the solstice last year, so maybe we should take some inspiration from this. ;)

        • We got engaged at the June solstice and it is now one of our family holidays.

  • I was raised Unitarian and I don’t believe in Jesus. So I never really want to celebrate Christmas, because it feels wrong to celebrate a holiday I don’t believe in. I’ve always wanted to have a family that exchanges gifts on the solstice and celebrates the change in seasons, yadayadayada. I married a man who has a family tradition of going to church every Christmas eve. The first Christmas eve, the pastor gave a sermon reminding everybody that the people who want to celebrate the Solstice instead of Christmas are Nazis. I kid you not. It was five minutes on “and this is what the Nazis believe and the people who believe this are the same as Nazis.” We spend Christmas with his family and Thanksgiving with mine, pretty much, because Thanksgiving was more important to me, and Christmas was more important to him. (And because we tried it the other way around and because we tried it splitting the days and it’s horrible.)

    So here we are. I attend solstice services on my own, and then his church services, and I hate having to go and having to pretend that I’m somebody I’m not, because the person I’m not is a person who sits there and listens to a bigoted pastor go on and on about Nazis and how important it is to be a Christian and anyone who isn’t a Christian is doing the work of Satan and we must help them. We go home and I bitch about the service, quietly, so his parents can’t hear me. He sits there and takes it and sometimes he snaps. It’s not a great dynamic.

    But when we got married, we wrote into our marriage contract that we would honor each other’s cherished family traditions. And this is one of his. So I’m going to try very hard this year to avoid the bitching, at least, even if I can’t control my indignance.

    • Nazis? Wha–?! That is not okay. But I do really respect that you guys came to an agreement and you’re working to honor it fully.

      Is there really a contract? Because I love that. It scares me a little bit, and if I did it it’d have to be “guidelines”, but I am tickled (in a very serious way) by that.

      • Our contract is an “artistic marriage contract” which is really just a secular, non-hebrew Ketubah – I probably should have been more specific. We took most of the secular humanist Ketubah language and designed our own contract (to avoid appropriating the tradition). Really it’s just pretty artwork that hangs on our wall.

        • Gah. Posted before I could finish. Pretty artwork that hangs on our wall and reminds us everyday of the vows we made.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My family’s Christmas tradition involves attending the religious services of whatever family is hosting (somehow my grandparents and their 4 children all ended up practicing different faiths, with more added in my generation). This means that 7 out of 8 years I attend a service whose beliefs I disagree with. I could opt-out, no one is harassed about skipping church, but I’ve made peace with it by making it about my family instead of about religion.

      I’m not there to worship, I’m there to support my family in the holiday season. Whatever service is given means something to someone I love, and it doesn’t hurt me to stand next to them, to sing, to pray in my own way in their church. Listening to their preacher doesn’t tarnish my relationship with my God. I appreciate having my diverse family at my church when it’s my turn to host, even when I know they don’t agree with all my beliefs.

  • LBD

    My fiance and I have been together 11 years and we have really struggled with this. We live on the opposite coast from our families, so we only get back east once or twice a year at the most. My family is also evangelical Christian, and were not, in the beginning of our relationship, welcoming to my fiance, as he is openly agnostic (my own views, are a complicated answer, but let’s just say I am non-religious). As it’s become more obvious to my family that he’s not going anywhere, and we’re getting married, they’ve made a lot more noise about him coming around for the holidays.

    Generally, in the past, I’ve switched back and forth between families. He always stays with his family, and I switch. He’s very close to his parents, and I can’t begrudge him any and all opportunity to spend with his parents, since we can afford to see them only so often. And I can’t feel good about asking him to forgo time with his parents to spend time with my family who have not been welcoming, and as far as we’re concerned have blown their chances.

    I enjoy seeing my family around Christmas, but I am getting very very tired of spending holidays away from the boy, especially as we take the step to make it all official. I am considering telling my family this year that it’s the last year I plan to come home for Christmas for a long while. Instead, I am thinking of taking a trip home some other time of the year. Generally we fly into Philly together, then I drive down to Baltimore for a few days, then come back. And as we’ve encountered worse and worse weather the past few years, it’s really becoming way too much stress to try and do both families.

    The other thing I struggle with, is when you’re always flying to see your families, how does one manage to carve out your own special traditions? I’d love to live closer and it to work like it was when I was a kid, where we’d have our family time in the morning, then load on up to grandma’s house in the later part of the morning. I’ve floated the idea of NOT going back east some Christmases, but I dunno, it didn’t seem to really get anywhere, I think because we don’t really know what we want. I don’t know how to choose between making time for the baby family and creating some of those traditions, and the need to be with extended family at Christmas when we see them so rarely.

    • I make the time leading up to my flight home my time to celebrate Christmas as I see fit. For me, it’s about the whole season, not just one day, and it’s been an interesting challenge to figure out how to do that without family nearby. So far, it’s things like decorating my own Christmas tree the first Sunday evening in December while drinking hot chocolate and listening to talks about Christmas and watching “The Muppet Christmas Carol” sometime during the month. Then, whenever I get home for the holiday (sometimes it’s not until Christmas Eve, this year it’s about a week before), I get to do the family traditions. It’s something I really struggled with the for the first couple of years after moving far away, but I feel like it’s finally coming together.

      • LBD

        We do that now, but I’ve begun to kind of yearn for alone time closer to the actual holiday. I decorate the house and the tree and subject the boy to Christmas music and make him walk around and look at the lights (he is not so into the hoopla as I am), and then I feel all sad that I won’t get to sit with him in front of OUR tree on Christmas. I think I just in general yearn for alone time in all the craziness of visiting the family. We’re generally staying with family, so there’s nothing that ever feels like just our time.

    • That’s a really good question. For me, I think we will set aside a day that is Our Christmas, regardless of what Christmases we do with the families. It probably won’t be on Christmas Day, but it will be ours and we will make our tradition then. It is really important to both of us to have that, and get that in motion from the beginning.

      • Meredith

        I really like the idea of having a day that is ‘Christmas’ for just me and my partner, regardless of where it falls. I think that’ll help reconcile the idea of us visting our respective families on Christmas itself and the few days after, rather than being together.

        • If that’s what works for you and you’re both okay with it, then go for it. It’s really important to both of us that after this year we are together at whatever choice we make. I don’t want our families to come between our family, if that makes sense. Plus I want our families to know us as family. But I also am independent enough to travel on my own and enjoy my own time w/ my fam.

          • Meredith

            That is currently how we operatre. But, I am starting to feel the ‘we are family, it is important that we celebrate the holidays together’ side of it too. Its just so complicated logistically and of course, emotionally. He spends every holiday with my family, as my extended family lives about 30 minutes from us and we live about 700 miles from his family. For Christmas, we spend it with our respective families. Neither of us really wants to give that up for virtually the same reason. He doesn’t often see his family because of distance, time and money, so Christmas is when he gets to spend lots of time with them. Though I see my extended family and parents a good amount, I don’t often see my brothers. One brother lives on the opposite coast and the other lives in Pakistan. Christmas is the only time of the year that all three of us are in the same place. It is also the only holiday that my immediate family celebrates with just us (of course the next day we go see our grand parents and extended family). So…its tough tough tough.

        • LBD

          I like this idea. Make it very purposeful and planned. I think we’ve done kind of half-hearted after we return type things, but I think we should take your idea and make it very intentional and special.

          • LBD

            Gah, as in when we do something like this now, we aren’t very good at making it intentional or special or into a regular tradition, and we should make a point of doing so!

      • Jennifer

        This is one place where I am lucky (or my husband was very clever in his timing!) – he proposed last year a week before Christmas, when he came over to help decorate my Christmas tree. I’d grown up with a “the tree goes up Christmas Eve, or at least is not decorated until then” mindset, but over many years of living with roommates and adapting so we could have shared trees regardless of family commitments, I’d kind of lost any firm tree-decorating tradition. But now decorating the Christmas tree is very much associated in my mind with the birth of our baby family (okay, I suppose the proposal is more akin to conception, or a positive pregnancy test, but I think the analogy still works) and we’re really looking forward to having our own celebration as a couple centered around the tree decorating a week before Christmas. We haven’t actually sorted out Christmas Eve and Christmas Day yet, but we know we have Tree Day.

        • Aw. That’s so sweet. I think that is a very important tradition to have. I love it!

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          That sounds like an awesome tradition.

          My mom starts having Cocktail Hour the Sunday after Thanksgiving which is our usual Tree Day. Cocktail Hour is strictly upheld until all the New Year’s champagne is gone, which is Untree Day (usually the first Saturday after New Years). Cocktail Hour is a tradition I’m excited to continue with my baby family, even though we probably won’t have a tree this year. Jack Frost Martinis are Christmas to me :)

          • Maureen

            SO stealing this idea. LOVE it!

        • We totally have a Tree Day! Although it’s usually December 1st… and Eric bugs me about whether we’re allowed to put it up yet starting on Halloween. You’d think the man was a Best Buy sometimes.

