Too early to talk about Christmas?
September 4, 2018 3:27 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to make plans for the holidays but my family is a little complicated, yet I'm concerned that the longer we wait, the fewer options we will have.

For as long as I can remember, I've spent a significant part of Christmas in the house where I grew up. My favorite parts of the holiday are basically hanging out with my brother and sisters, watching dumb movies, wrapping presents, occasionally playing games, drinking beers, eating leftovers, etc. Watching that craziness grow to include my nieces and daughter has been a delight. I realize it's a consumerist nightmare but going down the stairs on Christmas morning, seeing the presents under the tree and exchanging gifts with everyone hanging out in their pajamas is a happy memory for me.

However, my dad is in the process of preparing to sell his house so something is going to have to change. Assume that even if the house has not sold by then, it is not a great place to spend the holiday (minimal furniture, no internet, etc.). I haven't had feelings about my dad selling the house except that I'm concerned about how it will affect Christmas.

My dad has said that we can spend the holiday with his new wife and her family. They are lovely and it'd be nice to have dinner with them and such but I don't think her house can accommodate us. I'm one of four kids; two of us have two additional people and two of us have one additional person. New wife's house has a basement with more than one bedroom and she is in the process of building an apartment on her property but it's hard for me to believe that will be set up by December. Also assume that people in my family are lovely but flaky, and that getting them all to agree on something is like herding cats.

My brother and his wife have friends in the area and can probably crash at one of their places. My sister and her family live within two hours of my dad's new wife's place (yeah, just realized I should probably call her my stepmom - still getting used to this thing). But I'm bummed out about the idea of us not having a place where we can All Be Together.

I've looked at hotels, at least for my husband, daughter and me. There are options and I thought about getting a hotel room with a flexible cancellation policy. But part of me feels sad about the idea of spending Christmas at a hotel. I know it's a totally normal thing but it's new to me.

So I've looked at AirBnBs. There are fewer options but with an AirBnB it would be easier to make meals, figure out a tree, stockings, host movie night and present-wrapping and such. Part of me really wants to just rent a huge place so I can continue to harbor this fantasy that we will All Be Together. But they're more expensive and the cancellation policies are less flexible plus I expect that I will feel sad if/when my sister just gets the cheapest hotel room she can find or my brother and father spend the entire holiday with their wives' families.

I'm sorry - this is one of those questions where the question is unclear but I'm looking for advice. Given the circumstances, what would you do? I'd be willing to pay more than my share for an AirBnB if my siblings would go in on it but convincing them to do that may be tough because their budgets are tighter plus this isn't something they have had to pay for before. How have you and yours celebrated holidays on the road? What did you do when your family holiday situation changed. Staying home or only spending a few days with family is an option but it would make me pretty sad. Husband's family is Jewish so at least that's a non-issue.

Again, I apologize if this is too chat-filter but would be happy to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance!
posted by kat518 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would start by telling your family why you want to do this and how much it means to you and go from there. I think it’s a lovely idea, by the way.

(PS my husband does not refer to his father’s wife as his stepmom. It’s just Dad and . Confusingly though, I call her my MIL as my husband’s mom passed soon after we got married and the woman I call my MIL is really the only MIL figure I’ve known. Anyway, point being, if they married when you’re an adult with a family of your own, you don’t have to call her your stepmother.)
posted by Ruki at 3:43 PM on September 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

It’s definitely not to early to think about the options for Christmas. Might be a little early for concrete plans.

Have you chatted everyone up about how they feel? Are they sad about the coming changes or happy that they can do their own thing now?

I would definitely encourage people to start thinking about options and aim to solidify a plan by Thanksgiving.

If a Christmas gathering is not able to happen you might be able to get everyone together for a Presidents Day long weekend. I know a couple of families that do an AirBnB ski trip later in the winter in lieu of being together on Christmas.
posted by MadMadam at 3:47 PM on September 4, 2018

I would definitely start by talking to your siblings. It's entirely possible that one or both of them would genuinely prefer to do a hotel / stay with friends, and while that would be sad for you, better to find out about it before you spend a bunch of money on renting a house where not everyone will want to stay. It's not too early to send out feelers about getting a general plan in motion, even though it probably is too early to make concrete unrefundable deposits on anything.

As far as what others do, my family alternates where we spend Christmas, and the arrangements of who stays where vary depending on whose year it is to host. Personally, though, I enjoy the holiday a lot more if I am not with everyone 24/7 and have my own space to retreat to at night, so no matter where we are, I make sure that I have somewhere to go in the evenings. Either it's at my house and in that case I do not host anyone overnight, or it's a family member hosting and I stay in a nearby hotel. Having that space makes me better able to be present and happy for the time we do spend together.

