Manage the logistics and responsibility of family to create a fulfilling holiday.
Growing up, I was blessed to have lots of family and the added benefit of those family members living close by. Somehow the dilemma of where to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was always worked out by my parents and grandparents. Their solution was to celebrate with my dad’s family on Christmas Eve one year and on Christmas Day the next, alternating with my mom’s family. As time went by, we added more family members through marriage and birth, which meant more personalities and distances to manage. When I got married, my husband and I attempted to make everyone happy and see as many people as we could during the holidays. Invariably, by the time the new year rolled around, we were totally frazzled from celebrating Christmas no less than six times with many sets of relatives in a 10-day period. Once we added a few of our own kids to the mix, Christmas Day got even crazier. Rather than feel like the rope in a game of human Tug-of-War, I had to come up with some quick fixes. I hope some of my suggestions will help you and your family fully enjoy Christmas this year, as well.
1. Combine family events. Instead of running to your parents’ house and THEN to see each of your siblings separately, consider having just one shin-dig at one location when most everyone can attend. A sit-down dinner isn’t necessary. In fact, make it a potluck. My brother- and sister-in-law throw a party like this at their house every year the Friday evening before Christmas, and they even have crafts for the kids (like building a gingerbread house or painting ornaments).
2. Consider an Open House. Choose a location (like Grandma’s house), a date and a convenient time frame (like 4 – 8 p.m.) when family members can come and go as they please without the pressure of being on time for a meal. Serve finger foods and other easy fare to make it easy on the hostess. If you don’t know when you might catch your family members, you could leave their gifts there for them – or just stay for the whole thing!
3. Attend the far-away celebrations every other year. It’s just a fact of life that people marry someone from another state or move out of town due to a job change or other circumstance. This can leave many families feeling pulled in too many directions when the holidays roll around. It can be difficult to decide how to come together.
4. Negotiate annually. All families are different, and it can be practically impossible to please every member every year. If you all live relatively close, consider having a pow-wow in the summer to hammer out the details of time, place, gift and meal options. One year your cousin may need to leave early to spend the rest of the day with her husband’s family. Another year it may just work out best to hold the event on Christmas Eve.
5. Do drop in. Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays (Andrews McMeel Publishing), only visits her sister and her family to raise a toast but not to eat. She takes no food for the meal, no gifts, and says to her family, “We’re bringing ourselves and our best wishes for the season.”
6. Help your extended family realize that Christmas can be even nicer when spent on a day other than December 25. We get together with my grandparents a couple of weeks before or after Christmas Day, and the mood is much more relaxed. We get to take our time opening gifts while enjoying each other’s company, and we treasure that time together and look forward to it every year.
7. Just stay home. After having our third child, we made the tough choice to celebrate Christmas Day at our home every year. Our decision was not popular, and we’ve had to defend it every year, but it is the most relaxing (ah, sweatpants all day long!) and fun (playing with our kids and their new toys) day of our entire year.
8. When tensions arise, think of others with less. Consider serving food at a homeless shelter sometime around the holiday or being a bell ringer for The Salvation Army for a couple of hours. These are great opportunities to take your kids along and teach them the true meaning of the holidays. St. James has another great idea: Make paper bag lunches with sandwiches, cookies, fruits and juice drinks and pass it out to the homeless in your area.
To ensure no feelings are hurt, make sure your family knows they are always welcome to spend Christmas Day at your home (with some notice, of course!). With a little understanding and love, everyone involved can have a peaceful holiday season.
Hosting Out-of-Town Family and Surviving, Too!
Sometimes families can begin to wear on one another in close quarters. Many families will be spending the holidays hosting out-of-town loved ones. Here are strategies to help keep things warm and bright:
- Plan not to plan. Learn to be flexible and not to hold onto unrealistic expectations.
- Make your grocery list in advance. Plan ahead what you will be preparing at home while family is staying with you. It’s helpful to know what you’re going to do far in advance of the actual day so you’re not scrambling at the last minute.
- Decide where everyone will sleep. Make arrangements with friends to borrow air mattresses if necessary; gather bedding needs and extra towels.
- Check out all of your supplies. Go through your household items to be sure you have plenty of supplies for serving meals to the number of guests you’re hosting.
- Hold onto your traditions. Know that others will chime in with what they like, too, so remember again, be flexible!
- Make a list of fun things you can do together in order to get out of the house: Check out a holiday show together (be sure to look for senior discounts!); consider everyone’s ages, too. An older couple might not enjoy a hike in the woods!
- Ramp up your Netflix queue, get out the Scrabble board, break out the family photo albums, have favorite music at-the-ready.
- Assign tasks in a friendly manner and when someone asks if they can help you with bed making or meal preparation, say, “Yes!”
- Find out about what everyone likes to eat by … asking! Learn about allergies, special needs, etc., in advance so it doesn’t throw you.
- Shop for food needs before guests arrive.
Kerrie McLoughlin is the nutty but proud mom of five little munchkins.
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