  • Mel

    I got married last month, and planned to talk with my new husband about our plan for which realtives to see on Thanksgiving. Without my knowledge, his mother called my mother and worked out some big plan to join my family’s celebration, which would mean not seeing the elderly grandmother who my guy actually wanted to see. We said “Sorry, we’re going to see his grandmother – but you two can get together without us if you’d like!” I think this was an important moment in establishing that we are the head of our new baby family, and we will make these decisions. So this will be my first Thanksgiving not seeing my own family, and that’s OK. I have no idea what will happen for Christmas – I think his parents want to join with my family (my parents), which I feel is unfair to my single little brother (but maybe that’s a terrible attitude).

    • My sister’s in-laws tried to work out the holiday arrangements with my parents without involving my sister and her husband. My mom told them it wasn’t their place to say. Some times my sister and her family can travel. Some times they can’t. But they need to be their own family. My sister was the first of my siblings to get married and it was so wonderful to see my parents be that open about it. I’m glad you were able to stand up for your baby family.

  • This post makes a lot of sense for those of us singletons who are creating our own lives right now too. I live across the country from my family and while I get to go home for a week at Christmas, the time leading up to the holiday is just as important to me, and I’ve been working on making that meaningful for just myself. Of course, since Lisa’s one my best friends, having her example certainly helps. :)

    Great post!

    • Yup. *waves at Amanda*

      I lived solo for 7 years before getting married, and 5 years before that at college. I wasn’t going to let the holidays not exist till I got home with my family. So I decorated my apartment and then threw a Christmas party for all my friends in the second week or so of December. Coming to my party actually became a tradition for some of my friends and they weren’t sure what to do when I moved states. I made that the time I celebrated Christmas in my home and then I went and celebrated it on the actual day at my parents’ home.

      Moving out makes you evaluate all of your own traditions as well. How I celebrated my birthday had to change when I was on my own too.

      • And great parties they were too! For the years I was able to attend. :)

  • This year we’re doing Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his…but we haven’t really set up a system as of yet. I think that alternating each year would be ideal, but our families live so far away that it’s hard to commit to a schedule.

    That being said, I’ve really enjoyed sharing my traditions with my husband and in-laws. Last year, I introduced them to the Feast of Seven Fishes, which was a ridiculous amount of work but totally worth it. Because, really, how often can you get away with serving your mom’s recipe for tuna raisin marinara to a group of hungry Texans?

    • I will be hosting a (slightly belated) American Thanksgiving meal this weekend, where I will be the only American celebrating with my Québécois husband and his family (so we will be mostly talking in French at our Thanksgiving, haha!). They do not celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving here either, so I think this should be a new experience for everyone, including my husband (last year we skipped Thanksgiving). Anyhow, I am excited to share a bit of my culture by hosting Thanksgiving in Québec, and maybe this will become an annual tradition? We’ll see how this first one goes! :)

  • Brenda H

    Holidays is definitely one of the crazy ones, it’s good to hear so many different ways people’s baby families have worked on these. :)

    Haha, maybe someday soon I’ll be able to write another LDS grad post. Quick question though — aren’t there 2 LDS wedding grad posts? When I was looking through the archives Ashlynn and Miles mentioned getting married in the Columbia temple.

    • Jennifer

      Mostly I remember really really loving Ashlynn’s dress, but I’m pretty sure you’re right, that she was also an LDS wedding grad.

      • Brenda H

        That’s true, it was a super cute dress. :D

  • Right on, Lisa! And I’m not just saying that because your numbered points happened to be the ones we covered when discussing this topic several months ago. :)

    Our plan right now is to both do our Christmases our way with our families this last holiday season before we get married, and then we’ll talk with our families and make sure the following is acceptable: Christmas with his family on the day, with mine a week before or a week after, and with just us on a set day during that time. Thanksgiving isn’t a super huge deal to either of us.

    The issue is that we live right next to his family, while mine is days away. We are both super close with our families (daily emails, etc), and we are central to the traditions. I’m lucky because my family has flexed the date of holding Christmas for years b/c of all my married sisters, so me doing it on a different date won’t change things drastically. It would for C’s family as he is an only child. It is really important to me to be intentional about spending time with my family and celebrating with them, that they not get the short end of the stick because they’re further from us.

    I’m really excited for next Christmas and setting our own traditions, decorating our own house.

  • We’ve taken the alternating approach. We spent last Thanksgiving with his family and last Christmas with mine, so this year it’s Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his. Currently, we live 3 hours away from my parents, 3.5 hours away from his parents, and 5 hours away from his sister & her family. Since his sister has small children and a husband who has to work Christmas Eve, we’re celebrating at my sister-in-law’s house this year. I’ve never spent Christmas away from my family, so I’m sure this year will be pretty emotional.

    When I saw my mother-in-law a couple weeks ago, she asked me if there was anything food-wise that my family has at Christmas every year, so they could be sure to incorporate it this year. There isn’t, really, but I do appreciate that she asked. I’m sure she remembers the first Christmas she spent with her husband’s family & wants to be sure I feel comfortable and at home. :)

    Now we just need to figure out a few traditions of our own. Last year, I bought us adult-sized footed pajamas at Target. Maybe I should find another embarrassing set for this year…

    • That’s wonderful that she asked! How thoughtful. Things like that really help making getting along with in-laws a lot easier.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Whenever I hear things about in-laws making someones life a little easier I try to make a mental note of it. My parents are always asking me if they’re doing a good enough job being in-laws, so I like to send along tidbits from others.

        I also want to save them for myself. We don’t have kids yet, but I hope to and someday they too might marry and I’ll be on the other side of the mother-in-law equation. I want to remember the things that were good and bad for me when my baby family was starting out. I think just asking my MIL about what she did when she first married was really constructive for our relationship. Instead of trying to defend the traditions she’s created for her family over the years, she remembered how much work it was to start them.

        APW to Reclaiming Wife… Eventually that’ll evolve into “my baby’s baby family”, right Meg?

        • Morgan

          Please? Reclaiming Mom?

        • We could use a list about all the great things our in-laws do that make it easier to merge families. Keeping it positive would be the trick.

    • My family has a PJ tradition–we all put on pajamas and then go buy coffee at the corner gas station on Christmas Eve (or the night before our whenever Christmas), then all pile into cars and drive around looking at lights. Love this one.

      • JEM

        I really love this tradition!

      • Oh, that’s fantastic! I love it!

      • I love this too Jo!

        • Hey! I figured out how to have a gravatar! Holy crap, I am computer savvy.

  • Morgan

    My mother announced that as we didn’t spend enough time with her last year when my dad was sick (only Dec 24, 25, 29, 30 and Jan 1 & 2), she doesn’t want to spend time with us this Christmas at all.

    Yeah. That was a fun pronouncement to listen to.

    I’m torn between taking her at her word and going off to spend time with my lovely in-laws, or caving to her passive-aggressive bullsht and trying to accommodate her, somehow. It’s all made harder by the fact that she’s alone – my sister is in Cambodia, so she really would be all alone.

    I’m lucky my in-laws will do whatever days work, in whatever city, if need be, but that’s only a mercy, compared to dealing with my mother. Any suggestions?

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Whenever my mom wheedles me about not spending enough time with her, I remind her that my door is always open. My parents have lots of time and $$ that I don’t have to spend on traveling. Obviously, this isn’t the case in all families, but my parents have flexible work schedules and are comfortable financially. I’m still paying my dues, not getting much time off and working off the student debt. If they want to see me, they can just come see me.

      If I were in your shoes, I’d invite my mom to come along for our whole holiday adventure. Togetherness doesn’t have to happen at her place.

      • Morgan

        We actually live in the same city as my mom, and are on a long, slow process of distancing ourselves, so I don’t want to encourage any open doors. I feel more like installing a portcullis, just in case. His parents would allow my mom to join us in their city, but no one (myself included!) is happy at the idea. 2 full days in a house with my mother is more than is bearable for anyone, probably including for her.

        Our first plan was to have everyone come to us, so that she could go away after a few hours, but Dave isn’t too thrilled about it, after her little pronouncement. Also, I think he wants one last (our first after 3 years) Christmas Day at his parents house, and I get that.

        • Portcullis! Way to make my DAY!

    • Ouch. Passive-agressive parenting hurts.

      I have to admit, I’d be tempted to take her at her word, but she’s probably just feeling super lonely, and I think first holidays without loved ones are always the hardest. I don’t know what your logistical situation is like, but maybe you should see if she’d want to go to your in-laws for a few days with you? It might help to start a new tradition instead of dwelling on who’s missing from your family’s previous Christmases, and she’s probably less likely to pull out the big PA guns in front of in-laws.

      • Morgan

        She’s less likely to play passive-agressive (BARELY) but quite likely to say something awful, or call my husband by my ex-boyfriend’s name in front of his parents, or insult them again or make “jokes” that are actually insults.

        Um, basically, the more I think about it, the less I want her near my inlaws. I want them to continue to like me.

        • Bridette

          Remember, most people know that you aren’t your family. Even if she is somewhat insulting, your in-laws love you for who you are and would love you in spite of your moms’ comments.