That said, if one of my family members told me that it was really important to them for us all to be together, I would probably be up for a compromise - like, I will stay at my hotel most nights, but if there's a spare room for me on Christmas Eve, I'll stay over and we can have the full Christmas-Eve-to-Christmas-morning experience. It doesn't have to be all or nothing.
posted by Stacey at 3:54 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's not too early to start seriously planning. Given the flaky factor, I think planning to celebrate at your step-mom's is the more realistic plan. Her house is where stockings and what-not get hung and then you either get hotel rooms or camp-out in the basement space or some combo of both. Also, has she offered to put you all up or is the invitation to join for a dinner or other non-sleepover gathering? Housing a bunch of guests, even if they're lovely and pitch-in constantly, is hard. Plus, maybe her kids are staying there already? I'd speak to her about it before making assumptions. You can always get accommodations nearby if she's ready to host all of you for some part of the holiday.

I wouldn't rent an AirBnB unless everyone pitched in the cash beforehand so that everyone has skin in the game, even if you all pitch in variable amounts based on ability. I doubt your siblings' nearby friends will be ready to host them over Christmas. Crashing at other times of year is not the same as crashing over Christmas.

You also may want to get used to things having changed. Your Dad has a new wife and her family should be considered, and your brother hanging out with his wife's family is a legit thing for him to be doing, especially if your family's gathering has always been the default expectation. Talk with everyone first. Be clear and get commitments to either do this or not. Some of your family might see this as a semi-welcome end to a traditional obligation.

In my family (smaller than yours), if we can't get together for actual Christmas for various reasons (like being fair to in-laws, etc), we reschedule the celebration and celebrate faux-Christmas together. We do all the same things, but just on different dates. That could also work if your various family members already have commitments on Christmas, but would still love to do your traditional Christmastime visit.
posted by quince at 3:57 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is an excellent idea. Making conceptual plans What if I go and AirBnB or a good hotel with rooms where we could hang out or found a cool destination is a conversation you can start. You will get all sorts of Well, maybe we could do X and no commitments. Make some calls 1st to see if Sister and Brother (Isn't there a 4th sibling?) are available and interested. If it's someplace warmish, renting a big RV to park at StepMom's can work. Hotels are fine if they have a common space you can use. I've had a couple hotel Thanksgiving dinners that were actually fun although I really like that meal to be The Way Mom Made It.

Develop and pick a plan that you like and that seems likely to not be out of the realm of possibility for others. Then propose that actual thing. Family, I love being with you all for the holidays. The wrapped gifts, cooking, hanging out in the kitchen, playing cards etc. Stepmom's family have graciously offered to host the holiday, but it seems a wild imposition to ask them to host all of it and all of us. I found a nice AirBnB with several bedrooms, kitchen access, and a separate family room. I'm proposing that we spend Christmas dinner or other time with Stepmom and her family and have our usual messy sprawling holiday together. It would cost $xx from each family. I have to commit to the AirBnB by 9/20.

I would put real effort into integrating a plan with StepMom and her family, esp if that means she has kids. The priority is being together.
posted by theora55 at 4:26 PM on September 4, 2018

In my extended family, now would be about as late as you could possibly go to start planning a Big Christmas Thing. We have fairly set traditions, people have expectations, we're all adults (or babies) with busy lives. If someone wanted to flip the script by travelling somewhere and all getting an Air BnB together, it might actually already be too late. We did something like that in mid-July (so, not a time of year when people have a ton of Holiday Stuff going on) and the serious planning started the January before.

Your family may vary, but no, I don't think now is too early. Get in there before all the good Air BnBs get booked up by other Christmas travellers.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:10 PM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'll go against the grain. I think as the family gets bigger, more blended, and gets more generations added on, you have to let go of old traditions, and create new ones. With the house sale this sounds like the perfect time to change things up! It is not just about what your preferences are, you are also talking about the preferences of your dad, his new wife, new wife's kids (and families?), your siblings, their partners, and even the expectations of their partners' families of origin!

Rather than jumping straight to logistics, I'd start with more open-ended conversations, asking your siblings what they were envisioning for Christmas. Resist the urge to tell them what you'd like to happen, just listen to what they have to say. If you hear others saying they would still like to make a big family gathering happen, then proceed with logistical planning. However, be open to hearing that their partner's family is really looking forward to having them for Christmas, or a nuclear family getaway to a beach resort, etc!

RE: Dad's new wife hosting, I think you should communicate & make plans directly with her. "She said you can spend the holidays with us" can be wildly different from her directly saying "I'd love for you to spend the holidays with us!"

