One of my favorite guilty pleasures is reading Dear Abby. I do it every day. And around this time of year, there’s literally a deluge of letters asking for advice about how to handle family holiday gatherings. There are fewer than those about conflicts at weddings, but that’s a whole other story. Let’s just say apparently the holidays bring a lot of heartache to a lot of people.
There’s the young couple who wants to host Thanksgiving at their new home but the mother won’t hear of it. There’s the cousin with the horrible boyfriend everyone hates and doesn’t want at Christmas dinner, but she won’t come without him. And always, there’s the family with four kids that come to the gathering, brings nothing, and insists on taking home the leftovers (yes, these people actually exist!).
Honestly, if I based my perceptions of the holidays solely on the letters to Abby, I’d think November and December are absolutely the worst months of the year.
And for many, they really are. Fortunately, I married into a family with a relatively laid-back approach to the holidays.
First, all of my husband’s family lives in the same city, thus eliminating the need for tedious, time-consuming travel.
Second, my mother-in-law doesn’t decorate every room in her home with miniature replicas of charming Christmas villages. I’m not even sure they’ve had a tree for several years now. And there’s no grandmother with some world famous but really quite awful recipe everyone has to choke down every year. And, when I married my husband, there were no set-in-stone holiday traditions everyone had to adhere to or incur the wrath of the queen mother.
But now we do have some traditions. Together, naturally, we’ve created some that work beautifully for everyone.
My husband has a brother, and he and his wife have two children. We have two as well. So add in my in-laws, and there are ten of us. And every year, my mother-in-law rents a large house at the beach and we all go there for the whole week of Thanksgiving. Everyone buys their own groceries. We get our Thanksgiving meal in a box from Publix, heat it up, sit and eat, and that’s that. That is the only meal we all eat together. The rest of the week, we come and go as we please. My father-in-law always brings a big jigsaw puzzle we all work on off and on during the week, and it must be finished by the time we go home. That’s the only rule. It’s awesome.
For Christmas, my parents-in-law get up and go to each of our houses that morning to give the grandchildren gifts. We drink coffee and chat, and they stay about 45 minutes. Christmas evening, my father-in-law gets Chinese food which we eat at the home of whoever volunteers. No stress, no strain, no heated negotiations, no letters to Dear Abby.
I admit my holidays haven’t always been so easy-breezy. At one point, my mother lived about three hours away. The first time she suggested my young family come see her for the holidays, I quickly shut that right down. I pointed out it was much easier for one person to go to the moon and back than for a family with small children to drive around the block. She really couldn’t argue with that, and her request was quickly abandoned.
Sure, she was sore about it for a while, but I guess she got over it. Truth is, the holidays are supposed to be a fun time for everyone. It is great to see family and friends, but not at extreme personal sacrifice. I decided the happiness and well-being of my immediate family — my husband and children — was far more important than obligatory attendance at a tense family event. I’d much rather ruffle a few feathers for a few hours, than live with a lifetime of annual seething resentment.
So, if I’ve just now convinced you to stand up to your mother-in-law this upcoming holiday season, good luck with that. I hope it goes well and your family enjoys happy, peaceful holidays this year.