Made your holiday plans yet? Naturally, you want to be around family and enjoy the warmth of familiar traditions. But for young couples, combining the traditions of two separate families isn’t always easy.
Both spouses’ families can sometimes place unrealistic expectations on couples and put them in awkward situations. One family may expect you to celebrate the entire Christmas holiday with them and tell you so; the other family may want the same but silently stew. You’re caught in the middle, feeling guilty that you can’t be in two places at the same time.
You can also create your own stress by each demanding to be with your own family during the holidays. You can’t please everyone, so together decide what’s best for the two of you.
A good place to begin is to discuss which holidays are important to each of you and why. Perhaps one of your families makes a big deal of Thanksgiving but Christmas is low-key. You may want to celebrate Thanksgiving with them and visit the other family for Christmas.
I’ve heard of large families who plan an annual “Christmas in July or August” so the entire clan can meet and celebrate the holiday together, allowing young families to celebrate Dec. 25 in their own homes. At their summer gathering, the families make Christmas cookies, wear red and green shorts and T-shirts, and open gifts.
Depending on your situation, sometimes you’ll need to compromise, choosing what seems most fair to all families. Does everyone live close enough to combine their celebrations? Will it work to alternate family gatherings?
When Becky and I were engaged, we talked extensively about this issue. We decided to go anywhere we were invited on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We tried to juggle schedules and tried to “be all places with all people,” boy was that distressing and depressing. We constantly felt rushed, pushed and pulled in every direction. The real sad thing is that often we felt frustrated and angry, feeling as though we had no time for us. I often wish we had just rotated or decided to go to all the Thanksgiving Celebrations we could, but stay home on Christmas — and let anyone who desired just join us. Now my parents are dead and gone, her grandparents are gone as are mine and we feel guilty at times for feeling so frustrated and angry. I think if we had just communicated this to all the family, the pressure would have been off and we could have enjoyed the holidays much much, more.
Other couples choose the typical rotation from one family to another. Whatever you decide, communicate your holiday plans to both extended families so everyone understands and you don’t unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings.
As you make your plans, consider your vacation time, holiday travel and the stress that goes with it, your parents’ ages, family needs, the costs you’ll incur in your holiday celebration, and so on. When you have children, you’ll also want to consider their needs.
You may need to start a new tradition of limited gift giving, especially if you have a tight budget and your families have always splurged during the holidays. It’s wise to be open and honest with your parents about your constraints.
Review your options annually, and be willing to adjust your holiday plans to match your new circumstances. Making a change can be good, especially when it brings your life into balance; now may be a good time to introduce one.
Holidays should be a joyful time, so plan to make them low stress and enjoyable. Spread your visits wisely, don’t spread yourself too thin, count the costs and carefully build healthy relationships.