Monday, October 31, 2011

Ugh, holidays.

Hi, hoping your straight to the point advice can help me out on this one:

We've been married for 2 years, which makes this holiday season coming up our third go at the whole splitting up holidays thing, which is always painful. My family lives 2 hrs away, his is 45 minutes. We both love spending time with our immediate families, but I feel as though I do because my family actually has fun together and he does more out of obligation. Our first year, we did thanksgiving at his mom's and Christmas at mine. Then my dad passed away, so last year we did both holidays at my mom's house. Now, when I say "holiday," I'm referring to the actual day, we always see everyone, but it's the actual day of the holiday that gets us in fights.

So, here we are in 2011 - I want to be with my mom on thanksgiving and my sister has already invited us over for her to cook her first bird. He says it's not fair that we spend thanksgiving day with my family two years in a row. But since my dad passed, I feel like it's emotionally more important to be with my family for the actual holiday day than his.

What would you do here? Does anyone else out there have a hard time splitting up holidays between families?


I was just ranting about this very problem.

H and I both have divorced parents, PLUS he's very close to his sister, who has her own complicated set of holiday obligations. Try splitting 2 holidays btwn 5 families who live all over the US + Canada.

I keep hoping one day we can just fucking stay home by ourselves.*


Regarding your dilemma. Because you spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family last year, you should let your husband pick which holiday he wants to spend with his family in 2011.

You can be there for your mom without physically being there on THE ACTUAL HOLIDAY DAY. It's just a day. I promise.

And if you start trying to measure the emotional importance of being here or there, or (god forbid) get into it with your husb about whether or not his family "actually has fun together," you are really asking for trouble.

One more photo from Holly's wedding by Kristopher Orr

*Mom, Dad, anyone, if you are reading this, I totally don't mean that. L, K, T, L, we are so excited to be coming to Indiana for Xmas this year.


  1. I knew that your response to my email would talk me off the ledge, so thanks!

    Husband and I are still in a mini fight about this. Last night was silent treatment on the couch while I stuffed my face with cake.

    I sympathize with your situation as well, that sounds complicated and difficult.

    What we decided (which I'm still struggling with, although that's my own beef. See above: cake) is that we will eat thanksgiving on thursday at his mom's, then spend a few days over the weekend with my family. His mom gets Christmas Eve, mine gets Christmas Day.

    In the end, I guess it's fair.

  2. At least in the US you have the two holidays to spread the love across, we have just Christmas for everyone to fight over!

    As a child of divorced parents (and grandparents) I can confirm that the date of your family get-together is not as important as the actual getting together.

  3. We are fucking staying home by ourselves for Christmas, and going to friends for Thanksgiving! Know why? We felt it was important to let certain family members know that whether we visited on holidays was NOT about "Whose turn is it," but about how He-Mouse and I wanted to spend our holidays. I will probably bawl on Christmas, not to be near Mama Mouse, but I am really excited to have our own holidays. But seriously. Try it with four sets of divorced parents, two sets of grandparents, and three far-flung states, and pretty soon you'll be too tired and poor to spend every holiday with family.

  4. P.S. I'm going to start visiting people for Groundhog Day and Talk Like a Pirate Day, just to stop this particular squabble.

  5. @Mouse. LOVE THAT.

    We stayed home last Christmas because "we just bought a house and need to work on it." We had one friend in town (Ez spends lots of time with him "chosen family.) We went sledding, I made Christmas dinner, we drank beer, and watched Christmas Vacation.

    Now I want to do that every year.

    We're on the "each family every other year schedule" but I'm starting to contemplate adding a third "just us" year. And maybe a fourth "let's travel" year...

  6. this is absolutely the single most argued about topic for us between the months of september and decemeber. there is never an easy answer like, "this year, we'll do christmas with my folks and next year we'll do it with yours" because things change every year. people get sick, babies are born, siblings get married ... with each passing year, things become more complicated.

    after endless arguments last year, we decided it was time to CREATE OUR OWN TRADITIONS. for the first time, we are spending thanksgiving and christmas BY OURSELVES (with our new baby). i am so excited.