          Maybe just explain/warn them that she is insecure and sometimes says stuff that is out of character in stressful situations….

      • Aine

        My uncle’s mother comes to all our big family get togethers- he has only one brother who lives down south, so she’s just been included as a matter of course .

    • Mel

      I’m sorry, that sounds like a hard situation!

    • LBD

      I just wanted to say I feel you on the passive aggressive mother front. I recommend taking a stand. I had to do that a few years ago. I was intending to be with the boy’s family for a few days, then travel the 3 hours to see my family for Christmas, but we had a very very stressful flight out, in addition to a lot of other stress that was going on in my life at that time (a not-so-good grad school experience away from the boy). I had to call her and tell her that I had decided not to come, and just wanted to stay in one place. Needless to say, it did NOT go well, at all. It was very very very hard. She said some very hurtful, guilting things. But I stood my ground, because I felt I had to do what was best for me and the boy. I then cried a whole lot after getting off the phone. My dad called me the next day, and told me that he’d worked out a compromise, that they would drive up to us and we’d spend the day together around here, so it did end up working out.

      But I’m very glad I stood my ground (even though it was very very hard), and since I did that that year, and set those boundaries, things have been better. I think passive aggressive parents have an especially hard time recognizing that you, the grown child, are no longer obligated to accommodate the parents’ wishes, and you’ve got our own family to put first now. It may take awhile for her to forgive you after you do it, but I feel a lot better about myself, it felt like retaking control of my life. It was like, “Whoa, I’m an adult now, and I have a choice about putting up with that kind of behavior.”

      • ” I think passive aggressive parents have an especially hard time recognizing that you, the grown child, are no longer obligated to accommodate the parents’ wishes, and you’ve got your own family to put first now.”

        THIS. Yes. Absolutely.

      • Vmed

        Reading your comment gives me hope (I’m nearly in the position you were in last year, grad school included) that setting boundaries with the passive aggressive family member may lead to better relationships in the future.

        It really hurts right now that this holiday season my family blames me for tension and awkwardness between siblings, even though I’m the one being honest and up-front about my needs.

        So I want to give thanks for comments from APW ladies on the other side of the hard stuff. I toast: to it being a little easier next year.

  • My husband and I live in Colorado, far far away from our respective families in Ohio and Pennsylvania. So Christmas for us is not about our baby family. It is about the fact that we see our families for about….10 total days each year. So we’ve spent our Christmas seasons (we are both blessed with families that do not see Christmas as a one day experience) splitting our time between both families. It’s hectic, but totally worth it. While I DO see my husband as my family, the ties to our parents and extended family still run very deep. We choose to honor that around the holidays. (and we generally have some days to celebrate just the two of us before we leave for the frantic holiday trip)

    Also, both sets of our parents define “Christmas Day” as the day that all their children and their spouses can be in one place. I feel grateful that neither family demands our attendance on a certain day, so we are able to see both families instead of alternating holidays.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My husband commented to me once that he’ll remember the early years of our relationship (dating, engagement, first years of marriage) as the “Car Years”. We’re able to log a lot of miles to see both our families, so we’re doing it while we can. Our baby family has made all our travel plans, wedding plans, marriage promises and career decisions on the highway. It’s kind of funny, but our baby family really was born by the dashboard :)

      • JEM

        I so get this. My fiance just sold his car that he had throughout our whole relationship and I was so sad. We fell in love in that car.

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          This happened to us too, this summer Husband replaced his car that carried us around the country to meet each other’s families and find a venue for our wedding and to graduations and dates and romantic weekends. I was so sad for 4.5seconds until I realized….

          His new car has heated seats :)

          • JEM

            yes! Butt warmers were the saving grace in this transaction too!!! :D Mark’s car routine goes: 1. Start Car 2. Buckle Seatbelt 3. Turn on my butt warmer 4. Radio 5. Drive

  • It’s so funny that this was posted today considering that my sister and I just had a conversation about how family traditions change. Our conversation was centered on how our holiday traditions changed with the passing of my grandmother, but we also talked about how as we start to get married and have children, those traditions will continue to change. This Thanksgiving my fiance and I are alone for the first time as we just moved 500 miles away from our family. We still plan on having a Thanksgiving dinner, albeit somewhat scaled down and we are working on figuring out our new traditions. In terms of Christmas, we don’t have much of an issue as Christmas Eve was always my family’s holiday. That was always our day of celebration. In Chuck’s family Christmas was the big day. Because of that, it makes it easier to blend our traditions. But like I said, many of our traditions have changed since my grandmother passed, so that is a work in progress for my family in general and not just between my fiance and I.

  • When my husband and I got married we established our traditions right out fo the gate- knowing that it would be easier to maintain them once we had kids one day…

    Fast forward to today, this is our last season before our first child is born (that’s right! Our son! Best surprise ever!) and we’re refining our traditions, and to my delight our hybrid jewish-agnoatic-capitalist Thanksgiving and Chrismukkah traditions are exactly what I’m looking forward to sharing with our boy.

    I will recognize that we both have families who are beyond supportive of our blended (and new to both sides) traditions and never pressure us. Aren’t we the lucky ones.

    • meg

      HOLY SH*T. Congratulations you guys!!!!!!!!!

    • Congratulations!!! I remember crying at your last guest post, and now I’m getting weepy at your fantastic news! So, so happy for you. :)

    • Liz

      WHOO HOO! congratulations!

    • Thank ladies! It is the most… unexpected and best thing that has ever happened to me. After all that doom and gloom- we have nothing but joy and light these days. Thanks again.

  • We’ll be doing our second year of alternating holidays, and I love it. It’s so great to be able to be with Eric on Christmas, and last year I loved participating in his family’s traditions and rituals, and then going to my parents’ to do it all again a few days later! This year it’ll be reversed, and I’m really looking forward to being with my parents and sisters for Christmas and showing Eric how our family does things (my mom trying to organise presents, taking pictures of everyone with bedhead and pyjamas, my sisters trading presents as soon as they’ve unwrapped them).

    I just can’t wait until we have enough space to host (probably next year, because we just bought a place!) and can bring both our families together to share some of the little traditions that Eric and I have started doing before we travel, like putting up our tree while eating pfeffernuessen and drinking the best eggnog in the world.

  • Liz

    yikes. my situation is crazy different from the ones i read here.

    we have families that are nearby (mine- around the corner [yeah, i know] and his- an hour away) but we don’t really determine “both” or “alternate” or have a system. we just decide yearly. this year, it’s most convenient to go to my parents’ on thanksgiving. who knows what christmas holds just yet.

    the big tension we face, however, is that my mom is a PLANNER. like, on october 31st, she asks me if we’re coming for christmas. his family usually doesn’t let us know what’s happening until the day OF. so trying to determine in advance what we’re doing may end up controversial somewhere down the line, when we repeatedly go to my family’s house simply because we know what’s happening there. we’ll seeee.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My family is all PLANNER. There’s a documented rotation of who’s hosting Christmas that is set through 2015. Seriously. The official dates of celebration are set *at least* 6 months in advance because a lot of people travel pretty far and have to make work/childcare/$$ arrangements.

      Husband’s family usually works things out about 3 weeks in advance. I’ve made this work for me by just telling them up front what our schedule is with my family and they’re good about just working around that. They don’t have plans set, so they don’t get upset about our availability. It works, happily.

      • Sylvia

        Sounds a bit like countries bidding to host the olympics, I hope there’s some kind of formal announcement of the successful bidder and an opening ceremony…

      • Abby_Wan_Kenobi, I am in awe of this advance planning til 2015. Wow. I come from a very small family on my side, so this just wouldn’t be necessary, but I can totally see how nice this would be for larger families to be able to plan to see each other. Very impressive that your family has figured out a way that works so well for you guys. And my Myers-Briggs “J” side will just admire that idea from a distance….

        • Aine

          My mom’s family is huge (my dad’s family is in Ireland, so we see them occasionally in the summer, but not for holidays) and we tend to all converge on my grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving and my parents’ house for Christmas- its understood that some years, people can’t come because they’re with their in-laws, but we keep the date the same. Generally people will hang around for up to a week though, so there’s plenty of time for travelling after the day, and plenty of holiday treats left over for the newcomers.

          My FH and I have been alternating Christmases since we started going out- the first year together, I was doing a year abroad in France, and had shorter holidays, so I could afford to stay with him and his family in Dublin but not to go to New York (Christmas Mass was fun- the homily was all about how wonderful it si that in this busy day and age, we still remember our families, and take the time out of our lives to be with them, etc. My lovely boyfriend gritted his teeth and held my hand the whole service, and let me cry on him later (and get tears and snot all over his shirt. Classy.)). It seemed simple that he should come the next year, and vice versa (we’ve had him more than they’ve had me, but I’m moving to England so that’ll probably balance out…)

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          There’s some comfort in knowing my husband and I won’t be hosting the “games” until 2014, but it feels like I should probably start construction on the infrastructure. It’s pretty standard to have 40 people for our big chili dinner on Christmas Eve.

