Monday, October 18, 2010

home(s) for the holidays

As a newlywed couple, you've just navigated the perilous waters of planning a wedding to the tastes of two families and (hopefully) kept everyone happy. You think you're done with family-related stress and complications for a while once the wedding has come and gone... and then come the holidays.

Fortunately, in our case, there hasn't been much drama around holiday-splitting. Our main obstacle is geography: my family is in Atlanta, where we live, and Jon's is in northern Idaho. Thanksgiving is sort of a non-issue because of the distance. Jon has done Thanksgiving in Chattanooga with my mom's family for two years already, and his younger brother even joined us last year from L.A. since their mom was out of the country on sabbatical.

Jon and Matthew at Uncle Mike's house, Thanksgiving 2009

Christmas is where things get trickier. In years past, Jon has flown out to Idaho (via Spokane) a day or two before Christmas to be with his family while I've stayed in Atlanta to sing and do my family's Christmas thing, making the trek to Idaho on Dec. 26 or so. Now that we're married, Jon's mom has insisted that we stick together for our holiday travel rather than fly on different days (which I think we would have done even without the maternal mandate).

We started talking about it months ago; not just about dates and flight times, but about what parts of our respective traditions are most important to us. Yes, I have a paying job in a church choir that demands my presence at church on Christmas Eve, but singing those services is pretty much essential to my holiday experience. I told Jon that if the day comes that I don't have a church gig and we're out in Idaho (or somewhere else) for Christmas Eve, we're going to have to find me a church so I can sing christmas hymns and light candles and all that jazz.

My sister and I were always singing in the choir and mom was on the church staff for more than 20 years, so most of our family stuff happens on Christmas Day itself: presents, brunch, foodcoma naptime, dinner, holiday movie outing is how it normally goes. In Jon's family, the boys have tended to nag their mom until she gives in and lets them open a few presents on Christmas Eve, and they do the rest on Christmas Day, which is also when they eat their big festive meal.

The approach we're taking this year is to try and split Christmas Day between both families, despite the 1,924 miles (as the crow flies) between them. We've booked a flight out of Atlanta at noon on December 25, which means we'll have to get started a little earlier than usual at my parents' house so we can get through all the presents before Dad takes me and Jon to the airport. No brunch for us! Boo hoo. We have a 40-minute layover in Salt Lake City (yikes! hope the weather's good) and arrive in Spokane around 4 p.m. Idaho time, which will put us at Jon's folks' house around 5:30, just in time for more presents and dinner. At least we'll get one fancy Christmas meal in! We'll stick around out there until New Year's Day, as we did last year, so we can get a good visit in.

My Idaho stocking hanging up with Jon's family's stockings

Logistically, it's all sorted... but, I gotta say, I keep thinking of new ways in which it will be just plain WEIRD. Jon will be sitting out in the church congregation with my family, and he'll come to Waffle House with me and my sister and my best friend Winston (and Abby if she's in town) for late-night Christmas Eve waffles. I'll go home and finish wrapping presents, like usual, and then Jon will sleep with me in my bed at home for the first time. WEIRD. (Emily told me to remind her of this fact so she doesn't try to climb in bed with me half asleep on christmas morning while we wait for our brother to wake up.) It also just occurred to me that we'll have to find a spot for Jon to sit for present-opening, since we all have our usual christmas morning places in the christmas tree room... it never ends! (Not to mention I've totally meant to make Jon a stocking for our house and have yet to do so. Doh!)

Christmas Eve 2009 at Waffle House with Emily and Winston

On the other hand, once we get out to Idaho, it will be nice to not be the only one opening presents for once! I'm looking forward to my mother-in-law's delicious dinner, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn't miss the Swiss steak in my family's dining room that night. Jon probably has some thoughts on what will be weird about me being in the middle of his family's traditions on christmas day, but since I don't know those, I'll spare you any speculation. This post is way too damn long already.

So, readers, now it's your turn to weigh in. How did you decide to split holidays with your family-in-law once you were married? Was it totally bizarre having your spouse suddenly in the middle of your own family traditions (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, otherwise)? Or are there some of you out there who avoid the hassle altogether and do something on your own, sans families?