  7. Boo-hoo, your families don't even live that far apart!

  8. like Mouse said, we're visiting parents for other 'holidays' -- President's day, Easter, etc. it's just easier that way.

  9. @17 beats. I love this. Do you think it was easier making that choice b/c of your new babe? Easier meaning, aren't worried about hurting your families feelings.

    @beth about 7 years ago, my mom got tired of the drama that comes along with seeing her family during Christmas and we went on a cruise with ourselves instead. It was awesome.

  10. Know what else? I actually get more good time with family if I DON'T visit at Christmas. No getting dragged to the mall, no getting harangued into taking down the tree, no squabbles related to holiday stress. Just happy visiting.

  11. My husband isn't very close to his family - which is a bummer but at the same time awesome because my family is incredible. We spend our holidays with them (but split between my dad's side of the family and my mom's - which is fixed every year, so there's never any discussion). We have been going to visit hub's fam between Christmas and NYE (when we both have off of work).

  12. I have a mother who is pretty jealous for any free time my husband and I have (probably because we live closer to my is a good 24-hour drive away), but in my experience, any time is better than no time. I agree that the actual day doesn't matter. The next time you talk to whichever one isn't getting the holiday DAY, just emphasize how important it is to you that you get to see them, and that you're SO excited you will have time to visit the weekend before/after the holiday.

    The more excited YOU are to see them, the more excited they will be, regardless of the calendar date.

    ~Stop Me if You've Heard This One

  13. man that sucks. I think we've got it pretty easy - we figured out a while ago that it's more fun to spend Christmas where the kids are, and Thanksgiving with my parents because my mom is crazy obsessed with Thanksgiving.

    I am terrified of my brother having kids and throwing a wrench into my plan, though

  14. Holidays are fun, aren't they?

    I like Mouse's idea of asserting ownership of holidays. Just had a discussion with friends about when we get to not go anywhere for Christmas, and the majority answer seemed to be "when you have kids," which sort of seems like a bum deal if you don't think you'll ever have any (there was also a minority answer about willingness to piss off your parents and a question of what we owe them as adults, but that was too complicated to turn into a rule, and also the bleak answer: "when they die"). We have a rotation like so many other people. Thanksgiving with one family, Christmas with the other, swap the next year. We'll see how long it lasts. I'm relieved that we don't have divorced parents or other religious holidays to further divide our obligations.

    Last year I heard a story on NPR about a married couple who always spent Christmas apart with their respective families which had worked for them for like ten years, but last year they had a baby, which made them decide they needed to spend it together going forward and they both seemed sort of disappointed that they were giving up their separate traditions. I appreciated their spirit of independence.

    Doesn't seem like a great battle field to die on. Approach with a spirit of generosity and try to take turns as much as is practical.

    And ESB is exceptionally wise on this point, so I'm seconding it: "if you start trying to measure the emotional importance of being here or there, or (god forbid) get into it with your husb about whether or not his family 'actually has fun together,' you are really asking for trouble."

  15. I'm with 17 beats on the alternating every other year not being a perfect option - what if someone gets sick! It looks good on paper, but of course, life is messy.

    We are doing Christmas Eve in one hometown and driving through the night to get to another by Christmas morning because we are pushovers. Maybe next year we'll have the courage to say "eff all y'all see you in February" or whatever and go on a trip to Europe or something.

  16. Maybe it's after reading ESB for so long, but I find it hilarious thinking of her in Indiana for the holidays.

    Actually I find it hilarious thinking of her in Indiana at all. What must you think of us Hoosiers?! :)

  17. Yeah, this is the downside to multiple families.

    We've been doing this for YEARS. We both have divorced families, so there are many sets of people to see. We ended up setting up guidelines that work out pretty well. We do Christmas eve afternoon with my dad + stepmom, Christmas evening with his mom, Christmas morning with our respective families (yes, separately, whatever) and Christmas evening with my mom + stepdad. Exhausting. But since we do it every year, everyone knows the drill and no one gets let down. It works fine. And we always spend Christmas eve morning together alone + we head back home Christmas evening and spend the next day lying in bed.

