Over the river and through the wood to Grandmother’s house we go!
It’s a refrain as old as the hills — or at least as old as the holidays. What is far less worthy of sing-along, but just as common, is the well roasted chestnut of holiday discord: where — and with whom — to spend the holidays.
Each year couples trip down the aisle promising to love, honor and cherish, all the while forgetting to hammer out one very important marital detail: where they are going to give thanks and make merry.
I suspect June has always been prime time for weddings because it’s so far removed from having to worry about where the happy couple will spend Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter.
I have been blessed with wonderful in-laws and an extended family that has willingly changed tradition many times over the years in order to accommodate the growing branches of an ever-sprawling family tree.
Still, it can be difficult to know when to say when on dashing through the snow — or toll booths — to try and see all your loved ones for the holidays.
Being an avowed traditionalist, I clung to the old ways long after we had moved 50 miles away and had a family of our own. The year we strapped two small children into car seats and spent five hours driving and three hours visiting, eating no less than two full meals in the space of four hours, and culminating in our two-year-old crying and vomiting in the back seat, I knew something had to change.
The next year I dusted off my apron, learned to clean a turkey (O.K., had Mr. Wonderful clean a turkey because frankly that is just GROSS) and stayed home.
We love and cherish our family dearly and look forward to seeing many of them at a variety of events throughout the year. That aside, traveling all over hill and dale to see them on a specific date for the holidays is something we rarely do these days.
The first year we stayed home hardly seemed like a celebration. I wasn’t sure what to do at home after spending the first three decades of my life hitting the road for the holidays.
Accordingly, we had to make our own traditions and find what worked for us. Now our doors are always open to visitors and we can add or subtract places at the table as needed.
I further realize, with a catch in my heart, that after a decade of deciding there is no place like home for the holidays, our traditions will some day have to flex and change once more if we are blessed to see our family tree grow again. Someday I may well be the parent or grandparent, God willing, saying “it’s O.K., we understand, we will see you another day.”
We are fortunate to have great family members on both sides of our marriage. We have been blessed beyond measure with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who say “be safe, stay home, we love you, we will see you soon.” Let’s face it, the only thing worse than a long road trip on the holidays is a guilt trip.
My one bit of advice to any newly-engaged person is this: if you marry a person with family — you marry the family. Every family has quirks, idiosyncrasies and expectations. The key is to make sure your dysfunction complements theirs nicely. If all sides of a family believe they have an inalienable right to your presence at any — or every — holiday table, you are likely to end up with hassled holidays — not happy ones.
Family traditions vary. Different is not bad. One person’s formal is another’s paper plates. There are families that embrace turkey and all the trimmings, and some that prefer pizza — or tofu. You should probably know what you are marrying into before you say “I do.” Lest you show up with gelatin at the home of a food snob, or facing a platter of sandwiches when to your mind only spiral sliced ham will do.
Set your boundaries and iron out your expectations — and traditions — sooner, not later. If you are having an argument about travel plans while Bing Crosby croons White Christmas in the background, you have probably waited too long.
As we head into another holiday season I hope for abundance, comfort, hope, happiness, and peace on earth and good will among men — and in-laws.
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