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.

You can either choose which holidays you’ll each “get” every single year, or you can divide the list in half and alternate where you spend each holiday every year. This option lets you be fully present at the family holiday, not checking your watch for when you need to leave, not missing dessert or sitting there sensing your parents' disappointment that they’re only getting you part-time. And it's a smart option if one or both of the families live far away.

The first alternating year can be really hard before the holiday arrives. All you can think about is what you’re missing or that you have to miss your family’s holiday first. But you’ll get through it. You’ll call and speak to everyone, getting the love through the phone. It does get easier in following years, and you’ll notice a few things during the holiday that are actually a relief. You get to unwind and relax after Thanksgiving dinner, watch a movie or play games with the family, rather than hitting the road. Shake off the disappointment, and you can be present for the wonderful things happening where you are.

Next year, it’ll be at the other family’s place or at your own place. The whole point of a holiday is celebrating traditions and spending quality time with family and friends.  And it’s not selfish at all to say, “It’s too exhausting for us to travel to both places. We really need to be in one place this year. And next year, we’ll be with you.”

Another factor is a big one: Do either of you have an ill parent or grandparent for whom this might be the last holiday? That takes precedence over everything. The other side of the family will surely understand. And if this is your only time to meet your sister’s new baby, as they travel in from another state or country, that makes being there a high priority.

If you plan to hit up two families on one holiday, the most important factor to take into consideration is your travel time — and be realistic about holiday traffic. A two-hour trip can easily turn into a six-hour trip. My brother drives 5 hours to spend Christmas Eve with us, and then he and his wife drive 6 hours to New Hampshire on Christmas morning to spend Christmas evening with her family. This works for them, and everyone is happy with the situation. But if you’re not looking forward to holiday road trips, or if both families don't live within reasonable driving distance, that leads me to option #3.

You can begin your marriage by hosting the holidays yourself. Just say that it’s a dream of yours to host everyone in your home and use your gorgeous shower and wedding gifts for such a momentous occasion. You’re excited about it, and it would mean the world to you. Besides the sweetness of your dream come true, it puts an effective end to the ‘we always do this on Christmas Eve’ and ‘we always do this on Thanksgiving.’ The chain is broken, and you’ve ushered in a new era of ‘although our holiday traditions are different, since life has changed for all of us, the meaning of the holiday is the same: we’re all together.’

Stay flexible: Remind everyone that this year’s plan may not be the way it’s always going to be. There could be a different plan next year, so no one has to get upset that they’ve ‘lost’ their holiday traditions.

Next: How to handle if you celebrate the same holidays vs. different holidays ►