          The Olympic games analogy is particularly funny – a few years ago my sister started organizing a two-day Christmas Decathalon of Board Games. It’s a big hit, we make teams and have board games set up all over the house. Late in the evening we turn Candyland into a drinking game, and there’s always a few rounds of inter-generational full-contact Twister. Last year my 14-year-old cousin became the uncontested Queen of Jenga, a game which had to be retired from the Decathalon after her record-breaking lightning round.

          • KA

            Candyland drinking game?! Full contact inter-generational Twister?! Is your family accepting applications?! ;)

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            You’re welcome to enter through marriage or adoption. I have some single cousins, but if you’re on APW, chances are you’re off the market. Alternatively, I’d adopt you if you have skillz that would enhance my team – have you heard of Extreme Jenga? Since the retiring of regular Jenga we’re upping the stakes. Start training for Twister, you’ll need to be flexible and willing to take an elbow in the teeth.

          • Those games sound like an awesome tradition!

          • ka

            Haha, I can’t say that I’m familiar with Extreme Jenga, though I generally like things with “Extreme” in the title. However, as a former ballet dancer, I am a Twister champion! (My favorite version was an obscure 90210 board where you had to do things like right foot on Dylan’s left shoulder.) Happy Thanksgiving!

    • I hear you on the Mom who’s a planner. My mom was discussing Christmas in February of this year – 10 months ahead of time!! In her defense, it’s because my sister was in town for a visit, but still. Now Mom is surprised that we don’t really remember the conversation about Christmas stockings that we (apparently) had in February…

    • Jennifer

      Oh yeah, my mom’s definitely a bigger planner than my mother-in-law. But my mother-in-law is the one in the nursing home and thus the one we actually need to make plans around since what she can do and where she can go is very limited, whereas my parents are the ones who can actually be a bit more flexible about things.

    • YEP. My family had planned out Christmas extensively. He JUST told his mom I won’t be here for Christmas. Sigh. We aren’t as awesome as Abby, we’ll probably plan what date Christmas is on when I’m out there this year, but now I kind of want the spreadsheets.

  • Amanda

    Coordinating new holiday traditions with 3 seperate family of origin units instead of 2 plus the baby family can be a hard. And I’m sure there will be some tough feelings to get through but its worth it to establish us as a family unit and do what’s best for us and do something that is sustainable with future children.

    My parents divorced a few years ago and so traditions have already been all shaken up. This gives us some freedom but also more conflict to deal with. The last couple years there have been fights around Christmas and about traditions. Decorating for Christmas turned into a full out battle to the point that the next year my mom dropped all expectations and didn’t even buy a tree (which we’ve always done). My younger brother ended up bringing a tree homeanyway lol, but thats besides the point. I’ve been totally unenthusiastic about the holidays because of all the family drama. Its been a hard time for me. But this year I’ve started voluntarily listening to my own Christmas music and suggested decorating at the fiance’s place. Our relationship is giving me hope for new traditions created together and for the space for the holidays to be joyful again.

    This is the first year I have the fiance’s family to throw into the mix as well. Last year we were still just dating and spent some time with each other’s families over the holidays but it wasn’t a big part of our plans. I’m leaving this afternoon with him and his parents, driving out a few hours to go to his mom’s extended family for Thanksgiving.
    My sister actually told me she’s somewhat jealous that I don’t have to deal with our family drama of who’s going to be at mom’s versus dad’s. I’m feeling sad that I’m missing out on the chance to catch up with my mom’s extended family because we only really get together at the holidays and its always nice.
    I do know that the only “required” holiday in the fiance’s fam is Christmas Eve. Everyone gets together and does meat fondue which is so funny to me but sounds fun. This will be the first year I’ll be there for that and then we’ll be with my mom’s family for the day of. We’ll probably see my dad the day after which is a dissapointment for him but as he doesn’t have any extended family around we can put it off one day. And he won’t be alone either since he’ll be with his girlfriend.

    • I wanna hear more about meat fondue!!

      I hear you on the drama. I was fairly lucky that when my parents split it was for serious reasons and where we were was understood. Enjoy making the holiday about what you want it to be, though! (I get all bake-y and into food and lights and designer cocktails.)

      • Amanda

        I get all bake-y too! Thats one of my favorite parts. Though I never seem to do as much of it as I would want to lol. lights and cocktails sound fun too. I’m still figuring out what I’m into. Cards and maybe decorating and baking..
        I wanna hear more about meat fondue too ;) This’ll be my first year. his family is big into meat in general (I swear that all he eats is steak and eggs :) Basically everyone gets together and there’re fondue pots filled with hot oil and all kinds of cut up meat, dunno exactly what kind… And everyone stands around frying their own meat on sticks and eating and talking until its all gone. I think its so funny that this is the only “required” holiday tradition in his fam and that everything else is so flexible. So I’m excited to get to be involved in it for the first year and see what it looks like :)

    • DIDI

      Meat fondue is AWESOME!!! It’s tradition in my husband’s family on Christmas Eve. We alternate the holidays between our families, and in the years that we go to mine, we ‘reschedule’ the Christmas Eve dinner, so I actually get to have it every year! I guess if I’d been a vegetarian though, I would not have been so overjoyed by the prospect of honoring such a tradition ;-)

      • Amanda

        Glad to hear meat fondue is awesome! And who knew anyone else did that? I’d never even heard of it before :)

        • DIDI

          We actually use beef stock instead of oil. We make up for the grease in the 10 different kinds of homemade mayo-based sauces though, hehehe. Normally we have chicken, beef and veal, sometimes pork or horse :-( i know… don’t get me started

    • Jennifer Lyn

      My family has a similar ‘required’ Christmas Eve tradition of fondue for Christmas Eve dinner! Yum. Love it.

  • Jen

    This is a really interesting post and an interesting set of comments. I struggle with the holidays a lot– and it’s all pressure I put on myself! Christmas is the only time of year my fiancé and I get to visit our families (we live 2200 miles away from our families and home towns), and I’m also really attached to my family’s Christmas traditions.
    The past few years, we’ve established our own way of dealing with Christmas and the surrounding days– Christmas Eve apart with our respective families & traditions, then my fiancé joins my family after Christmas morning, and our families combine on Boxing Day (along with my brother’s girlfriend’s family).

    I absolutely *love* the Boxing Day “neo-tradition,” but even with such an amicable division of Christmas I feel guilty, because at this point I am unwilling to give up Christmas day with my family. It feels like the last apron-string, if you will. I already spend the rest of the year’s holidays (including Thanksgiving) apart from my family, and my FH and I have forged many new ways of celebrating. But Christmas (always my favorite holiday) plays such a strong role in my relationship with my family, and in our own history as an immigrant family trying to establish itself, that even the thought of uprooting those traditions is making me tear up right now. (Or that could just be hormones….) But then I feel I’m doing a disservice to FH by being unwilling to change my Christmas day plans. Happily he seems ok spending much of Xmas day with my family, but I wonder what will happen in future years…

  • My father is the oldest of six, and when they started having children, they immediately decided that there would be NO family gatherings on Christmas; each family would stay home and celebrate privately, and then do a Huge Party together the next weekend. This is one of the best suggestions I’ve heard, and it helps keep the peace amid all families, so no one can lay claim to that one special day.

    My husband and I just got married this September on our ten year anniversary, so we’ve been doing this for a while (since high school!). Both our families are local (thank goodness), however, his is just his parents, while mine is aunts/uncles, grandmother, cousins, etc. So for Thanksgiving we do the Big Dinner with my family (since it’s pretty immovable), and his parents are gracious enough to move their celebration to a different day. We can give them our undivided love and attention on two different days.

    For Christmas, we have a system that is a little busy, but works for us. Christmas Eve is very important for me and my family, and for the past two years, I’ve done readings at the evening church services. My husband isn’t a huge fan of church, so he stays home. Christmas morning I spend with my parents, and he visits his parents. Typically then, Christmas Day he comes down for dinner with my family, and we again do dinner with his parents another day. We juggle a little, and allow ourselves to be separate a little, but it all works out in the end.

    This year we’re actually going to hit a road bump that might have my husband visiting my family on Christmas Eve, which will be an interesting discussion. The hard part about the holidays is how emotional they can be; this decision isn’t just about logic or reason or what’s “best” for us…. It’s also about love and family. It’s hard.

  • Sarah

    Oh … traditions. Hard enough to integrate into daily life, but holidays are the WORST.

    My husband’s family does not celebrate Christmas. By which I mean the do not approve of Christmas. By which I mean his dad thinks I’m lacking in mental capacity because I DO celebrate and like Christmas. (Yah, he’s a fun guy.)

    It’s always been a HUGE deal to my family. Huge. And Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. It’s been an interesting couple of years getting him used to the idea that this was something I wasn’t going to be able to give up completely. Last year seems to have been a turning point (my mom decided that she was going to, on Christmas morning, treat him as one of her kids now that he “was” (we were engaged) … remember, he once was a little boy who never knew Santa) … this year he’s embracing it a bit more. However, will be the first time in my life I haven’t been around my family for the holiday. Which is insanely difficult.

