How Real Families Share the Holidays With Extended Family

The holidays are a time when families gather to celebrate … which can also mean expensive plane tickets, marathon road trips, and tons of squabbling among in-laws and other family members about who goes where, and when. If you spend the holidays tearing your heart out trying to gather the family together, consider these smart solutions below from real families on how they divvy up your time. From agreeing to meet on neutral ground to celebrating the same holiday twice on different dates, these strategies may help you get through the holidays with a lot less hassle and fewer hurt feelings all round.


Celebrate the Same Holiday Twice
"When my boys were little and divorce was relatively new, I started holding 'Second Thanksgiving.' I wanted them to be able to continue to spend Thanksgiving with their cousins on their father's side, so they travelled to a nearby state for the first Thanksgiving and two days later, we celebrated our own Second Thanksgiving. Many years later, I've remarried, the boys have grown up, and Second Thanksgiving is now a welcome opportunity for all of us -- myself, my husband, two sons, two stepdaughters and their husbands -- to get together regardless of who went where on the first Thanksgiving. We include other family members and friends, and it truly is a thankful day."

Designate One Family for Dessert
"My husband's family and mine lived within several miles, so we spent too much time trying to keep everyone happy and eating -- or trying to eat -- too many meals. So one day I finally put my foot down and said, 'Thanksgiving dinner with my family, Christmas with his, and we'll do dessert at the opposite family. And it worked!"

Travel Around (But Not On) the Holidays
"My parents live halfway across the country, so we try to visit them near the holidays, not for the holidays, since it's much more affordable, especially for us with three kids."

Stage a Virtual Visit
"My husband's family lives far away. So on the holidays, we Skype with them. Easy!"

Create Your Own Fake Family Holiday
"On the years that we will not be together for Thanksgiving, we have a 'Fakesgiving' the weekend before the traditional Thanksgiving Day. This is usually quite casual at one of our homes, but this year will have us all meeting on November 22 at a local restaurant, central to us all. For Christmas, we celebrate two to three days early. This is an all-out Christmas, with stockings and gifts, lots of food and a whole bunch of family traditions rolled into one. Oftentimes when my husband and I find ourselves alone on December 25, it isn't at all odd or strange. We often go to the movies and don't feel the need to even consider it Christmas."

Make Your Place Home Base
"We are a military family, so holidays have always been a fine dance between the families. My advice: stay home, and open up your home up to both sides of the family. You will have less stress, and people won't get their feelings hurt because you spent an extra hour at your sister's house than with your mother in law! Our lives run much more smoothly now that we save our money on traveling, and enjoy the holidays in our own home where we feel most at peace."

Don't Let Guests Treat Your Home Like a Hotel
"As someone with far-flung family in different countries, our rule is that siblings can sleep on the sofa bed, but other in-laws must stay in hotels because our apartment is so small. Also set the expectation that you are not going to entertain all day, every day. Pick one to two things per day, such as meals or an event that everyone will be at, and then give your family time to do what they want. It could be hanging out at home, taking the kids to the zoo, or seeing the city."

Throw a Betweener-Holiday Party
"My in-laws have a party the weekend after Thanksgiving where everyone drives or flies to Virginia and have a great big get-together. There's food, a gift exchange, and Santa Claus is there with a bag of goodies for the kids. It's a fun time and keeps the pressure off gathering during the actual Christmas!"

Find Neutral Ground
"We got tired of the fighting, so we started doing Thanksgiving in a cabin in another state away from everyone. We said if anyone wanted to joint us, book a cabin!"

Alternate Who Goes Where
"We alternate: every other year, his family and mine -- unless there's something extraordinary happening, like an 80th birthday for his dad this year; then we'll do two in a row. But overall this keeps things fair and avoids arguments."

Celebrate in October
"We do what we call 'Octoberfeast' on Halloween at my parents'. I cook and the kids trick or treat. That way, we don't have to fight so much over the later holidays, which we typically spend with my husband's family."

Play Matchmaker
"We found the ultimate solution to whose parents we should visit for the holidays. My mother and my husband's father were both widowed. And when they met 20-some years ago, they hit it off so well they married. Problem solved! Now we share the holidays with 'our' parents. It makes holidays so much easier."

Stay Home "For the Kids' Sake"
"Years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I made the decision that we would not leave our home on the holidays, especially Christmas. Because they're only kids for a short time, we want her to remember holidays at home, not holidays in a car running from house to house. My in-laws live about 13 hours away, and sometimes they come up for the holidays, sometimes they don't -- although the invite is always extended. But they're pretty good about accepting that this is our decision and not giving us grief about it. It's hard to argue with the fact that we want our kids to have memories of the holidays at home!"

How do you split the holidays with your family?


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