Modern Etiquette: How to Negotiate Shared Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time of family togetherness. Extended relatives make the once-a-year visit, honored family traditions are upheld and, in general, most of feel a little more lovey-dovey. Unfortunately, the larger your family gets, the more difficult it gets to share your time.

Every couple knows that things have gotten serious when you start discussing shared holidays. It starts with an innocent 4th of July barbecue. But six months later, your grandmother is crying because no one will appreciate her homemade cranberry sauce like you do. And secretly, you’re crying, because you’re really going to miss that cranberry sauce! Then comes December. Who gets Christmas Eve? What about Christmas morning? Day after brunch? What about extended families? Mothers begin jockeying for prime position months in advance. Siblings start whining about your scheduling conflicts. And finally, if you’re stuck in between two large, loving and extremely close-knit families like I am, both sides have to come together and plan out a holiday calendar.

You think this is an exaggeration? We had a planning party with calendars and Blackberries ready so that my family and my in-laws could coordinate November, December and the beginning of January. I don’t have a Sunday to sit around and watch football until the Superbowl. We even have labeled mandatory and voluntary events. I realize that we might take this a little farther than most, but every new couple or family has to deal with split holidays, and it’s not easy. So, I decided to give a little advice on how to plan your holiday calendar and try to keep everyone happy. Maybe, even you’ll be happy by the end of it.

Play Fair: This is the number one rule. It’s true, you’re family is joyful and amazing and spectacular. Of course, you want to spend all your time with them. But your significant other’s family deserves a little love as well. And your SI has their own traditions and favorites that they don’t want to miss out on. So if you’re going to start sharing holidays, everyone had better be ready for a little compromise.

Start Your Own Traditions: The best way to make the holidays feel special, and to make you feel like a grown up, is to start your own traditions. At your own house. With your own cooking. Seriously, you’ve watched your mother do it for years, all the planning and preparation. Now it’s your turn. It doesn’t have to be big, but taking time for your own household, instead of relying on your parents to create all those lasting memories, will be a huge step in reclaiming your holidays.

Schedule In Your Sanity: Mothers always seem to have a million fun holiday ideas. And as great as they sound, you can’t agree to all of them. Make sure you have at least one day left in your weekend to be home. You won’t feel cheery at all if your time is spent shopping and baking and caroling, but you’ve had no time to decorate your house and your laundry is threatening to stage a revolution in your bedroom.

Don’t Overpromise: This is always my problem. Sometimes, your schedule is bigger than your stamina. You can’t split up breakfast, lunch and dinner between 3 different groups of people and expect to enjoy all of them. And especially when you have a child with you, schedules aren’t reliable. There’s no telling when your little one will need a nap or start to get fussy. Or, when you’re all going to be having an awesome time and no one wants to leave. So try not to schedule back-to-back events without factoring in the reality of meals, nap-time, travel-time and all those other fun things that pop up.

Make A Day Of It: One whole day of gingerbread houses, presents and caroling will feel a lot more special than 3 separate nights squished into a busy week. If possible, plan a whole day with each side of the family. It gives you the time to enjoy each other, instead of rushing in and out for each event. Really, the best things about the holidays are relaxing and enjoying your relatives, not the tree trimming or the fudge baking. So make sure there’s plenty of time for long conversations and a couple holiday cocktails.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday!

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    • Colleen

      Family friends do the “every second year “Christmas. Because everyone has to travel, all four siblings and their kids travel to one person’s house (usually their parents’ house) for Christmas Eve, spend the night, then head home late Christmas Day.

      The next year, they commit to their in-laws’ houses for Christmas Eve/Day, and hold a pre-Christmas event the weekend before at someone’s house on their side of the family.

      They still get Christmas with both sides, but aren’t rushing from one place to another, and both their family and their in-laws families are happy.