*apologies for the inconsistent "christmas" capitalization throughout... it got late and I stopped caring :)


  1. Gah it is so complicated. We are not sorted yet...

  2. We're not married yet..but if you'll have it:

    My family moved to Texas while Isaiah and I were dating in Chicago. I moved to be with them and go to school and Isaiah followed soon after. We definitely have this crazy situation as well...Isaiah's family is still in Chicago...and we spend all year with my family down here.

    Anyways. On with the split.

    Super typical: We spend actual Christmas with my family because airline prices are NUTS. We fly to Chicago together from December 27th (spend my great-grandma's birthday with her) and then spend the majority of the rest of the time with a mix of Isaiah's family...our friends and a few members of my family...usually wrapped up in one family dinner.

    However, I get the strain. It doesn't feel fair that Isaiah is only away from his family because of me...and yet we spend only a smidgen of time with them every year...if we figure out something better to share, I'll let you know...until then, all you can do is try.

  3. Ah yes, didn't mean to discriminate against non-married holiday-splitters! it was late when I finished the post... I'm sure our holiday situation will evolve as we potentially move and someday have kids (THAT will be tricky!), but I feel pretty good about what we've come up with this year. We'll see how it goes!

  4. We've been splitting our holidays since we started dating. We typically do Thanksgiving with his family and Easter with mine. We're going to attempt to share Christmas Day this year, assuming we can find reasonably priced flights from Pennsylvania to California!

    I actually really, really enjoy sharing my family's holiday traditions with Nick. Though, admittedly, I'm anxious to start our own traditions with our own (future) family!

  5. Nice! Easter is another one of those non-issue holidays, since I'm always at my church job and my mom was at hers too when we were growing up. we just don't do much of a family thing around it. I guess that makes it easier, having fewer things to split up! Christmas seems to be the biggest deal to everyone, so at least we're on the same page there...

    As for reasonably priced flights, good luck!! We went skymiles for sure. If we hadn't it would have been about $1000 RT apiece! 50K skymiles was a little easier to stomach. (I had to transfer about 32K miles from my parents to get up to the cost of my ticket, which cost $280 -- way better than $1000.)

  6. Most holidays are spent avoiding family gatherings on both sides and instead eating peanut butter and jelly and napping. It's glorious. For Christmas, we spend the morning with his folks and the evening with mine. Of course, they only live maybe an hour apart so there's no need for flights. The one big awesome we've each gotten from combining our families is that we get two birthdays. TWO BIRTHDAYS! That's two cakes and double the presents. Win.

  7. Oh boy, Christmas has already been such a big thing for us this year! John's parents bought us tickets to Dallas in August, and we assumed we'd fly in and out of Dallas to see my parents, until John's mom started to dictate the ways in which we would pay for said tickets (really?!). In the end, John is going to skip seeing my family all together (which I'm not crazy about) and I'll spend the 26th to the 30th with "my people". I just can't wait until we can say, "Come to our house for Christmas!"

  8. We're getting married in 2 weeks and have been together for 9 years yet this will be the first Christmas we will be spending together!

    We're both very family-orientated and the fairest thing we could come up with to decide who we spend Christmas Day with was a toss of the coin. I "lost" which means this will also be the first time I have Christmas dinner without my parents! It's going to be very weird! I feel like you, I can't wait until we can host Christmas! x

  9. it's a lot of traveling but it sounds exciting at the same time. you're starting a new tradition and i really like your positive outlook.

    we have been celebrating most of the high holidays with josh's family. fortunately hannukah and christmas don't overlap this year. BUT. his dad's birthday is december 25th. so there's some confusion there. we usually don't travel for birthdays, but with two things to celebrate that day it always feels like one has to be more important than the other. thanksgiving is a challenge, but we worked it out. i think each year we'll have a new approach until something works. i think his family is having the hardest time with it. my family goes a lot of holiday celebrating before and after the holiday. with so many people to see, it works for us. i think my husband's family is used to having everyone around on the day of the holiday.

    as a newlywed i think our families expect us to do all of this bending over backwards to spend equal amounts of time with both sides. sometimes it's inconvenient to us because we're getting pushed and pulled. but i guess i should feel lucky that we are so loved.

  10. Perfectly timed post, Kathleen! We have Thanksgiving worked out and are trying to make plans for Christmas now. We've always done Christmas separate in the past since our families are in different states, but this year we'll be changing our routine to spend it together. I think I'm more worried about how our families will feel about the change & us splitting our time. Not easy!