Ah, the holidays. The special time of year when families get together to celebrate the spirit of the season. Or, in my case, the special time of year when my husband and I used to fight for weeks on end about where and with whom we’d be spending Christmas. You’d think, after 15 years together, we would have managed to figure out a solution. But despite our best efforts, we could never seem to arrive at a compromise that managed to make everyone happy; and we were always the ones who ended up the most miserable.
Where to spend Christmas was always a point of contention in our relationship. Over the years we did our best to appease everyone. We setup a schedule where we planned to switch off every other year, but inevitably something always came up that necessitated us changing our plans. This, of course, left one or the other of our families feeling slighted, and, not-so-lucky for us, our mothers were always more than willing to let us know just how upset they were.
Over the years we did our best to appease everyone.
We tried hosting Christmas dinner at our house and inviting both of our families over instead, but that ended up being a lot of work and our tiny little house was no match for my ever-growing cast of in-laws. Eventually, we just resigned ourselves to spending Christmas day shuttling between our families and eating three separate Christmas dinners. It made for an awful lot of bellyaching, both literally and figuratively, but it kept the complaints from our mothers to a minimum.
Then, we had kids.
If you’ve not had the uniquely unpleasant experience of dragging small children around from Christmas celebration to Christmas celebration, I envy you. What had once seemed slightly manageable, albeit a pain, when we were a married couple without children became an absolute nightmare when our two little kids were factored into the equation.
Dragging our over-stimulated, sugared-up kids from our house to Nana’s house to Grandma’s house resulted in epic tantrums that left every single one of us exhausted, grouchy and feeling very much not in the Christmas spirit. And yet each year we would repeat this experience, somehow expecting that it would get better as our kids got older — but it never did. Instead, it got worse.
Now that we had kids through whom all of the relatives could view the “true meaning of Christmas,” the pressure from our families escalated. Our kids, unhappy at being forced to leave their new toys at home to go somewhere else on Christmas morning, threw absolute fits when asked to get ready to leave. And my husband and I spent the holiday season fighting with each other about whose family was more overbearing and annoying. It got to the point where I began to actually empathize with the Grinch. Something had to give, and it wasn’t going to be my sanity.
It got to the point where I began to actually empathize with the Grinch.
Two years ago, in the midst of yet another seasonal fight with my spouse about our Christmas plans, I yelled, “Then let’s just not spend Christmas with anyone this year!” In hindsight I can see that this was an immature and rather passive-aggressive response, but it planted the seed of an idea in my mind. What if, instead of spending yet another Christmas making our mothers happy (and ourselves miserable), we opted out altogether? What if we celebrated Christmas the way we wanted to, with just our kids?
When we’d both calmed down and were able to discuss the situation rationally, I presented the idea to my husband. Instead of spending Christmas traveling from one house to another with screaming children in the backseat and quarreling parents in the front seat, we would create our own holiday tradition; one that was only for our little family. No one would feel excluded precisely because everyone was excluded. We agreed it was worth trying, if for no other reason than that we weren’t sure our otherwise very happy marriage could survive a lifetime of wretched Christmases.
It turns out that the way we enjoy celebrating Christmas is very different from the ways our families choose to do so. We don’t host a big party or invite friends and relatives over to open presents. Our preferred Christmas tradition is far more private: We put on our holiday finest, drive to the fanciest hotel in town and spend a lovely half hour with the nicest Santa I’ve ever met. After the long “thank yous” for new toys are recited, we have lunch together at the hotel restaurant and our kids tell silly jokes while my husband and I savor a rare opportunity for a festive afternoon cocktail. Usually, we’re all so tired afterwards that we go home and enjoy a family nap without even taking off our holiday finery.
This year will mark the third year that we’re spending Christmas on our own, in the company of only Santa Claus and other anonymous hotel diners. Unlike in years past, I’m excitedly counting the days until Dec. 25.
Unlike in years past, I’m excitedly counting the days until Dec. 25.
Our families, once the source of so much strife, respect that we’ve created a Christmas tradition that’s really and truly ours. They no longer give months-long guilt trips about being abandoned over Christmas or complain that one family receives more attention than the other. In addition, I’ve rediscovered the joy of Christmas now that it’s not overshadowed by spousal bickering. I no longer dread the annual holiday season full of lights and cheer and tinsel, but rather welcome the shorter days, festive spirits and the opportunity to experience the magic of Christmas in the company of only my immediate family.
So if your family is driving you nuts again this year, try ditching them next year. What do you have to lose — except your sanity?