I think one of the hardest parts of being a newlywed is learning how to navigate the holidays as a married couple. It took Chris and I a few years to get the knack of splitting holidays between families. Now, we have a pretty good holiday routine that we are comfortable with and that our family expects, so it’s easy for everyone to plan. We rotate Thanksgiving and Christmas between our families. If we have Thanksgiving with one, we have Christmas with the other. And then the next year we switch and have Thanksgiving with the family we had Christmas with the year before.
Now that our kids are getting bigger, though, Chris and I are trying to figure out how we can work our own family into the holiday schedule. This will probably be the last year that we travel on Christmas for a while. As our kids get bigger, we want them to have their Christmas memories at their own house. Plus, how will Santa find them if we’re always bouncing around on Christmas? We also want to have Christmas at our own house because Chris and I like exchanging gifts with each other in our own home. We’ve always done that. Even in years past when we traveled for Christmas, we would always do our own Christmas with just the two of us at our house before we left. Then, the first year we had Bean, we had our own little Christmas party for three on a random Tuesday night a couple days before we were flying home for the actual date of Christmas.
For the past few years, though, Chris and I have gotten used to being with someone else’s family at the holidays. So, I thought today I’d share a few tips Chris and I have found useful over the years when you’re spending the holidays with someone else’s family.
1. Bring food. And wine. Bring a good, tried-and-true recipe that you can share with the family. It’s really nice if it’s a recipe that is unique to your own family or something that you always have at your home. That brings a little bit of you into their family, too. When you get there, give the dish to the hostess and give a nice bottle of wine to the host. It might sound old fashioned and oh so very Southern, but manners don’t age and they aren’t regional. Everyone appreciates someone who comes baring gifts.
2. Don’t expect your momma to show up. I don’t mean that literally, unless maybe your mom has a habit of showing up at dinners that you are invited to? I think we all have a tendency to see the way our own family celebrates a holiday as the only way to celebrate that holiday, but there are lots of traditions out there and each family has their own. Appreciate the traditions of your partner’s family, and if you’re really struggling with a holiday that is totally different than the ones you had growing up, just silently remind yourself that next year, you’ll get to share your family’s traditions with your partner, too.
3. Don’t drink too much. This one should probably go without saying, but I’m saying it anyways. And I speak from experience here. The Christmas that we were going to announce our engagement to Chris’s family, I was a nervous wreck. We were so young to be engaged and I wasn’t sure that his family would be too excited about the idea. So, I had a glass of wine to loosen up before the Big Announcement. And then I had another. And another. In short, I drank so much that I dropped the F Bomb at his Grandmother’s Christmas dinner table and went home wearing the neighbor’s front door wreath around my waist. Sadly, that is a true story. You’ll have to ask my sister-in-law, though. Chris has permanently blocked that memory from his brain. In some families, eat, drink, and be merry is part of the fun, but be careful with the drink part. Especially if you’re nervous or drinking because you think you’ll have a better time.
4. If you have kids, set some limits for family members. Gracie and Bean are pretty flexible with schedules and routines. They like to have their own, but they do pretty good if we are on vacation. But even the most laid back kids hit overload really quickly on vacations, especially over the holidays where gifts and Christmas cookies are given out at every place you visit. Very kindly and politely, but somewhat firmly, let your family know ahead of time what your kids schedules are like, when they’ll need a nap, and when they’ll need to eat. I made a huge mistake when we went to visit my sister last month because when Gin asked me what the kids’ schedules were so she could plan around them, I told her they didn’t need a schedule. I knew she had all kinds of fun things planned and I didn’t want to put limitations on anything. The result was that the kids were overtired and overscheduled and pretty much cried the whole time. I learned a big lesson. Speak up when it comes to your kids needs. It might feel like you’re being demanding, but it’s a lot better to be demanding that to have to deal with overtired kids for your entire holiday.
5. Send a thank you note. After the holiday, be sure to send a thank you note to your host or hostess. Thank them for inviting you into their home on such a significant day and tell them specifically what you enjoyed the most about the day (the food, the conversation, the three-hour game of Monopoly after dinner, etc.). A little thank you will go a long way.
6. Remember that holidays are more than just a day. Holidays are about family – yours or someone else’s. They are about being thankful for what you have and the people in your life. They are about being a blessing to others and spending time with people. And that can happen on Thanksgiving Day or the week after Thanksgiving Day. It would happen on December 25 or on December 16. Dates are just technicalities. So don’t get too bummed out if you’re not home with your parents on Christmas Eve or if you don’t get to eat your Grandma’s green beans on Thanksgiving. Celebrate the holiday wherever you are, whenever you are there.
7. Give it time. Chris and I have been married for six and a half years, and together for over 13 years. We’ve shared more holidays together than I can count and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But it took us a few years before it felt natural to be with his family on holidays instead of my own. Do I still miss my family when we aren’t together on a holiday? Absolutely. Christmas morning just isn’t the same unless my sister and I sleep together at my parent’s house (though our husbands continue to find that tradition very odd). But as the years go by, I learn to appreciate Chris’s family at the holidays more and more for the traditions that they have given to me. The first Christmas I spent with them when they just started ripping into presents right and left and it was all over in about 20 minutes, I almost cried. I was still gushing about my second present by the time everyone else was done. In our family, I grew up with Christmas presents taking hours to open because we did them one-by-one and made a big production out of each one. But over time, I’ve learned that that frenzied Christmas present approach is actually a lot of fun! But it took me more than a couple years to appreciate it. So, give it time before it feels like your family, too. I think that’s normal and natural. Just be sure you’re making an effort and not waiting for everyone to adjust to you.
Tomorrow, Chris and I are leaving with the kids and heading to my parent’s house, where my sister and her husband will meet us tomorrow night. We’ll have Thanksgiving with everyone, including my Grandma. On Friday, the girls are going shopping with the kids while the boys play golf and we’re all meeting back at my house Friday night for leftovers and movies. Saturday we are watching football all day and watching my beloved Seminoles kick the orange and blue out of the Gators. Sunday we’re all going to our church together before everyone heads home. It’ll be busy and I’m sure I’ll gain 35 pounds, at least. But I’ll be with my family and I’m thankful for that. And then at Christmas, when I’m with Chris’s family on Christmas morning, I’ll think about how much fun I had at Thanksgiving when I start to get a bit homesick and that sweet memory fill my heart and help me enjoy my time with someone else’s family.
That’s what good families do. They love you up good so that you have that fullness to last you until you see each other again.