    Thanksgiving we try to combine both families as best we can. And we usually do a day after Thanksgiving meal with whoever couldn't make it. This year we're doing Thanksgiving at our house (first year!) so we get to call the shots. Sweet.

    All that aside, I would agree with ESB. Your family got both holidays last year, let him choose this year. And you can always do something special on the days surrounding the holidays with your family. I personally love the day after Thanksgiving tradition we have. We all eat leftovers and no one stresses out about cooking.

  18. I think I've gotten lucky so far. My parents are divorced and relatively nearby, while his parents are far away. So we either go whole-hog and visit his family, or we split the holidays between my parents in some way (and both parents, being divorced, are used to non-day-of celebrations, etc). This is our first year married, but we get Christmas all to ourselves due to us being long-distance for his job (temporarily). Christmas in Northern California with a hot tub and no family? Yes please!

    That said, I have some friends who have serious difficulties and family guilt laid at their feet each year. It's never easy for people. But remembering that family is important to both of you (which is, really, a good thing) is the best way to value your partner's opinion and feelings on the subject. And I also like the solution you came up with in this situation.

  19. I've decided I'm just going to the bar this year since Aussie has to work and I'm barely in like with any of my fam.

    El Padrito and the StepMonster usually coerce me to go down to their house, via bus, and spend the night NOT DRINKING ANYTHING and having awkward trying-to-smile-but-might-murder-you conversations for Christmas. And Aussie gets drunk after work. I want what he's having.

    As for T-gives? I usually cook. But like I said, I don't like anyone enough this year.

    As for you, what ESB said. You need to compromise, otherwise it'll explode into a year-after-year shit storm. And that's no fun.

  20. Well, we only have Christmas in the UK to celebrate, so we go to my husband's parents one year and mine the next. This is the agreement until the next generation come along.

    We are having a baby in April, so it may be that the christmas after, both families come to us.

    My family actually celebrates Thanksgiving, as we used to live in California and we have started celebrating one weekend in November (not actual thanksgiving day as we don't have that as a day off work here) where all my side of the family gathers, regardless of Christmas arrangements.

    I think if we were in the US, we'd alternate. With husband's family for Thanksgiving and mine for Christmas, and vice-versa the other years.

  21. We've been successful with a 3-year rotation: 1 christmas with my folks, 1 christmas with his folks, 1 christmas alone (AKA bliss). We host thanksgiving every year for both families, making it even-steven and a good excuse to break out the fancy dinnerware.

  22. That couple on NPR could be us! Seriously, the partner and I just hang out with our respective families on Christmas; we've been doing this for a few years and it works for us. I think some of the reasons it works are because: a) neither of us are remotely religious; b) both of our families care a LOT more about the holidays than we do; c) when we met we both had high stress/very-high travel jobs in NYC. We got pretty used to spending holidays apart and when we finally made the call to take 9-to-5 jobs in a slightly less hectic town, it was purely and completely about putting our relationship first. I _still_ get giddy about how much I get to see him. I mean what does one or two days at Christmas matter when I have him the other 363?

  23. My boyfriend and I are going through these growing pains right now (made worse because we live in SoCal, his family is in the Midwest and mine in New England). Luckily my family is innovative and irreligious, so they just moved the date to accomodate us. So we'll be going to midwest christmas on the actual dates of, home for adjusted christmas on the 26th and so on.

    This can also apply to Thanksgiving. One year I was able to get to three Thanksgivings in one weekend. I was a bit tired, but since it's my favorite holiday (a whole holiday only about eating and drinking!), I was filled with so much joy.