    It’s been … interesting … so far. Delicately stepping around and trying to figure out how to blend our backgrounds. With his upbringing, he is deeply distrustful of anything considered a “tradition.” What he’s starting to realize is that we’re creating them every day, without meaning to. And that’s perfectly ok.

  • E

    My husband’s family have a tradition of all the men going to the pub while his mum stays at home and cooks Christmas lunch. This is my first year having Christmas with his parents, and I kind of had to put my feminist foot down and ask that we change this tradition. Which I felt a little bad about, but it just seemed really unfair on his mum (“But I don’t mind!” she said) – and then would put me in a difficult position of either staying home because I’m a woman, or going out with the men and leaving her alone, which didn’t make me any more comfortable. To their credit, they are shifting on this – we’re now all staying at home, and hopefully all going to the pub on Boxing Day.

    • WOW! Go you and them for managing to finagle this. I’m really happy to hear this story!

      • E

        Thanks Jolynn – that’s really reassuring to hear! It’s taken a fair bit of work to get to this point so I can’t help but feel a little like I’m stepping on peoples’ toes/traditions. But I figure it’s not just me who wins out of this new situation so…

  • enilorac

    As usual, Meg posts the right topic at exactly the right time (at least for me). We are struggling with pieces of wedding planning because some voices (hint: not ours) insist on being both dominant and domineering, yet we want to incorporate our families’ wisdom and experience into our tapestry of wedding insanity. Tomorrow, we’ll get in my car and drive 350 miles to my parents’ home because it’s the *right* thing to do, and we’ll spend four days juggling between my divorced parents and some time just for ourselves because nonstop family time is not always the healthiest plan for our baby family.

    On a slightly separate note, thank God for APW. At some point, I’ll write more–I actually have lots and lots to say about how this wedding planning process has changed me, and not always for good, but for now… I am thankful for the wisdom from each and every one of you. I came upon APW one night while doing a Google search for “wedding anxiety.” brought up a page that said, “Do you have anxiety over picking your wedding flowers? Here’s a list of every flower ever grown in the entire world!” The next google hit was APW. I never looked back. Love, love, love to all. Thank you.

  • My husband and I started alternating Thanksgiving and Christmas way back when we started dating – seven years ago now! That has worked out well, logistically, and we don’t feel like we’re running around like crazy on the holidays.

    That said, my husband is an only child and only grandchild, and my only sibling lives in another state and can’t always travel for the holidays – making me, in effect, the only “kid” my parents would see on the holidays as well. So, I have a huge amount of guilt, because no matter what my husband and I do, we’re “depriving” someone of their family on the holiday. My parents seem to be ok with the arrangement (or they’re really good at keeping their mouths shut if they aren’t 100% happy, which I also appreciate), but I hear passive – aggressive comments and sighing from my husband’s family from time to time. I try not to respond to those types of comments, because I just see them as guilt trips and not openings to honest communication (maybe I’m wrong, though). Add to the mix a couple of relatives who are quite ill and it gets really hard, because I don’t want to miss the last Christmas where Grandma (who has Alzheimer’s) is still able to recognize her family, or the last Thanksgiving where the relative with advanced MS is able to join us for dinner. I guess I need a shame blaster.

    • Pew! Pew!

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      Not my experience, but a good friend’s – she’s an only child/only grandchild and her parents are now divorced and she’s married. That means three families to please, and two that insist it isn’t Christmas/Thanksgiving/Easter/her birthday without her. They’re working towards reconciliation by making friends. “With the family” doesn’t have to mean “with blood relatives”. Last year she invited some old family friends without relatives nearby to her mom’s family Thanksgiving. This year she’ll spend T’giving with her dad’s family, and her mom’s family will still have enough guests to keep things festive. New tradition!

      It’s not a perfect solution and it’s still wrought with stress for her, but there will never be three of her. Everyone needs to start forming their own traditions that will let them enjoy their holidays with or without her.

  • During the five years my husband and I dated, we spent each Thanksgiving and Christmas together, and rotated around our families in sometimes complicated and exhausting ways. We lived in a separate state from both sets for much of the time, and now live about an hour from his family and two states away from mine. Our holidays have been wonderful, but often tiring from all the back and forth travel attempting to see both families around the Christmas holiday, at least.

    So, we’ve been joking for some time that once we got married, we were staying put, and if family wanted to see us, they could come. And, our parents took us seriously, at least for Thanksgiving! My parents and my sister are driving in today, and his parents are coming over tomorrow, and we’re hosting our first-ever Thanksgiving dinner. I’m so thrilled. Of course, for Christmas we’ll be doing some back and forth to be able to see both families for a few days, which works fine for now, without kids and with flexible work. This post has reinforced my desire to be sure to take time to celebrate with just my husband and me, though, at our home, to set up our own traditions around the holidays.

    • We stay put for holidays and invite family to join us. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, but it alleviates a lot of what’s fair, and whose turn is it arguing.

    • Jealous. The parents would travel (probably), but I have siblings who wear their poverty as a badge of pride and proof that I got everything “handed” to me, so I would be depriving them of a parent by inviting parents here. Ah, family dynamics.

  • Christmas comes 3 months after our wedding (yay!) and 8 months after my parents’ separation (boo). Add that to the fact that my wife has just a mother who lives far away and you get a bit of Holiday Struggle. We are trying to come up with new traditions that we can really invest in and celebrate together so that we dont’ feel like we are trying to recreate something that we CAN’T recreate. Part of me feels like it would be easier/better with kids in the picture, but we dont’ have any and don’t plan to.

    Anyway, we’re looking for ideas! Any traditions that you love? Here’s to making our first holidays *ours*.

    • My favorite things are the silly things that rotate around home: the pajama/lights tradition I mentioned earlier, competitions about who can come up with the best Christmas treat, a new board game every year, C’s family tradition of going to a nearby market and picking out the most ridiculous stuff to eat, singing crappy carols while decorating the tree, stockings, sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to look at the lights through your lashes (this works with menorahs, too!).

    • Morgan

      My favourite tradition that we created? Now, I’m a giant dork, but this really is my favourite thing about December. Lego and Playmobile advent calendars. I kid you not. Something awesome to look forward to every day. Also. LEGO IS AWESOME.

      Oh, and stocking for each other. No matter where we are or when we open then, we do stockings full of silly and sweet presents. Often includes more Lego…

      • Morgan, these are awesome ideas! I share your love of Lego. And stockings.

        • Morgan

          Dave’s been joking for years that the reason he wants kids is that so he has an excuse to buy more Lego. Not that their absence has stopped him yet. His Christmas wish list includes the Lego castle set.

      • Legos!!

    • Roughit, I’m not sure I have any good suggestions, but just wanted to say I understand! My family had some really wonderful traditions while I was growing up, but ever since my father passed away my mom has been unable (emotionally) to carry them on. One thing I looked forward to about getting married was finally having control over my own baby family’s traditions – creating new ones and eventually bringing back old ones that we had had to let go because of the pain associated with them.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I have an aunt that puts an infomercial item in everyone’s stocking. We spend Christmas day trying out random stuff that can be purchased for $9.99 – but wait! if you buy now you’ll receive a second veggie chopper magician, plus these crush proof tomato climbers, the everlasting fruit bag *and* this meat-smoothie maker!!!!

    • angela

      we usually take a picture in the morning of chirstmas day, when everyone is dressed and before going to see the rest of the family. It´s agood collection we have now!!

  • Sylvia

    I just asked my Mum how they handled this situation when she and Dad were first married. Aside from starting a really fantastic conversation about balancing family expectations – seriously unexpected – she gave me an answer that totally cracked me up
    “Darling, when you’re already pregnant at your wedding in July, nobody expects you to be able to travel anywhere for Christmas” Decision made! Not expecially helpful to most of us I suppose but an interesting idea for future years….

  • Kris

    See, now y’all got me re-thinking the system my partner and I have worked out over the last few years. We’ve done Thanksgiving at our respective family’s houses, mostly because it’s not as huge a deal for me and he’s got such a tiny family unit (only mom and two sisters around for Thanksgiving) and I knew it would mean a lot to his mom if she had him there. She’s invited me before and honestly, maybe I should take her up on the offer in the future. My grandmother hosts Thanksgiving these days and honestly it’s become a bit of a free-for-all with lots of random family friends, people from her church, neighborhood and there is no rule that I am *required* to be there.

    For Xmas we do a very formal dinner with his family and dessert/post-dinner extravaganza with mine (let’s just say it involves a jam session w/ lots of percussive instruments). That’s worked mostly cuz our parents live in the same area. We try to have lots of dialogue about how to balance spending time with each family overall, but the one thing I realize now that’s been lacking in our discussions is how we can carve out time just for US. It’s always a race to get to our family’s homes and make sure nobody is short shrifted. I’m thinking I will suggest that maybe we set aside time before Thanksgiving and Xmas just for our own little tradition, like a big holiday waffle-fest or morning movie marathon.

