Over the River and Through the Woods to (insert name here)’s house we go…

christmas_visitAhhh…the holidays! A time for food, holiday festivities and families. Yes, it’s all fun until you try to work out the itinerary of where you need to be and when you need to be there over the next few days. Some families have the same itinerary every year. They sometimes call it a tradition but it can be more accurately called expectations.

“But we ALWAYS go to grandma’s house on Christmas Eve!”

“We’ll open presents at our house then we go to my parents for Christmas lunch and then your parents for Christmas dinner.”

During a time that shouldn’t be stressful is often the case when those “traditions” are set in stone.  If anyone deviates from those traditions then you might as well move to Siberia because you will not get a white Christmas but a frosty one at that.

Managing family expectations and holiday itineraries can be a huge challenge.  In my early adult life I thought I had the perfect solution of alternating the holidays.  Yes, instead of pleasing everyone and thinking they would understand that it wasn’t humanly possible that I could be in two places at one time, I successfully pissed off everyone.  In fact, a relative told me that the idea was “stupid”.

Too often we are so busy to be in one place or the other that we miss the part of actually enjoying Christmas.   Under these conditions, being with family isn’t so festive because we have to make an appearance.   Life changes we go through should make the holiday plans more flexible instead of unchangeable.  It doesn’t make much sense to do the same thing at the same time every year.  I know, we don’t want to make people mad.  I get that and I have lived under that fear as well but you have to take the courage to change it.  Relatives will either stay mad or they will get over.  We all have different family situations and we have to set the boundaries early if we want to make the season more festive than stressful.

Here are some ideas on resolving these conflicts:

  • Communicate.  Keep communication open with everyone involved.  If you are married, make sure you communicate with your spouse to avoid someone doing an end around to corner you into to making a decision on the spot.
  • Alternate the Holidays.  Yes, I know to some this is a stupid idea but if you spend Thanksgiving with one then spend Christmas with the other.  Next year alternate.  What’s so stupid about that?
  • Celebrate Another Time.  You don’t have to be everywhere on Christmas Day.  Most people take multiple days off during the holidays.  Pick another day or another weekend close to Christmas Day.
  • Don’t commit to something you can’t do.  If you really want to upset everyone then don’t say you will do something and then don’t do it.
  • Be the host.  You won’t eliminate the stress of preparing for visitors but it will take the sting out of the whole issue by having people come to your house (unless families have to be sequestered from each other.)
  • Take a Christmas vacation.  Go on a cruise or get away from it all.
  • Decide what is important to you and your own family.  These are your memories.   You decide how you want to preserve them.  Christmas Day is just one day.  Make the right decision.
  • People will be mad.  Just prepare yourself and stand your ground.  There is no need for arguing about this or fussing.  Just do what you need to do.

Okay, I didn’t say any of this was easy because it isn’t.  None of us like to upset our relatives or hurt anyone’s feelings.  Believe me from one that has been there, it doesn’t take much for some people to entrench themselves into holding grudges over this.  It’s a shame that all the hoopla over Christmas and being with family has to become something like a United Nations meeting.

Pull out the “Pauli exclusion” card which states that two identical objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously.  If it’s science then it can’t be wrong.  Family members can’t violate the laws of physics.

We are lured into the ideal Christmas family Hallmark image of getting together for the holidays.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that it will be the perfect time but that’s not always the reality.  People stress so much to make it the perfect day instead of just letting it happen the way it happens.  The problem with the ideal is that families are different today than they used to be.  Parents divorce, remarry to add a new family into the mix as well as the various relationships people have today.

If you don’t want to go somewhere then don’t go.  Don’t put yourself or your own family through the experience of a Christmas they would like to forget.  Alternating holidays isn’t stupid, doing something just because you feel you have to do them doesn’t make much sense.

When I grew up we didn’t spend the holidays evenly with both sides of the family.  We didn’t leave anyone out but we also didn’t do the same thing every year or get sucked into the same routine.  Sometimes you just have to work with it the best you can.

Be realistic and don’t get sucked into the Hallmark Christmas movie experience.  The holidays don’t have to be perfect.  Families grow and change so the traditions have no choice but to change with them.  Find new ways to celebrate together.  There can’t be “peace on earth” if you don’t have peace yourself.

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