Deciding Where to Celebrate the Holidays

Airport Travel For Holidays

The first decision about the holidays is often one of the hardest: where to spend them? For some families, there are parents, siblings, step-parents, and grandparents who are all part of the picture. And that doesn’t even address the spouse’s family options. Some decisions are made easier by geography or relationship, but sometimes these issues only make the holidays more complicated when deciding should we stay or should we go?

Where to go

For Cheryl Stephens of Clayton what to do about the holidays is simple: they spend Thanksgiving with her family and they stay home on Christmas and family comes to them. In part, this decision is easy because of how close Stephens is with her family and their traditions. She is also lucky that her husband is on board. Stephens says, “I do look forward to going home for holidays.”

For other families, this decision is not so straightforward. Often the holidays are a tug-of-war on where to go and with whom to celebrate. For the Cain family of Durham, there are relatives spread out between Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Fayetteville who are eager for some quality face time. Each holiday is a careful negotiation.

Mother of two Stephanie Cain says, “We try to keep it simple. This year, we’ll spend Thanksgiving with one side of the family and Christmas with the other and then we’ll switch the year after. Seems easy enough, however, things always seem to come up which opens up debate and guilt.”

Traveling to a different time zone and sleeping on a new bed can be disruptive for kids (and their parents) at any time of year, but add in the holiday excitement and it becomes a recipe for crankiness. However, part of the magic of the holiday season is the connection between family and forming memories and traditions.

Family roles

During the holidays we often fall back into old family roles. Most parents go through the day with authoritative and decision-making roles like mom, dad, co-worker, employee or volunteer. However, when interacting with family members we revert to being sisters and daughters or brothers and sons.

Sometimes the person we act like with our families differs from the person we have actually become. Amy Tiemann, local author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family, offers some insights.

“This can cause a lot of tension within yourself or between you and family members. The challenge is to stay centered and know that other peoples’ perceptions of you don’t change who you are,” Tiemann says. “And, it can be both painful and ultimately helpful to accept others as they are.”

She acknowledges how difficult it can be to give up on the fantasy that our loved ones can change and that the old arguments and competitions of the past won’t miraculously give way to something wonderful.

“Sometimes we just need to put on our ’emotional raincoats’ to help us step away from the drama and ride out the storm,” Tiemann says.

Though Stephens loves Thanksgiving at her parents’ house and welcomes her parents and brother to her own home for Christmas, she still has to balance her love of the holidays with her relationship with her bachelor-for-life sibling with whom she has very little in common.

“Now, my brother and I love each other dearly, but we only have about a two- to three-day window of being able to ‘handle’ each other,” Stephens says. She has discovered that the path to success with the holidays is managing what will and won’t work for her and her brother’s relationship.

Reflect on what happens with your own family dynamic. Sometimes adults still get in the same arguments with siblings and parents because we interact with them in the same way and expect a different outcome.

Tiemann says, “The hardest thing is to balance hope [that things will be different] with the reality that some things will never change.”

Knowing that you are who you are now and your relatives are who they are is an important step in enjoying the holidays with them. For some families, this may mean that you need to spend holidays apart and look for less expectation and tension-laden times to get together. In these cases, you should ‘stay’ and not ‘go.’

Differing philosophies

Nowadays there may be more issues that differentiate us from our parents’ generation. Many families have philosophies about gift-giving, spiritual and religious aspects of holidays, and appropriate levels of celebration.

“We love both of our families and want to respect their traditions and religions, but it can be difficult. My family is Jewish and my husband’s is Catholic,” Cain says. “We’ve made a hybrid of Christmas and Hanukah that works in our house, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of these holidays for us. Still, what works for our family in our own home, doesn’t work when we are visiting our extended families. What’s really hard is when Jewish holidays are also at the same time as Catholic holidays and we are celebrating with my husband’s family. I try to understand that things won’t be the way I’d like the holidays to go.”

Even families from similar faith traditions can find that their opinion about how to celebrate a holiday may differ. Be sure to discuss expectations.

Build memories

Though Stephens enjoys the way her parents celebrate Christmas, she wants her children to be surrounded by Christmas trappings in their own home. “We feel that our kids should be at their house for Christmas with their stuff and so Santa can come see them here,” she says.

Since her sibling doesn’t have children and her parents don’t mind traveling, they come to her home for Christmas celebrations. It also gives her parents a chance to step into new over-the-top Christmas roles.

“Christmas at our house is quite the event,” Stephens says. “My father always goes overboard. He dresses up like ‘Santa’s Helper’ in an elf costume. The kids love it!”

Families that don’t travel or can’t get together may have more low-key approaches to keeping a holiday connection. This can include staying in touch with family members through cards, phone calls and Skype chats.

The real spirit of the holidays is about building memories and traditions within families, however we choose to celebrate, and learning to be OK with different approaches.

“There is so much understandable ambivalence in this situation and probably a lot of guilt and frustration that there is no truly satisfactory solution in some cases. You might feel bad no matter what you do, so you need to make your choice and be prepared to live with imperfection,” Tiemann says. “That is more than OK. It is a healthy, adult way to view life that allows us to enjoy the best that our extended families have to offer, while keeping ourselves on emotionally safe ground.”

Once you’ve made the decision about whether you should you stay or go, focus on being at peace with that decision and make the holidays memorable. These are the years we get to create our own traditions and embrace them, joyfully.

Robin Whitsell is a Triangle-based freelance writer and mother of three.




If you stay:

– Practice how you will share this news with your family before you tell them (and e-mail is probably not the best way to tell them).

– Be OK with your decision – no guilt required.

– Carry the right attitude all the way through. You have your reasons for this decision and it’s the right one, stand behind it.

– Focus on building traditions with your spouse and children.

– Enjoy your holidays!

If you go:

– Be “you,” not the person your family thinks is you.

– Think of neutral conversations in advance. Recommend a book or favorite TV show, for eample.

– Have a plan to not engage and a catch phrase to use with your spouse if you start to argue, such as, “Honey, let’s go check on the kids.”

– Focus on maintaining family traditions and sharing these with a new generation.

– Enjoy your holidays!

Categories: Family, Family Ties, For You, Home, Relationships, Style, Work-Life