  • Oh, I’m so glad that you brought this up, because, man! It’s a tough one! My situation is well, just as complicated as everyone else’s, I guess. My brother got married years ago, and his inlaws live just a few miles from my parent’s house, and they’re friends now so they have Christmas and Thanksgiving together – piece of cake. We’re not going to be so lucky.

    My fiance’s parents are divorced, one lives in Massachusetts, the other lives in California. My family lives in Arizona. Not exactly convenient for trying to do anything other than alternate. So far, we’ve been lucky – every year we’ve had a great excuse for being at one place or the other.

    Two years ago, my parents were supposed to come to visit us in Seattle for Thanksgiving (before we were engaged) but we got stuck in Thailand and missed the whole thing. Then my nephew was born, so we had to go to Arizona for ‘baby’s first Christmas’, and then last year we had just moved to California and were too poor to travel by air, so we wound up driving to my parent’s house for both holidays….but we’re not getting off so easy this year. Now that we’re engaged, everyone wants a piece of us. So, we’re doing Thanksgiving at my parents, and the fiance’s dad is coming too – which will be interesting, because my parents are, well, from Arizona, and the future father-in-law is a gay man who lives in San Francisco. (insert deep, calming breath here) And for Christmas, we’re making the trek to the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania so I can meet his mom’s side of the family for the first time. He says we only have to do that once, but I’m pretty sure I don’t believe him. I think we’re going to end up alternating every year (unless another new baby comes along, because, apparently, baby’s first Christmas is a huge thing and only a heartless, terrible aunt and uncle would dare miss it.)

    • lol…
      Sorry, but baby wont remember their first Christmas! :)
      We made the effort to go to my nieces first birthday, because we never see my brother (the Dad) and his partner.
      We only found out about DHs nephew (easier to describe things that way, even though I guess also now my nephew!) having a birthday party when photos appeared on Facebook. Which was fine, we’ve actually seen a lot of that side of the family considering they are the same distance away (in the opposite direction) as my brother!

      That said, I actually HAD wanted to start a tradition of being at a few of the important birthdays for our nieces and nephews – 1st, 5th, etc. But to not even be invited??

      When we have kids, I suspect babys first Christmas will be at home, just us, so we dont have to have all the family there and stressing us out! :)

  • I was lucky to grow up with the tradition in my family being that “Christmas takes as long as it takes” — My half-sisters and I are spread across two countries, my parents both remarried when I was little, and since they were both fairly secular-leaning Unitarian Universalists, the only really super time-specific thing was getting to the late Christmas Eve service *somewhere* so there would be singing with candles. And if I didn’t have that, I think sometimes that navigating holidays now, an an interfaith triad, would have driven me bonkers. So we do a little for Yule, and a little for Christmas, and sometimes holiday meetups with my folks don’t happen until January, when my sisters can make it down from Canada.

    But now that the kids are old enough to care, it’s getting harder; they like the solidity of Christmas Eve and Santa and things just so, and one of them is headed in a Christian direction while the other seems not to be. (Firm family policy on spiritual questions: don’t ask Poppy (me) questions about Jesus, don’t ask Daddy about the Goddess, and you can ask Mommy anything.) And it does feel like we kind of avoided having an in-depth “what are we going to do about holiday traditions” discussion; we went light on it, and skated around, and now that isn’t quite enough, and we’re going to have to dive back in 10 years later and do it again, deeper this time.

  • Melissa

    Nothing makes my day like garnering huge amounts of wisdom from the diversity of experience and opinion in the APW comments.

    The beginning of the trouble with my family/husband elect’s family is massive catastrophic divorce on both sides, and following those, most everyone went and remarried pretty nicely except for his mother. So the underlying theme to all decisions made around future holidays will invariably be that her needs are greater than the others. I also anticipate that she will have the most difficulty allowing us to CLEAVE and become our own family (awesome metaphor and one I will hold tightly to in the coming year). I am not excited about trying to keep visits and holiday celebrations on an equal basis for all parents.

  • JEM

    I actually want to avoid reading this post because just THINKING about this stresses me out. But I know I shouldn’t avoid, because there is probably good stuff in here. But…I just can’t do it right now.

  • KA

    Throwing this out there, because I’ve learned that one is usually never “the only one” thinking something on here: Are there others out there whose “baby family” is their only family? That’s the case in our house, and I we’re still trying out traditions and seeing what sticks…

    • Good for you. And keep having fun with it. That’s certainly a tough situation to be in at the holidays.

  • abby_wan_kenobi

    I’m loving all the holiday talk, but I wanted to share one of my favorite family traditions – a birthday tradition.

    Starting from when my sister and I were really little we’d wake up with balloons in our bed on our birthday. I remember waking up and my whole bed would be covered in balloons and there were helium balloons tied to my headboard so I had a balloon ceiling. It was so exciting, you wake up and know *instantly* it’s your birthday!! My parents kept doing it until I was a teenager and my sister was so attached that we kept it up until she went away to college. I used to help and we’d get creative, making a balloon arch over her bed or a balloon curtain when she got bunk beds. I’d stick balloon animals in bed with her.

    It was such a fun, easy thing to do and it was a really special tradition to me. My sister made me a scrapbook of my life when I got engaged and there’s a two page spread that are pictures of little me in bed with balloons :)

    • Sylvia

      LOVE this! What an amazing tradition :-)
      – this post has really inspired me to try out new ideas, they might not stick but there’s definitely no harm in trying balloons to someones bed!

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        In hindsight, this was probably a really unsafe tradition when we were toddlers. Balloons are like, a choking hazard, right? Whatever, we lived :)

    • Oh yea! I love making big deals out of birthdays.

  • M

    Some of the best advice I heard this year regarding the traveling or hosting guests during the holidays is to make time each day to reconnect with your boyfriend/fiance/husband. Even if its just a few minutes at the beginning or end of the day to talk about how things are going. This way you aren’t left in a blur and at the end of the weekend you are back together wondering what happened! I plan to make a point of doing this!

  • We have managed to do Christmas with each family so far.
    Earlier this year, I suggested to (now) DHs Mum that we would likely do Christmas with my family again this year, since my brother was going to be coming in from out of town and I barely see him – havent seen him at Christmas specifically for 3 years!
    I got a response of “well, I havent spent Christmas with MY sister in nearly 30 years” (in a very haughty tone). Yes, dear MIL, but at the same time, you are expecting us to spend it with you and your children (ie DHs siblings), who we have actually seen quite a lot of this year for the fact you all live an hours flight away from us!

    THANKFULLY, we have a trump card this year.
    Given we have now been married just under three weeks and therefore are a baby family, this was something we considered anyway…
    As an added bonus, we went unconditional on a house the day before the wedding.

    So we are hosting Christmas ourselves for our first year married. We have invited all the parents and siblings to join US at OUR new house. My family are the only ones who will be there though – one BIL/SIL hate our home town, the other find it too difficult to travel with their one year old, and the MIL/FIL wont leave DHs Grandmother “alone” in town for the day.
    Next year we will likely go to DHs family, and I suspect the 2 following years (given current plans), I will either be pregnant, or with a very young child (So christmas at my family, then christmas at ours again routine could work quite well!)

    But the main reason for doing this? We couldnt really justify the cost of travelling to his family. And I have to say the house came along with perfect timing to give us another reason so his mother in particular isn’t hurt by our not travelling down. (for me, it also means a non-stressful Christmas… my MIL stresses me out something wicked!).

  • tupelohoney

    This will be our first holiday season as married folk. A few months ago my dad told me that my hubby and I should start thinking about starting our own traditions, in addition to keeping family ones going. Honestly, starting our own traditions hadn’t crossed my mind. It seemed that traditions were out of our hands, something passed down and not something that we could create. But, who says that we can’t start new ones… seems so simple and I love the idea. Already we’ve shared traditions from each other’s families (e.g., my family does stockings so now WE do stockings, his family has mac and cheese and corn bread at holiday meals so now WE do). I’m excited to start our own traditions this year. I’m thinking some off the wall (to us anyway, sushi on Christmas Eve?) and some some throw back ones… scotch on the rocks after dinner to make Grandma proud!

    • Yea for you starting some new ones. Last year we just happened to go to Target two days or so before Christmas, each with a $10 gift card from our wedding, to get stuff for each other’s stocking. The husband really liked that so we’ve decided that’s what we’re going to do from now on. Roughly $10 right before Christmas for the stockings. It’s fun to see what the other can get in just one trip like that.

  • Adam Adolfo

    Such a great post – and so apropo… This tends to be a part of the process that can be torrid territory at best.

    I’m in a young relationship thatwe both recognize is most certainly forever and we’re both having hard times reconciling our Holidays this year. He’s spending his first set of Holiday’s with new family and is having to intergrate himself there and the sheer issue of having to do that with me in the mix I think is intimidating and flustering at best. Add to that fact that both of us loss a parent in the last 11 months makes this holiday season difficult on us due to our sense of responcibility to our remaining parents. It makes the idea of celebrating in the face of all this angst difficult at best let alone trying as we try to make a space for us and our joy in all this.

