Spending the holidays with family is, for many people, the most joyous part of the yuletide season. They look forward to the traditional family dinner, caroling, exchanging gifts, attending religious services and enjoying cake and coffee by the fireplace with their extended family and friends. It's a warm, comforting image. But for those whose families don't live in the same hometown as they do -- and may instead be many miles, many states or many countries apart -- the holidays often become filled with stress and strife. "Where do we spend the holidays this year?" is the burning question, especially when both families request your presence at their festivities.
It's a common solution to divide holidays equally -- spending one year's Christmas with one family and the following year's Christmas with the "other side" -- but that plan might not be a possibility for several challenging reasons, the first of which is money. You may not be able to afford plane fare for your entire family to fly out to your parents' or sibling's home this year. In this challenging economy, many families must make the difficult choice to stay local, which may disappoint the faraway family or elicit a more difficult reaction.
*Breaking the News of a 'No'
When they hear that you cannot make it, long-distance families may launch into guilt trips and pleas, even asking you to forgo your summer vacation next year to be able to make the trip to see them now. Though their intentions are good -- they wish to see you -- that request can brew hurt feelings and resentments, especially when pushy relatives remind you that you spent last Christmas with the "other side" of the family; it's their turn now.
"Family members can butt in and become involved in your planning, making everything more difficult," says Tina Tessina, author of "Money, Sex and Kids." "If you first get clear with each other about with whom to spend the holidays and then let (your families) know your decision, you'll present a united front."
The united front is a key factor in handling the dilemma of where to go for the holidays. It's crucial for you and your partner to discuss this issue as far in advance of the holiday as possible so that neither family creates a set plan and forms expectations, contacting you with the details of a planned holiday before you have a chance to agree on a plan with your partner.
Assess your financial position, perhaps looking into less expensive modes of travel, and be realistic about whether you can travel now. It would be harmful to your bottom line and your marital peace if you were to buy tickets you could not afford. Family members usually will understand your limits and will honor them. If they do not immediately relent, Tessina says that compromise is "the time-honored way to solve problems."
Discuss with your partner what you can devise as a great compromise. Perhaps you'll stay local for Christmas this year but let faraway family members know that you'll join them for Easter or for a summer weekend visit.
*Invite Everyone to You
One smart solution if you're centrally located is to invite both sides of the family to travel to your hometown, either staying with you or staying in a quaint bed-and-breakfast, so that everyone can spend the holidays together. Grandparents often look forward to seeing their grandchildren's rooms, crafts and school projects, which can't travel with you on the plane. And they get to see your pets, as well.
*Make a New Plan
Holiday chaos ensues when you don't establish a routine for sharing holidays with family. When every holiday is up for grabs, you'll find yourself in the middle of a power struggle each year, and there's no way to avoid having someone feel hurt. So remind your families that you cannot spend the entire holiday week traveling, especially if you have small children. Sketch out a plan for alternating holidays, and tell everyone that when special circumstances limit your ability to travel, they can expect a compromise and a visit from you as soon as you're able. This way, you all get to look forward even more to springtime.
And there is another option that's gaining popularity: Everyone travels to a vacation destination and spends Christmas in an exotic locale or at a ski resort town as "something different." That may be such a great option it becomes your new family tradition.