You know that small bag of giblets tucked into the cavity of a turkey? Well, on my first Thanksgiving with my new in-laws, I actually roasted the turkey with the bag still inside! If that weren’t enough, someone gave me a cooking tip for extra flavor -- wrap bacon around the turkey legs. You guessed it: the in-laws did not eat pork. Luckily, everyone laughed at my attempt to please, but the pressure of holidays for newlyweds can truly be a recipe for disaster!
Like everything else in marriage, holidays are also a negotiation. Whether families live near or far, Thanksgiving and the Christmas season trigger memories and traditions built over a lifetime – for you AND for your partner. Now, as a new family, you get to decide which to keep, which to toss, and how to make some new traditions of your very own. But in truth, the larger the families involved and the closer they live to you, the more challenging the territory is to navigate, no matter how well everyone gets along.
I would start with an inventory: what traditions are important to you? What traditions are important to your partner? Is it possible to have Thanksgiving holiday with one side of the family, and see the other for Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa or New Year? Perhaps an “open house” Holiday Brunch is something you can plan at your house that includes both families – and start a brand-new holiday event that is “yours”. Not everyone will get everything they want, but two Thanksgiving meals in one day is not realistic…or you may not have the budget to travel both at Thanksgiving and then again a month later, if family does not live close. As a new family unit, you have the responsibility to share your comfort zone with all in-laws involved.
However you decide to split holiday time, some parent will inevitably be unhappy. It’s not about “equal time”, and it’s not about one side “winning”, and it’s not about who “asked first”. It is all about dividing activities and spending time in a way that makes sense. Perhaps you can ask the question of your parents – how did they negotiate the holidays as newlyweds – which is a great way to start a conversation about your planning. Discuss this calmly, and before the holidays, so there are no “assumptions” about who will be where, and when. Remember, good decisions are never made under pressure or with guilt, so your plan has to start with an honest conversation with your partner: will he or she REALLY miss not having an afternoon of football with their siblings? Will you REALLY not mind skipping Midnight Mass with your parents? A dishonest plan will only harbor resentment…and that is not the result you want in a season that is already emotionally-charged.
Even the best-laid plans can go awry, so learn from your mistakes. If the arrangement you make doesn’t work, bury your sorrows in eggnog and try something completely different next year…like a holiday in the Caribbean!