Switching up the holidays

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About a month ago, as I was looking ahead at the next couple of months and our usual traditions for the holidays, I decided I was bored with our usual routine. I asked my kids about it, and they very clearly expressed that they too were bored with the way we usually do Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, so I began thinking of ways we could switch things up.

For Thanksgiving, we usually host my husband’s family for Thanksgiving dinner. Most of the time, it’s just the five of us (my family) plus my husband’s parents and his sister. Nothing against them, but they aren’t the most festive bunch. It’s pretty low key when they are around. If my husband’s other sister and her husband come, it’s a lot more fun because they are animated and fun to talk with, but most of the time they aren’t here (they live out of state). We’ve been doing it this way for several years now and it had gotten to the point that I didn’t look forward to Thanksgiving at all – it was a lot of work for little reward.

Most winters, my parents are snowbirds and fly south for the winter, but last year they hung around a little longer and were here for Thanksgiving, so I we changed things up and my husband’s parents had their own Thanksgiving while I hosted my parents, my sister and her husband, my nephew and his wife & daughter, and my other nephew at my house. It was a BLAST!! I had so much fun and it was just so great to get to spend the day with my side of the family (if my other sister and all of her family had come too – oh man, that would have been SUPREME, but it was still a great day).

This year, my parents have already flown south (and by flown, I mean they load up the RV and drive drive drive), and I really didn’t want to go back the old standby of having just my husband’s parents and sister over, so along with them I’ve invited my sister and her crew again – we’re mixing his side with my side and I think it’s going to be a lot of loud, chaotic FUN. I’m a little freaked out at how many people are going to be in my not-so-spacious house (15 total people…so far) but I did it last year and pulled it off without a hitch and it was a lovely day. I’m actually looking forward to Thanksgiving again this year. 🙂

As for Christmas Eve, well that’s going to be a little bit trickier. Usually what happens on Christmas Eve is that we go to my husband’s parents house early in the afternoon, have an early dinner, then open presents. Sounds nice enough, right? Well…my inlaw’s house is smaller than mine, plus they have 4 dogs and 2 cats – having all of us in there at the same time feels a bit claustrophobic. There’s just not much room to move – you go in, find a seat on the couch and that’s pretty much where you stay for the rest of the evening because it’s such a hassle to move about. After dinner, the real issue comes into play: my MIL loves to shop and she always (ALWAYS) goes way overboard on gifts. Like, ridiculously, embarrassingly overboard. We tell her every year, not to get us so much but I think she honestly can’t help it – if she sees something that she wants to buy, she buys it. A side issue is that she typically buys us things we don’t need or want. For example, my husband is a landscaper – he works outside…but for years she would buy him a nice shirt, tie and slacks…every year. And every year they would hang, unworn, in the closet because he just doesn’t ever dress up that much (except maybe once a year for Easter). Last year she finally stopped buying the dressy clothes, but she bought my husband a rugby style shirt and said “you used to wear those in high school, so I thought you’d like one”. Um…my husband has been out of high school for over 30 years and rugby shirts are SO not his style. So…all of this to say, when she brings out gift after gift after gift…it upsets my husband because it’s probably things we don’t need and he knows they can’t afford it. If they were very well off, I could just brush it off, but I know they can’t afford it anymore than we can…and like I said, most of the stuff ends up being useless to us anyway…so it’s really a waste of money. Also she has a knack for buying the exact thing that Santa was going to bring on Christmas morning (even when I tell her what NOT to buy)…and since we open their presents on Christmas Eve, you can imagine the let down when my kids are seeing the exact thing under the tree from Santa the next morning. It’s very frustrating. My husband gets visibly upset…my MIL just laughs it off (which makes my husband feel like his opinions don’t matter to her) and pretty soon there are frustrated words and hurt feelings and the whole evening ends up being a downer. Last year we ended up back at home at 6pm in the evening and we were all totally bored and the kids just sort of went their separate ways in the house. It was awful. I could go on and on about it (there are a lot more issues) but last year we decided that enough was enough and we weren’t going to go through that again.

So I’ve been kicking around the idea of not spending Christmas Eve with his parents and the five of us just doing our own thing, then maybe getting together with them on Christmas Day in the afternoon. For Christmas Eve, I’d like to do some sort of activity that would be fun for all of us, eat dinner somewhere, then come home and open presents. My church has a Christmas Eve service at 6pm that I’d like to attend, but we could also go ice skating or look at Christmas lights…and that’s about all of the ideas I have so far. That’s where you come in…if you celebrate Christmas, what do you do to make it special? I’d like to do some sort of activity that gets us out of the house otherwise my 9 year old will bug the everlovin’ daylights out of me to open gifts and I don’t think I could handle several hours of that!

