Someone Else’s Holiday

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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22 thoughts on “Someone Else’s Holiday

  1. This was a great post! My Mister and I fight EVERY YEAR about Christmas. Every year. You’d think we’d have the hang of things by now almost 5 years later, but we both still miss our own families and would rather be with them. But thanks for the reminder that it’s not about the day and that the other family is still full of love for you =)

  2. Christy

    Several things:
    -My fiance’s family opens presents one at a time and makes a big production out of each and every present..my family rips into all the presents in a gigantic Christmas frenzy! I remember being so bored and annoyed with the one present at a time thing the first time I had Christmas morning with B’s family. Now I’m totally fine with it..and appreciate a lot more since I have to pay for the presents these days.
    -I’m glad you wrote this post because I was feeling really pessimistic about traveling to both my fiance’s family Thanksgiving meal and my family’s Thanksgiving me for Turkey day…but it’s about family and that’s really what’s most important. Besides, the leftovers will be abundant for weeks.
    -After watching the Gators struggle against Furman last weekend I’m not going to lie…I’m a little nervous. However, in all kinds of weather we’ll all stick to together…..for F-L-O-R-I-D-A!! Gator fans are corny…and proud!
    Enjoy Thanksgiving! It will be such a blessing to start your own family holiday traditions with your babies.

  3. Great post. I’ve been married 3 yrs (together for 6) and I still hate not being with my family on holidays. It’s so hard to be with a family whose traditions and attitude toward holidays are so different. It truly is hard to sit there and not feel mopey about how it could be “better” (“better” being subjective because it’s really just different). I’m still adjusting and I don’t know how long it’ll take before I don’t feel that way anymore. In the meantime, like you, I’ll just keep the positives in mind.

  4. I love this post! I am a newlywed who will need a glass of wine for my first holiday away from my family. But I will try to avoid your wreath situation . That’s hilarious! Hey, at least they knew you were real!

  5. Sarah H.

    GREAT post. I also love spending the night with my sister at my parents on Christmas Eve! She married a Jewish guy so we get her for every Christmas, but they get every Thanksgiving. My husband’s parents live 6 min from mine, so at least the balance part is easy…we do all of our holidays together!

  6. Ali

    This will be the first Christmas Eve that I haven’t spent with my family, but I’m excited to see his family’s traditions and get to be a part of that! And I still get Christmas morning with my gang! Awesome post, one of my favs.

  7. #3 was pretty dang funny. Thanks for all of the tips. It’s definitely important to remember all of those things when you’re with your partner’s family.

    And I pray we do kick the Gators butts! GO N-O-L-E-S!

  8. Thank you so much for sharing! It seems like this is on everyone’s minds at the moment! We have done Thanksgiving together for 5 years now and I share that pretty well, but Christmas is my absolute favorite, so we did our separate thing the first 2 years and then we have done Christmas with my family the last two years. His parents are coming out this year so it will be the first time I don’t sleep at my parents for Christmas Eve and I won’t get to go snuggle with my sister (glad we aren’t the only ones who still do that!). I do need to learn to let go and accept other Christmas traditions, but we have been talking about it and what kind of traditions we want to have for ourselves.

  9. Thank you so much for this post! It’s come at the perfect time! This year will be the first year ever that I am not spending Christmas with my family. I’m newly engaged and I’ll be spending Christmas with my soon-to-be-hubby’s family. Who do things very differently. Like opening presents on Christmas EVE! (uh, you’re doing it wrong!). Thank you for the reminder that yes it is going to be different and sad and I’ll miss my Mom’s mince pies and my Dad in his stupid Christmas hat, but different is not bad. It’s just different.
    Thank you!

  10. Johanna

    Perfect post, thank you Katie! I just saved it in my good reads folder on my computer 🙂
    I just started dating someone whose family lives 1300 miles away from mine… This year we will each go to our own Christmas celebrations, but if this keeps going strong there’s going to be some tough decisions next year!

  11. Cal

    Thanks for writing this post. I felt the same way with my husbands family on Christmas. Its so much fun to watch kids open presents but with 7 kids opening at once its all over so quickly! I think the hardest thing for us was hosting his family on Christmas. Since it was my home I wanted to do things how I was used to them, but his family still had their own traditions even though they were at our house.