    I know circumstances may vary, but really, if you live no more than 3 hours from all your target destinations, then I suspect you can jury rig some kind of clever plan- thanksgiving eve sleepover and help prepping the meal before travel to official sit down T-day at the other family's house, etc.

  24. Like Kate and the NPR folks, my guy and I split up for Christmas. People think we're weirdos, but it works for us because we live in Indiana while our families are in Texas, so we already get to see each other plenty. This is our first year as marrieds, and we're separating the holidays a tiny bit differently. We do Thanksgiving up here and anyone who wants to join us can (this year my mom and sister are coming). We're doing Christmas Eve with my dad's side of the family. We'll split up for Christmas morning, then he'll come over to my mom's for brunch. In the evening, we'll go to his parents' for Christmas dinner. Of course, this only works for us because our parents live within 15 minutes of one another, so I realize we're lucky in that way.

  25. @ Michelle -- we made the decision last year before I got pregnant. however, it was easier to explain it to our parents ... "well, we'll have an infant, so holiday travel will be really tricky."

    i shudder to think about the drama that will unfold next year. *groan*

  26. So we're probably complete pushovers (ok, I know we are) but we go do both families every holiday, every year (with the exception of Easter, his family doesn't really do Easter).

    On Wednesday afternoon, we will leave for my family's house which is 1 1/2 hours away. We always do Thanksgiving with my grandmother and huge extended family at lunch. That afternoon, we will leave for husband's parents which is a 3 hour drive from my family. We'll make it just in time to slide into our seat for Thanksgiving dinner. Yep, two turkeys in one day. We usually stay the weekend with his family.

    Christmas is trickier. My father has holiday anxiety (what we like to call the Grinch Syndrome) due to some messed up childhood stuff and is very adamant about everyone being there on a day that says Christmas in the title. So, we do Christmas Eve dinner with just my immediate family, then Christmas Day lunch at my grandmothers. We try to leave around 3:00, to make it to dinner a little after 6 at husband's family. Then we again spend a day or two there. Actually, last year we also squeezed in a Christmas Eve lunch with his grandparents who live about 20 minutes away from my family, and I usually try to do something special just for us the day before Christmas Eve. So yes, that was 5 Christmases in 3 days last year spanning two states and I don't want to think about how many miles.

    Oh, and it's potluck so I cook something for all of them, freeze it, load it up in a cooler and thaw at the correct house. It's absolutely insane and exhausting, probably won't work when we have kids, but it's right for us for now.

    Not sure if the original questioner's families are on opposite sides of them, but even so they would have less of a drive than we do. Making it absolutely feasible to go to both houses in one day. It just takes lots of planning and a little cooperation in scheduling.

    Are we really the only ones who do this??

  27. But you all live so close! Why not invite everyone over to your house and have a big old shin-dig on one of the days? That's what I would do. People who want to show up can, people who don't want to show up don't have to. Easier to cook than it is to shlep around everywhere, but that's just me because I love to cook.

    But on another note, wtf making people feel guilty over where to spend the holidays? Who cares who you're with on which day, so long as you're with people you care about. Compromise and have fun already.

  28. First let me say I'm so sorry to hear that your father passed away.

    I do agree that your husband should be able to pick which holiday to spend with his parents this year. I'm in basically the same situation as your husband, and I have to say it's been very difficult on me to have to fight to see my family as well. I very much understand the need to be with the family in mourning. To be honest though, seeing my love go through such an enormous loss (and it was a big loss for me too) makes me want to spend even more time with my own family because secretly I'm terrified to lose one of my parents too. We are also going on year 2 and live far away from all of our family, so visiting them is never a quick easy jaunt, and we always have to choose one (of the three because I've got a divorced family - no one lives in the same state) family to visit.

    You shouldn't be pouting up a storm because it sounds like you're getting to see your family as well as his for both holidays. You are married now so even if your family is more fun or needing you more, you also need to put in time with his family because it's important to him. He may not be expressing himself well but you should try to see it through his eyes.

