Sharing your life with someone else makes every season the most wonderful time of the year...until you consider that you might open presents at someone else's parents' house on Christmas morning, or that you will have to grow accustomed to your husband's great aunt's signature sweet potato casserole on Thanksgiving.
Holidays are important to us. Their memories tie us to our loved ones, and it can be difficult to adopt new traditions for the first time. But, it's also exciting! The holiday season gives us an opportunity to spend time understanding our significant other in a different context, including meeting their extended family and understanding the history that defines their own traditions.
The trick lies in figuring out how to split holiday time between both families –– and yourselves –– in a way that honors everyone's vision, but particularly that of you and your partner.
"By taking a mindful, collaborative approach that honors both partner’s needs and desires, the 'how to divvy up holidays' issue can be a bonding experience rather than a disruptive one," says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist and author.
The Right Time to Begin Sharing Holidays With Your Partner
If you went on a great Tinder date two months ago and things are moving along quickly...but you're not quite ready to raise a glass to the new year with all their cousins, aunts and uncles, don't worry. Michelle Mouhtis, a relationship coach and licensed therapist, says "If you just started dating, it's completely normal and okay to not want to share holidays just yet and spend time exclusively with your individual families."
However, once things are more serious and you're ready to hang up your stockings side-by-side, it's best to make that decision and stick to it together, especially later on, once marriage and children are involved. Mouthis says, "You and your partner are family now, and you want to establish yourselves to your respective families as one unit."
How to Split Holidays Between Families
Whether you've been together a year or you've already said, "I do," you and your partner are a family unit. But you also value spending time with your own families and you want to find a way to see everyone during this time of year –– and everyone wants to see you! So, to get the festive ball rolling, here are expert-backed strategies to split the holidays between families, while letting everyone get in face time.
Host Both Families in Your Own Home
If you have the room and everyone gets along, bring the whole group into your own home! It's a wonderful way to start your own holiday traditions, even as newlyweds, plus, it gives you a chance to put all those wedding gifts to use.
However, Callisto Adams, Ph.D., dating and relationship expert and coach, reminds couples that hosting a holiday can come with its own stressors, so make sure you're prepared. She says, "Split responsibilities and make sure you’re there for each other working as a team."
Split the day in half to celebrate with both sets of parents.
When both sets of parents are nearby, you can divvy up the holiday and let everyone keep their existing traditions. Mouthis recommends, "You can split the day in half –– dinner at one family's house, and dessert at the other, if the travel isn't too far a distance."
This works out conveniently when, for example, one family typically gets together for Christmas Eve and the other for Christmas day brunch, but you can navigate the logistics depending on timing and other family members' plans.
Rotate major holidays.
On the flip side, Mouthis says, "If you're going to spend more time in the car than being face to face with family, then it might be best to split holidays on an 'every other year' rotation between your two families."
Christina Steinorth-Powell, licensed psychotherapist and author, adds, "This rotation gives everyone an opportunity to host a holiday at some point and, at the same time, helps you create a tradition for your family when it’s your turn to host a holiday."
Designate one holiday for your own family and one for your partner's.
Working out a designated split holiday schedule can work out conveniently when one family celebrates Hanukkah, for example, and the other celebrates Kwanzaa, or one family cares about Easter, while the other is all in on Fourth of July.
And, if one set of parents doesn't love the holiday they were assigned, you can always switch it up next year.
Celebrate alternate holiday days.
Who says Thanksgiving has to be on Thursday? Consider spreading the holidays out over a week or several weeks to avoid loading up on turkey or figgy pudding all in one day. This takes flexibility on all sides, but who doesn't want the holidays to last longer?!
Plan time to spend just the two of you.
Don't forget that in all the hubbub of the season, you can also make time to celebrate with just you and your partner. Raise a glass to the first year you put up a tree together or spend a quiet afternoon making latkes to commemorate the first night of Hanukkah. Create one tradition that's solely for the two of you and use that to ground you whenever the stress of the season sets in.
How to Bring It Up With Family Members
Once you've made your decision about how to spend the holidays together, it's time to tell the family. Communication is critical—you want everyone to understand why you've decided to spend Thanksgiving Day or New Year's Eve with one family versus another. Mouthis says, "What's most important is that you share with your parents what you and your partner have decided to do for the holidays, rather than asking for their approval of your plans. Make sure it's clear that it's a decision the both of you made together, so you stay united as a family front."
If your mother or your husband's family attempts a guilt trip when traditions don't look exactly as they have in the past, Manly says you have the right to defend your boundaries. She says, "If families aren’t on board with your fair, thoughtful plans, trust that it’s okay to disappoint family members now and again. Acknowledge their feelings and know that, with empathy and healthy boundaries, your families will support your decisions in the long term."
Lastly, Steinorth-Powell has a good reminder for everyone navigating the holidays as a coupled adult, sometimes for the first time, "It’s important to realize that sometimes—despite your best efforts—it’s impossible to make everyone happy. You owe it to yourself, your partner and your family to make your life as happy as possible."