  • Sara_B

    The Man and I have already started working out how we’ll do holidays once we get married. We’ve figured until then, we go to our respective families and enjoy the time. Once we’re married, we’re planning (at least now) to alternate holidays since my family is out of state and I ususally only get to see them during a holiday.
    My mom is trying to get used to the idea of traditions changing in the future with my grandparents now passed, my sister engaged, and me not far behind. To kick off the future changes, we’re hitting Disney World for Christmas this year. My man won’t be able to join (work is getting in the way), but my sister’s fiance is coming with us. Should be fun!

  • Michele

    Wow, this post – and especially the comments – have been a real eye-opener for me.

    Neither my husband or I is particularly family oriented, and we’re both rather ambivalent about the holidays in general and don’t have any specific traditions that are terribly meaningful to us, so most of this is a non-issue. Thanksgiving has long been a friend-centric holiday – even before we were a couple, and Christmas…well, Christmas is mostly just a blip on the radar.

    Our respective families are thousands of miles away (in opposite directions), so the first year we lived together, we decided on a three year rotation – one year with his family, one year with mine, and one for just the two of us.

    However, the reality of how it’s all worked out is that we never see my family for the holidays, as they live in a very cold part of the country, so if I can only visit once a year, I’d much prefer that visit to be in the summer. I offered to fly them out here this year since they couldn’t afford the trip on their own, but my dad’s work schedule just doesn’t permit it. It’s really quite alright though, as I don’t think I’ve actually spent Christmas proper with them since I was in college, about a decade ago.

    My husband’s family is definitely more into the holidays than mine, and he does feel some pressure to spend that time with his family, but thus far, they’ve accepted the fact that it just won’t happen every year.

    Since this is our first year in our own house, his family (parents AND brother) are coming to visit us, which is fantastic, because it means we don’t have to travel – something I’d always like to avoid doing at the holidays. The downside is that they’ll be here for TEN days and I just might lose my mind.

  • Lisa B.

    I have three older sisters (who are all married) and a younger brother (who is far away from wedding bells), so it’s been our tradition for a long time now to celebrate holidays the Saturday afterward, so the girls can all go to their husbands’ families instead. It’s vaguely paternalistic, I guess, but it mostly works for us.

    My family is just my mom and my sisters and brother, whereas my boyfriend’s family has many more. (He’s got AUNTS! and UNCLES! and COUSINS! Like a real, regular family!! Not to mention his awesome grandmother.)

    So I like to get to go over to his grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, and his parents for Christmas, but I still get pretty bummed out about not having Christmas at the house I grew up in. My mom doesn’t live there anymore, so not only do I not get to spend Christmas with her, I also miss out on our stockings hanging up on the fireplace, and sitting around the living room at the end of the day eating leftover ham sandwiches looking at the Christmas decorations.

    I’ve already decided that once Sean and I tie the knot and buy a house, I’ll host the holidays at least for one year, and invite everybody (aunts and uncles and cousins and siblings and all).

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      My husband’s family is the opposite, all his brothers spend Christmas Day with their wives’ families and his family gets together sometime during the following week. That worked out *nicely* for me. I don’t know if it’s paternalistic or unfeminist, I think it has more to do with logistics. All my hubby’s bros live near their wives family and far away from each other. It just works out to do it the way they do it.

  • “Slowly we are moving away from my traditions and his traditions and towards our traditions. We’re tying ourselves to both of our families, while still creating our own.”

    LOVE this wisdom! My fiance & I started one tradition of our own a few years ago- we make & place a wish in our Wish ornament each holiday season. Last year, my wish was our engagement & it came true :-)

    Other than that, we’re a mess during the holidays. Most of his family leaves about one hour away. Most of my family lives on a different coast. He spends all holidays with his family, as do I except when I fly to California for Christmas. This year, I set my foot down & planned spending some of Thanksgiving with my sister & her in-laws who are like family to me & the rest with his family. His Mom got mad that we won’t be there at noon when she serves the feast. Really, ONE holiday in our four years together that my fiance is missing a few hours & she’s upset?!

    I look forward to the day when we expand upon our traditions & spend the holidays together, just us. I hope this happens someday soon.

    Happy Thanksgiving~

  • I have been living with my boyfriend and his mum for the last couple of years and my Christmas traditions went completely out the window so I can’t wait till we get our own place so we can mix and mingle them.

  • Given weird first year residency rules for my grad program and the fact that Jason and I have two weddings on the East Coast to attend next summer, our parents pretty much gave us a free pass to spend the holidays this year as our own baby family unit. As sad as I am that we’re not getting to see our families for Christmas, I’m also excited and grateful that we get a chance to create some of our own traditions and memories this year. It also takes some of the “my family or yours?” pressure off, I think… this way we get to plan for spending extended time with both our families next summer without the angst of having to decide who gets Christmas Day, etc. (I’m also aware that this probably only works because we a) our parents are immigrants so most of our extended family is still overseas, and b) we each only have one sibling.)

    In short, there are a lot of options and while each one involves giving up something, I’m trying to take the glass-half-full perspective and see the gains rather than the losses.

  • Sylvia

    Something that’s struck me while reading and commenting on this post is that I can’t think of a good term to use when talking about ‘my family’ and ‘his family’ (as in my parents, siblings, aunts etc). Calling them ‘My Family’ feels like it undermines the new family that G and I have created by suggesting that we both have proper families elsewhere, and my ‘old family’ sounds awful, like I’m not part of it anymore or like G isn’t part of it. Maybe the My-lastnames and the His-lastnames? Or Clan-His and Clan-Hers?
    Has anyone else found a good way to distinguish between their ‘old’ family and their ‘baby’ family without slighting either of them?

    • Morgan

      Family of origin, maybe? Unwieldy, perhaps, but not mean.

    • I’ve found that same weirdness. I try doing a mine/his/ours. But the whole “mine” thing is still just a big weird.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I’m with you. It’s tricky, not just because “my” is now my baby family, but because “his” family is my family now too. “His” seven nieces and nephews are mine now too. I don’t like to think of them as his. I like The His-last and The My-Last, but it’s a hard transition. It also feels like a separation since I didn’t change my name.


      • Alexandra

        About as unwieldy as ‘family of origin’ I guess, and not strictly true for everyone, but ‘my birth family’ and ‘his birth family’ [natal?]
        Beyond the last-names thing, my FH’s parents divorced when he was young, so we’ve got the his-dad’s-lastnames to visit and sometimes the his-mom’s-lastnames to visit.
        Ahh, complexity. ;p

  • lmb

    We have no long-term plans whatsoever when it comes to “holiday sharing.” Honestly, we don’t expect our situation to be stable enough to establish some kind of firm rotation. At the moment, we are broke and living an hour from my parents. My partner’s family is a four hour flight from here. Next year, who knows where we’ll be??? This year, his mom asked if she could stay with us over Christmas, so she is going to be staying in our tiny apartment for two weeks and doing all the holiday stuff with us. My parents and one sibling will drive down for Christmas Day, so it will actually be a bit of a blended (though incomplete) family gathering. I was very tempted to declare this an “us only” Christmas, just to avoid the messiness of combining his and my (somewhat different) families, but alas, my partner was not into the idea. He thought it would be lonely to not have a group celebration on Christmas Day. Of course, I also have to consider that because of where we live, he doesn’t see his family very often at all, and so we should be mindful of taking the opportunities that are available to us. On the other hand, I am a little overwhelmed by the way things worked out, as I feel like we will not get the time that we need to spend alone during a very busy/stressful/emotional/important time. I am trying to figure out the best and least alienating way to set some boundaries with his mom so that I am not a wreck by the end of December!

  • My family had no real Thanksgiving tradition besides eating some special dinner. One year we had nobody to celebrate with; the next year three of our family friends asked us over, remembering the previous year. Once, my parents and my brother’s fiance’s parents all came down to Brooklyn and we ate at a restaurant all together (the first “hosting” any of us kids did). Last year my parents, grandfather and I went to a local seafood restaurant (and to this day I wish I’d order their awesome lobster instead of the mediocre turkey with weak gravy). So this year, it’s not such a huge loss that I’m on the other coast as the rest of my family, with my fiance, hosting his parents and grandma. I’m kind of excited even–first time actually cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, I feel like such an adult!

    But Christmas? OMG. This year, THANK GOODNESS, his parents are visiting his aunt and uncle in a town about 30 minutes from my parents’ town. So we can do the always-exciting drive-all-over-the-place-and-see-everyone thing. But we’ll do Christmas Morning with his side, and I’m already sad about that. Christmas is a HUGE deal in my family; we have 4+ events we do. I’ve compromised away pajamas-and-stockings xmas day morning so that we can have xmas dinner with all my cousins (they’re all demanding to meet my fiance too; plus I know it’s the last year that event will be happening where it’s happened my whole life, and possibly my dad’s whole life). So, this will be hard. In a way it will almost be easier once we at least do Christmas morning on our own (though that may not start until we have kids of our own too, and even then who knows), because at least there’ll be something we won’t have to negotiate, and can start building into our own tradition.

