The first Christmas my husband and I celebrated after getting married was probably my least favorite. And it had nothing to do with him! It had to do with the fact that we tried to split our day between five different places. By the time we made it to our last stop of the day, we were tired and cranky. We did our best to muster up the last bit of energy we had, but I’m sure everyone (including us) could tell that our hearts just weren’t in it. On our way home that night, we vowed that we were never going to allow ourselves to do another Christmas like the one we’d just had.
My husband and I are in a somewhat unique situation in that our families and most of our siblings are all in the same state. In addition to this, my parents are divorced which means we have three sets of parents. While we love having so much family nearby, we don’t like it as much during the holidays because it always seems like someone doesn’t get visited or an event can’t be attended. We’ve experienced a lot of frustration and guilt over the years as we have tried to make everyone happy, to the exclusion of ourselves.
Since that first Christmas almost seven years ago, we’ve gone through a lot of trial and error when it comes to planning how to spend our time during the holidays. We don’t have it all figured out, but maybe you can learn from our experience and go on to enjoy the holidays a little more fully.
You can’t please everyone This is a hard one for many people, including myself. I love the holidays and I love spending time with family. But there is no way to do everything everyone wants you to do every year. That’s what my husband and I did our first Christmas and it wasn’t enjoyable for anyone. We hated having to leave family after being with them for such a short time. We hated having to reject their pleas to stay for “just 10 more minutes”. And we hated knowing that we were going to have to go through the same thing at the next place we were headed. We finally learned that no matter how well we tried to schedule our time to fit as much in as possible, someone was always going to be unhappy. SO now we have to take a look at each major holiday and ask ourselves: “What is best for our family?” It changes a little from year to year depending on who’s in town, the kids’ nap time, etc. But we found that if we took care of our family first, everything else was easier to schedule because we already had our basic schedule in place. This change didn’t happen quickly and it’s taken some time to implement, but compared to our first Christmas, everything runs much more smoothly and I think that everyone is happier because they know what to expect.
Establish fluid traditions You’ve heard the saying that goes something along the lines of “celebrating Christmas all year long and not just at Christmastime”. The idea of course being that we can have the feeling that surrounds Christmas all the time. I think that this applies to holiday traditions (and other traditions) as well. We can do different activities throughout the holidays that doing have to happen right on or around Christmas Day (or Thanksgiving or whatever holiday you are celebrating). By spreading them out, I think it just adds to the excitement and joy of the season. Holidays are so busy and if the only time you do certain things are during the holidays, it’s possible that doing those activities might lend to more anxiety or frustration rather than the happiness of the event because it’s squished in between everything else you have going on. (Which leads me to my next point…)
Be flexible and willing to compromise Since having kids, I’ve learned to be more flexible with my time. I still like planning and schedules and routines, but they aren’t as set in stone as I used to insist on. Since being married, I’ve learned that true compromise, where both of us are happy with the final decision, is equally important. Back to my husband and I on our first Christmas: we both wanted to see our families on Christmas, so the “compromise” we made was that we’d spend time with my family during the first half of the day and his family during the second half of the day. This sounded great in theory, but in practice, we didn’t even make it over to his parent’s house until 8pm that night. The next year, we spent a little less time with my family and more time with his. Gradually, we’ve been able to work out a system that my husband and I agree on. It changes a little from year to year, of course, but the holidays are actually enjoyed instead of dreaded or something to get through.
Reaffirm your love to those you can’t see or spend time with I remember the first year I wasn’t able to make it to my grandma’s annual Christmas Eve party. I don’t remember why I couldn’t make it, but I felt horrible. It didn’t seem like Christmas. When I saw her the next day, I made sure to tell her again that I was sorry I couldn’t come and that I loved her. I never realized how much holidays and the traditions surrounding them meant to me until the routine I’d grown up with was changed. Inevitably, there will be someone you can’t see or an event you can’t attend during the holidays. But I definitely think it softens the blow when you sincerely tell that person(s) that you love them and they are still special and important to you, even though you weren’t able to see them.
The holidays can be challenging when it comes to splitting time between family, but hopefully at least one of these suggestions will help you.
What has helped you when deciding how to split time between family during the holidays?