  12. Alyssa

    Oh katie-I am so glad you have been able to deal with this issue so well. Growing up holidays were rotated btwn my mom and my dad’s family and to this day I have not been able to come to terms with how my dad’s family did their Christmas. Everyone opening in a frenzy makes me want to cry too and the absolute worst? Everyone eating wherever they wanted! No big table, no prayer! Now that my husband and I are adults we still struggle with how to handle family holidays. A wrench was thrown into Christmas this year when 1 family suddenly switched days and it’s causing us a lot of grief trying to figure it all out. I’ve been with my husband for 10 years and it never seems to get easier!

  13. Natasha

    Oh, you got me with this one. My family has ALWAYS opened one present at a time from oldest to youngest. My first Christmas with my husband’s family, they ripped open everything in 15 minutes while I sat there stunned and hadn’t opened a thing. About 3 years ago, we made a stand to have Christmas day at our house since our kids were 4 and 1 at the time. Now my inlaws come to our house and they brought the free for all gift opening with them. Now I just watch everyone open theirs and wait to open mine slowly. Then everyone makes fun of me, but we now have our own tradition!

  14. Erin B

    This is such a great post and so helpful. My husband and I struggle getting the balance between the holidays. My family understands the split but his family is impossible. They think that since they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving(they’re British that just move to the states), we should spend every Christmas with them. Any advice on that?

  15. Katie N.

    Would it be weird if I printed out this post and read it to myself over and over tomorrow and the rest of the weekend as I spend my first Thanksgiving ever away from my family so that we can be with my husband’s family? I’m just saying 😉

  16. Susan R

    Thanks for the post. I have been married for 2 years (together 10) and Holidays are hard. Part of our problem is that our parents live so close to one another we cannot just split Thanksgiving and Christmas I actually wish it was an option. Thanks for the post I stress out as the Holidays come along since we have been married. It can only get better…..right 🙂

  17. Holidays haven’t been too tough for my hubby and myself but this year, it’s getting interesting since we have the little guy now. EVERYONE wants him at their house on Christmas morning and no one lives within an hour of each other. We’re still debating what to do and know that some people are going to be upset but the only thing we can say is “next year”. Oh and I feel ya on the booze situation. I’ve learned my lesson there. oh yes…not good memories at all.

  18. Lot’s of wisdom here Miss Katie. Great post. No really, magazine feature worthy post even.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  19. D.

    When we were kids, we hated getting up to a quick unwrapping and then spending the day being carted around from house to house. We wanted to stay home, in our home…when we grew up, my sister was adamant that her kids would spend Christmas at home so she began the tradition of an extended family celebration on Christmas Eve (with the big dinner and all) and then everyone stays home (in their own homes) on Christmas Day. It has worked well, although, recently, (since I moved only a mile away) she and I have begun to cheat and usually meet up about 6-ish on Christmas night for dinner. Shhhh…don’t tell the others 😉 The other option is for you to host Christmas dinner in the evening and have BOTH sides come to your house…I have friends who do that and it works well…the kids love it.

  20. Great post! My husband and I have been struggling with juggling the holidays since our dating days. His parents are divorced and he always hated being shuffled around on the holidays. Now that we have our own kids, it’s hard not to try to do everything that we always did, but something has to give. We want our own traditions, too. I just think his families have a hard time with that because it’s how they have always done something. We will always be the black sheep, but I don’t want to regret not doing our own thing.

  21. This post was awesome. I just had my first Thanksgiving with my husband’s family at their family friend’s house…and it was fabulous! I will admit though, I was not excited about it and thought for sure it would not be the same without my family. It wasnt, of course, but it was lovely. And thanks to your reminder, I just wrote out my TY note! 🙂

  22. Kat

    LOVE these tips! And I love your southern ways – thank you cards?! Oh my…I don’t even bring wine or food to my mother and grandmother in law! I am feeling like complete poo right now, but I’d like to blame at least some of this on my husband who keeps telling me NOT to do any of that.

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