  • Melodious

    Oh boy! This is a topic close to home. My family (mother in particular) are Christmas crazy. They usually have the tree up by Halloween and they spend a fortune on gifts. Throw future hubs family into the mix, including a mother born on Christmas Eve and his and his twin sister’s birthdays on the 28th…and did I mention my daughter’s birthday is the 22nd? Oh, and my best friend’s birthday is the 18th.

    See what I mean???

    We’re considering starting our own little tradition next year, since it will be our first Christmas together as an official family. We’re going on a trip. Just the two of us. I’m sure both our families will be furious, but we plan to enjoy ourselves.

    • My husbands birthday is the 28th. Figuring out Christmas is hard enough, but then to do a birthday right after is just real hard.

  • Reading all the different experiences of negotiating with families (good and bad) really makes me determined to be a reasonable parent if I ever am in the position of having a child getting married and having to figure the holiday challenge out for themselves.

    So much of people’s experience seems to depend on whether their parents and in-laws are supportive of their choices (it may still be hard/sad of course, even with their support).

  • Marley

    I’m an only child of only children (thus no siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews) whereas my fiancé is one of four, including two married sisters with three kids each. Plus he still has all his grandparents (I have none) and various aunts and uncles and a bunch of married cousins also with multiple kids. They all live in in the same city as us (I moved to be with him) whilst my parents are 2.5 hours away. So we do ‘weekend-before-Christmas’ lunch with his immediate family, maternal grandparents plus my parents visiting; then Christmas Eve with his parents and various friends; then we drive down to Sydney on Christmas morning to have Christmas lunch and Boxing Day with my parents plus a few family friends who have no family themselves. It works well – his immediate family spend Christmas day with the extended family, so we’re not missed as we’re only two out of about 30 people!! My parents and I love the ‘weekend-before-Christmas- lunch with his immediate family – it’s a crowd, but not as insane as the whole extended family get-together. And in turn, my fiancé loves having the excuse to escape the giant, noisy extended family Christmas day celebrations, as we obviously can’t leave my poor old Ps on their own!

  • Cassandra

    I am so not looking forward to this stuff.

    I *love* Christmas – everything about it. I bake, I decorate, I wrap all the presents, I watch movies, I listen to Christmas music, I like to go and look at lights, there are specific stories I read to my daughter, and to satisfy my mother, I’ve always gone to church on Christmas Eve. I have a ton of traditions that really matter to me. The boy, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about Christmas – after he hit his teens, his mother stopped doing much in the way of Christmas other than family obligations, so he has no interest in the fun parts of celebrating.

    Last Christmas was easy because my parents had booked me a plane ticket home months in advance and the boy hadn’t met any of my family yet. We’re hoping this Christmas will be our last apart from each other, but at the same time I don’t know how the future ones will look. As a child, Christmas was all about my immediate family – both sets of grandparents and all aunts/uncles/cousins live provinces away so we had no one else to celebrate with. My boy, on the the other hand, has divorced parents who live in the same city (where we currently live), with grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of his family who he normally has some obligation to see on/around Christmas. It bugs me a bit that in the future, we’ll probably end up spending more of our holidays with both of his families and very little with mine, despite the fact that Christmas matters a lot to me and to my family. We had a huge talk about this last night, and he just doesn’t understand why this is so frustrating to me. He also doesn’t get why I love Christmas so much in the first place, though. He has been talked into celebrating Christmas just the two of us before I fly home to visit my parents, but I’ve realised that beyond the present exchange (which is really not a big part of things for me), he can’t be very bothered to try and enjoy it with me.

  • bellezyx

    We live about an equally ridiculous distance from our parents (mine are divorced so that makes 3 sets, all at least 24 hours drive away and in one case over water!). Each of the sets happen to live in a particularly boring towns and so are happy to meet in a random holiday spot every couple of years or so – or a few of them are, allowing for combined family holidays (yay!) but where no one has to play host (double yay!). Hiring a house between us is also pretty economical and a nice mini-break for those who have to go back to work and a great start to holidays for those that are taking them.

    • That sounds like a real good system you have going there.

  • Thank you for writing this. I think the kids with divorced parents have this especially hard. Even more if you marry someone who also has divorced parents. Then you’ve got like four families to work out…. it can be exhausting! But this post gives me some encouragement to not forget about the baby family while still being a part of the families of origin. Thanks giggles.

  • 2 years ago, when Christmas landed on a Thursday, my boss let me have Friday off and I got up super early on Christmas morning and drove the 4+ hours to his family’s house so I could have Christmas dinner with them. My mother was peeved (even though she got me for Christmas eve and Christmas morning), but she got over it (or, rather, I didn’t back down and she accepted it). Last year, I couldn’t take any extra time at Christmas, so we opted to do the holiday totally separate and saw each other at New Years (which was when he proposed). I was miserable throughout the whole holiday. I didn’t go into it thinking I would be, but even before we got engaged I felt, at that point, as if I was leaving behind my family during an important holiday.

    This year it’s been quite the discussion. Different factions in my family are having a “cold war,” so to speak, which in some ways makes it harder because my mother (a single parent) will want me there that much more as a result (she won’t come with me to his family). Rotating Thanksgiving and Christmas is tricky, as his family spends Thanksgiving in Disney World every year (this is the first year in 4 years I haven’t gone with them; I couldn’t take the extra time off this year). My family really doesn’t do Easter, and traffic in NY/LI on Easter is a nightmare so we often skip the celebration with his family, anyway.

    So, the holiday of note is Christmas.

    We’ve decided that we’re spending it together, it’s just a matter of where and how.

  • That is a really nice idea. I haven’t been in a relationship this serious probably since I have started dating, so thinking of traditions as a “baby family” was something I never gave much thought to. Now that I’m with someone that I can see myself with for a long time, I think I would like to figure out a little tradition for us. We probably won’t be together this holiday season – she is a teacher and has the luxury of having two weeks off – but maybe, she and I will do something together on our own a few days before she leaves. :) Good post!

  • ddayporter

    Thanksgiving is easy because we live a few miles from my in-laws and my mom (who get along really well, my mom is always invited to their gatherings), and my dad prefers to spend the holiday hunting in the woods so I have no obligation to get to Maine. My sisters have their own places they can be for the holiday so we’re all fine being apart.

    Christmas is a little more fraught. my in-laws have pretty firm traditions for christmas eve and christmas day, and they’re happy to include my mom so no problem there. But even though my dad is not crazy about the holiday, I think he would still like to have his kids around. I can’t see ever dragging Zach up to Maine for the actual day, since my dad refuses to get a tree or do anything actually christmasy. Maybe we will start a solstice tradition with my dad, he would like that. I think I just solved my problem haha.

  • Kate

    When I read this post I realized that for a long time I’ve been conflating Lisa (snowy LDS wedding) and Liz (moderator.) I’m very excited that there are two such kickass women!

  • What a big job it must have been to create this nice website. Very good! And thanks for the contests!Traditions, whatever they are, be they how we fix a meal to how we decorate our lives to how we celebrate special events, are what tie us to our homes, our families, our pasts. They connect generations across time and space. Thank you for sharing.

  • I had my son when I was 19 and we’ve had many different kinds of Christmasses, almost all of which have been piggy-backing on someone else’s celebration. Consequently we have no particular traditions, I haven’t had a Christmas with both of my parents since 1989 and the last one I spent with my mum was 1991. This is a very lonely state of affairs.

    Now that I’m getting married next year and spending Christmas with my intended, my son (now aged 14) and my daughter (aged 4 – from a subsequent relationship), it is finally about figuring out Christmas, our traditions and meanings.

    For the first time in years I’m really looking forward to Christmas. :-D

    • I just wanted to say “Yea!!” and we only have “Exactly” buttons.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with points 1,2, and 5 speaking from personal experience… First of all determining exactly what traditions we held onto and why was the first step in eliminating the “baggage” of rote traditions that were more of a chore than a celebration of our roles in the family. Then actually coming up with our own unique family traditions was actually very liberating… well… once we got past all the push-back and resistance from family members who didn’t understand why we were doing what we were doing.

    • I like that you called some traditions baggage. Because some of them really can be, especially if they have no personal meaning. When we were little my mom thought that she needed to make gingerbread houses with us and every time she tried it was a complete mess and she felt like she wasn’t creating good Christmas memories for us. Then she realized that there’s nothing that says we needed to make gingerbread houses, especially since they were a chore rather than a happy memory. So she stopped trying. And we never missed them.

  • Alexandra

    Great post. FH & I have been together for many years, & spending holidays with both sides of family, usually involving a lot of driving to see my side and his two sides.
    This past year, we hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our house, our first ever hosting, and it was so awesome to not have to travel! My mom & single siblings came, his dad and a friend of ours who is getting divorced and needed a place to be. I hope to do this again in the future! Usually xmas eve has been hosted by an aunt of his, she was too unwell for it this year. I hope she is better this coming year, of course, but starting new traditions for our baby family now that we’re ‘finally becoming official’ is great.

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