How to Decide Where to Spend the Holidays

Determining where to celebrate the holidays once you're married can be extremely complicated. Here, get targeted advice for your specific dilemma.
By: 
Sharon Naylor

If both families live nearby: If you, your spouse, and your families are devout, and attending services is an important value to you all, the main concern is that each family may want to attend religious services in their own church. Inviting one side to the other side’s church might work if they’re open to it, so ask. If they say they’d rather not, ask which mass they attend. Some families go to 3pm mass and some go to midnight mass. You might decide to go to mass with one family, host the holiday dinner in your home, then go to mass with the other family. Or, if that’s too much for you, you go with your family and he goes with his family. That way, you’re not apart for the holiday itself; you’re just doing something separate for an hour.

If one family lives closer to you: Alternating years is your best-case scenario. One year, you don’t have a lot of driving or flying to do, since you’re spending the holiday with the family that lives nearby, and the next year you have the big trip to spend with the other family. Religious services are shared and traditions maintained, but the expensive trip is every only other year, which can be more realistic on your newlywed budget.

If both families live far away: This scenario often calls for one family to ‘get you’ on, say, Christmas Eve, when you can attend services together. Then you either depart late Christmas Eve to get to the other family, or you spend Christmas morning where you are, then leave right away to get to the other family. If traveling is too expensive and/or time-consuming, it's perfectly fine to spend the holiday at home with just the two of you!

When you and your groom are of different religions or cultures, there can be a lot of holidays popping up every few months. Since many of these celebrations can fall on weekdays, you or your spouse may find yourself unable to take extra time off work. And it’s okay to not celebrate every single holiday! Decide ahead of time which holidays you’ll attend together, which you or your spouse will attend solo, and which you’ll skip altogether.

The best marriages remember to take each partner’s needs into consideration, and it would be unfair to drag your partner – or be dragged yourself – to yet another holiday obligation. You don’t want anyone feeling miserable during the visit or building up resentment.

Important: If you’re not going to the holiday event, call or Skype in to say a quick hello to everyone.

Whether you’re of the same religion or of different religions, Thanksgiving can be a tricky one. For starters, it’s one of the few one-day-only celebrations (Christmas has Christmas Eve. Hanukkah has 8 whole nights to fit in everyone. Even the Fourth of July is celebrated all weekend long). Here, a few options:

Split the day in half: But definitely take travel time into account. Thanksgiving is a really food-heavy holiday (not that other holidays aren’t!) but we all know the turkey coma that happens after the big holiday meal. Are you really going to want to hightail it out of there after dinner to do dessert with the other family? There’s also the other parts of Thanksgiving that factor into family traditions: Watching the parade on TV or playing a family game of touch football. Measure out what you can realistically do if you plan to split the holiday.

Turn Thanksgiving into a multi-day celebration: This becomes an especially common approach if your siblings are also married. Get their input; this may be the solution that everyone has been dying for year after year. Maybe your parents have been disappointed in the years prior to your wedding that they only saw you every other Thanksgiving or that you always had to leave prior to dessert. Just say, “Let’s call this year an experiment and see how it goes.” If it also works for your siblings, it might turn out that parents get the full-attendance Thanksgiving they’ve been wanting for so long.

Host both families in your home: Yes, it’s a lot of work. But you can mobilize siblings to make a few dishes (maybe their specialties) or bring chairs to make it easier on yourself. Be the captain and send out an email asking everyone what they’d like to make or bring. If you’ll be hosting a lot of people, set up the food platters in the kitchen for everyone to help themselves buffet-style. That’ll give you more room on the dining room table. Plus, there’s no endless, awkward platter-passing or hot plates on trivets that turn one person into a pass-the-plate food server. Bonus: It keeps the platters closer to the refrigerator for easier cleanup.

Go out! Every few years, we take everyone to a big, special brunch at a great hotel nearby. We all get champagne, an endless selection of buffet food options, freshly carved meat, more desserts than we’d ever be able to make, and a pianist playing great music. We all get dressed up, and everyone’s so happy because no one has to work their butts off to host the holiday. It’s just happy family togetherness time and often costs just as much as all of those grocery and liquor bills. (We found that we missed the leftovers, so we bought a turkey breast, mashed potatoes and some sides to have at home.)

Go your separate ways: If you’re both truly and honestly happy about spending the holidays apart—you with your family and he with his—then do it! If you’ve noticed in the past that you’re missing your family too much while at his family’s place, and let’s say his mom (with whom you have a rocky relationship) notices your down mood and whispers to your groom with a dramatic sigh that your mood has something to do with her…then it can be far better to just go where your heart wants you to be. Why deal with drama when you’re already bummed out? And why subject your groom to your dad’s inevitable rantings about politics?

Let's face it, not all families get along like the Brady Bunch. Given some families’ personality clashes, maybe it’s best to just go yourself, your spouse go deal with his mom’s act at her place, and then the two of you do your own Thanksgiving the next day. Or, if you had to travel very far to your families, have a special meal the next weekend for just the two of you.

If you have kids, though, it may be best to alternate where you go as an undivided family. Or host the holiday yourselves, with the kids pitching in and taking great pride in making the centerpiece or the place cards.