    You're lucky that you can visit both families every holiday, even if it's not the exact holiday day in my mind it still counts.

  29. I just want to add a thought. When I was growing up my mom always thought her family was more fun, and my dad's was the family we saw out of obligation. It caused a lot of long term pain between my parents, and also for me, as a kid, absorbing my parents thoughts about each other's families. I think it really prevented me from enjoying what an awesome person my dad's father is, as a kid, for example. Just something to consider, re: inlaws.

  30. Why not just split up for the holidays? My H and I do Christmas early for ourselves and run around the country separately to fulfill family obligations. We do the in-law thing in the summer when the weather is better and flying isn't such an issue. If we go both places (Wisconsin and California) from NYC we spend four days one place and four at another. Christmas/new years. But ironically that is when our families are more difficult.

  31. Man, I am with you on not wanting to spend the holidays with his family. I really dislike my mother, brother and sister in laws (and really, my husband isn't too fond of them either) so for the first two years we were together, I was able to wrangle both Thanksgiving AND Christmas with my family. This year, a combination of things (work, his new nephew, a sense of "fairness") are keeping us in the area for Thanksgiving, and I am having such a hard time dealing with it!

    We are lucky, in a way I guess. My parents understand the need to juggle holidays (as kids we spent every thanksgiving and christmas at my paternal grandparent's house and I gather that neither my mom nor my maternal grandma was happy about that- as my grandma says "I got Easter. Who wants Easter? Seriously?") so they haven't made a fuss about us missing a holiday. My parents are also visiting us the Sunday after Thanksgiving for a dinner so we at least get to spend SOME time with them. His family also hasn't voiced (at least to my knowledge) any objection to his missing holidays- we live in the same area as them, so we interact with them on a much more frequent basis. In that sense we're lucky.

  32. It is so good to hear that others have to go through this pain. Husband and I have been married for 3 years now. I thought the first 2 Christmas Celebrations (no Thanksgiving in Oz) were painful enough when it was just split between 3 families but then my parents had to split up just before Christmas last year and now we have 4 families to visit and unfortunately none of them live close to one another. On top of that I am an only child so at least one of my parents is guaranteed to be alone on the day if we don't visit. Nightmare! I used to love Christmas and now I dread it it just like my Husband.

  33. Ugh. I feel you, sister. In my case, it's reversed from you and your husband, with the added complication that Mom is a single Mom and Grandma helped raise me as well, and I actually, genuinely do want to see THEM.

    In other words, those obligations are real. Maybe they don't seem as legitimate, but they really are. And you need to try and respect that. (I know, it's hard. I'm not pretending it's not.)


    Anyway, T-day is easy because we usually go on vacation*, and that's been long-standing, so it's generally just Christmas that's a question, and we're 1 hr from my family and 3.5 hrs from his ... in opposite directions. (Oh, how I wish that my family was 1 hr ON THE WAY to his! It would be easier! Or maybe not, but I like to think it would be.)

    Anyway, we've worked out a for-now solution that is labor-intensive but workable for now, which involves a lot of driving. It's the fairest way we can do things and though it makes for a tiring holiday, it's rare a holiday is relaxing, anyway, so I can live with that.

    Anyway, what I would say is, let him choose the holiday, however if he doesn't have a preference (just definitely wants one or the other), I would say you should do T-day, because your sister is doing it for the first time. If hubs really wants that day, then that's fine, but I think you say, "Last year was a one-off. We do one or the other w/ your family, and one or the other with mine. It's the only fair way for everyone. Which day do you want more?"

    *Basically, with T-day, we either go on vacation with his family or we don't, and if we don't we default with my family. It's Disney World, so there's generally no hard feelings either way. No one can compete with The Mouse.

  34. @Kayla - Nope, you're not the only one. But I don't cook. Then again, no one expects or WANTS me to cook ... lol ... :)