All the above advice assumes your family and dad's new wife can communicate with you directly, and won't simply say what they think you want to hear to avoid awkward conversations!
posted by tinydancer at 6:00 PM on September 4, 2018 [8 favorites]

tinydancer has it: it's time for new traditions. I'd take it a step further and say it's time for the family you've created to start establishing new traditions in your own house so that in 30 years your daughter has traditions to ground her, to look back on fondly, and to worry about preserving.
posted by headnsouth at 6:36 PM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think others have given you good ideas but I saw that you are kind of sad about staying Xmas in a hotel so I thought I would just share that I looooooooooove a good hotel room even on Xmas! I love thé piles of clean towels and a little break from all the holiday clutter, à little quiet time with my most immediate family, and sometimes a little pool or hottub at 9 am Xmas morning is better than presents first thing :)...and then when it's time to go have Christmas breakfast, well you won't be coming down the stairs to the Xmas tree but you will be doing the front door arrival with rosy cheeks and arms full of packages! I know you have one "scene" pictured but there are alternatives :)
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:55 PM on September 4, 2018

I’m up for creating our own traditions but for context, my hometown is about eight hours driving from my current home so it’s not like we can chill here on Christmas, then just roll on up 12/26 for dinner. Last year, we only went home twice and one of those times was for Christmas, plus I’ve got two aunts in the area who are 70+ years old and uncles, cousins, and cousins’ kids who we’d like to see around Christmas. That doesn’t mean we can’t go our own way in our own way but thought that may be relevant.

Thanks for your ideas so far, am interested in hearing more!
posted by kat518 at 8:04 PM on September 4, 2018

Also, if you end up doing Christmas apart this year, you could debrief with the sibs and Dad in January. Did they miss the big get-together? Maybe they missed the gift exchange, but found it was really nice to not be in each other's faces for a whole week. You may even enjoy not having to travel 8 hrs each way!

If everyone missed the traditional setup then you could always organize it again for the following year. And you should have more buy-in and help planning if they also really want it back to the way it used to be!
posted by tinydancer at 8:39 PM on September 4, 2018

Based on your update, it may be helpful to exclude ‘visiting with extended family’ from the list of key considerations this year. You’re already attaching a lot of expectations to this, which may or may not be shared by the rest of your immediate family. So I’d focus on finding out what your siblings’ families want and your father and see what common ground there is. If things align so that you can see extended family at the same time, that’s great. If not, they don’t.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:56 PM on September 4, 2018

This is hard because your dad’s marriage and move mean big changes. The Christmas traditions that you remember are now done. It’s not going to be like it was. I might be mistaken, but I’m reading some anxiety into your question. It’s surely stressful to be anticipating the ending of these traditions, but your dad is making changes in his life. He gets to do that. The gracious thing is for you to show love and support for him by taking him up on his invitation.

It sounds like your stepmom has invited you all to Christmas at her and your dad’s place. Accept that invitation or risk a family rift. It would be a big deal to say not to that, so tread carefully.

If you’re really stressed by the end of these traditions, it might be worth considering some short term therapy.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:35 PM on September 4, 2018

Start the email thread now. It is absolutely not too early to start thinking about it. If there's even a little tentative interest, start a shared spreadsheet with links to potential rental houses including pricing and other pertinent details, to get people thinking concretely. This is a lot of adults to coordinate and you may need to be a leader here, especially since kids are involved too. But bigger rentals are already getting snapped up now, I promise you.

Look at VRBO as well as Airbnb. Good luck! Hope it works out how you want.
posted by potrzebie at 12:16 AM on September 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

The nice thing about extended family is that we do a get-together at a local restaurant for lunch a day or two after the holiday so it’s easy. I’m feeling some anxiety about this and attempting to plan is a coping mechanism for me. In terms of family dynamics, I’m one of the younger kids so I’m not considered “the organizer.” But they seem to think I’m good at finding hotels so we’ll see.
posted by kat518 at 3:45 AM on September 5, 2018

I am very much like you - I love family Christmas and tend to be the one in my family to orchestrate it. I think its been a meaningful holiday tradition for us. Sort of like you, we have family coming from different places (actually we are even more spread out than you) so we have to coordinate - and right now is when we start agreeing on the annual plan. Late September, early October, we start on the plane flights and housing.

Some years, we can all crash at my sister's big ass house or my dad's similarly big place. Then its like your described - hanging out, gifts, games, etc., works out pretty well.

Some years, though, it hasn't worked, though, and in some ways, switching it up works. My brother in law likes to see his family now and then. Depending on custody some years my family doesn't or can't fly across the country.

And in some ways, having a year off makes the next time we commune even easier. Because the expectation of every year great Christmas family bonding leads to feelings of pressure, disappointment, overly heightened expectations, and meeting every other or 2 out of 3 Xmases feels refreshing, meaningful. So, anyway, this may not be your situation, but allowing space for different Christmas experiences has worked out pretty well for us.
posted by RajahKing at 10:07 AM on September 5, 2018

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