I can’t tell you how therapeutic it is to get all of this off my chest by writing it out here in my blog. This is something that has been bothering me for a long time and I only now feel strong and confident enough to say “No. We’re doing things differently this year”. My husband is on board with the idea so I have his support (he was actually the one last year who said whatever we have to do differently next year so this doesn’t happen again, we’re doing it). I don’t expect this to be the BEST! CHRISTMAS! EVER! but I do expect my kids to enjoy the day and have some good memories about it.

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12 thoughts on “Switching up the holidays

  1. Let your kids in on the planning–what sounds fun to them? Maybe everyone pick one thing and spend the day doing everyone’s favorite things…ice skating, yogurt stop, christmas lights, breakfast at Dennys…that kind of thing.

  2. Also, you’re writing what so many families are dealing with. Like you always do. Writing from the heart is what makes you one of my favorite reads. Thank you for continuing to share with us. 🙂

  3. Kyra

    Well, you KNOW we’re bonkers about the holiday here. We don’t spend a ton on gifts, but we do lots o’STUFF! For example, we’re doing gingerbread houses mid-december. But anyway, to get specific:

    Christmas eve is all about the party! Anticipation is high! Christmas movies are on, and I get started on the homemade buttermilk cinnamon rolls (since they take all day.) In the evening, we have a fun movie (usually NOT christmas related, because by that time we’re ready for something else, so a new release of some sort) and we always make our own pizzas. People get really into that, oddly. It’s a party, laughing, boardgames, movies, hot chocolate and more until bed time.

    Christmas morning is stockings, cinnamon rolls, a few gifts, breakfast and chatting, the rest of the gifts, and then playing and relaxing all day. If we have family in town, we’ll do a ham dinner or something sit-downish. If they’re not? We generally snack and nap and just hang out together.

    Oh, and VERY important; the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. That plays during those days, a LOT.

    We have lots of little traditions like baking cookies for santa (even if they’re 16 and 14 this year) and reading the night before christmas on christmas eve.

    In general, I try to ignore the family stress. My family tends to have more fun without extended family here, when it’s just us. (My inlaws make everyone miserable, so we avoid it or flat out say no. This is easy because they live on the other side of the continent.)

  4. I went through the “break the mold” thing a few years ago. I did Thanksgiving and Christmas the same year. Yank the band-aide off in one fast move.

    We started going to a close family friends for Thanksgiving. We go for the whole holiday weekend. Big house, big family, indoor pool, play massive card games late into the night. That works very well for us.

    The first year, the five of us went to Washington DC, for Christmas/New Year holiday. Used VRBO and rented a two bedroom bottom half a house with full kitchen, washer/dryer, pullout couch. Really great.

    One of the problems here is all the holiday stuff (plays, etc) ends a full week before Christmas. Movie theater is IT.

    We are big time card players. So if we are home with nothing going on, we are playing cards. Lots of group games. Some take hours to play. So, my suggestion is if something happens where you are stuck with the less entertaining group, then find something to do (pictionary, cards, family pictures/stories).

    And it might be that your MIL hears what you bought, but doesn’t hear the “don’t buy it” part. So if that hasn’t worked for you, you might try just not telling her anything.

    And I 100% agree about open your gifts first.

    • That’s a great idea Amy! We made some last year out of a pre-fab kit and it was a…disaster to say the least. But we might do it again just for fun!! 🙂

  5. In Germany, we get all the presents on Christmas Eve. Before, we always have dinner with potato salad and Frankturters. My mother has been trying for years to get us to either eat something else or have a different kind of potato salad, but my sister and I straight out refuse. She’s always complaining about that she has all the work, but if I say it’s ok, I’ll make the potato salad and she can make something else for herself, that’s not ok either.

    Other than that, we just get together and don’t do anything special. Kind of a tradition 😀

  6. debby

    Sounds like you got some good ideas. I will say that when we were teenagers, our parents changed it up a bit, and we loved the times we spent at home with just our immediate family. We always got “fast food,” which was usually Foster’s Freeze. So fun and so relaxing. We didn’t have the tradition of going to church on Christmas Eve, but when our grandfather was there, it was a VERY SERIOUS tradition (that we all loved so much) that he would read the Christmas story. Only out of the KJV, Luke 2.

  7. We stop off at Starbucks and get warm coffees to go (and always pay for the car behind us as our Christmas treat) and then go riding around the neighborhoods looking at all the Christmas decorations. The last few years we have taken ribbons with us (first place, good job, etc.)and hung them on people’s mailboxes. Ask the kids for some ideas too.

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  9. In UK we leave presents for the kids under the Christmas tree on Christmas eve, the 24th, just as the go to sleep. It’s always a joy when they “discover” the presents early morning on Xmas day.

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