Where will you and your family spend the holidays this year? Who will be there and who decides the answers to these questions?
As you begin thinking about these questions, many decisions must be considered. According to therapists and authors Evan Imber-Black and Janine Roberts in their book Rituals for Our Times, the key to a successful holiday celebration is in the planning. They suggest you approach these decisions with an open mind and willingness to compromise. Holiday planning falls into three categories: people, place and participation.
Consider the Needs of Each Generation
Since people are at the center of holiday celebrations, it’s important to have representation from all participating families involved in the holiday. Set aside some time to talk or email everyone and consider some of these questions. Who is important to invite and why? How will people be invited and by whom? Will anyone be alone if you don’t go to their home? Are the needs of all generations considered in the planning?
Here are some solutions from different generations. Rita, a grandmother living with her daughter and her family says she reminds them about the importance of older relatives and that the time to include them is now. Selection of which parents, grandparents and great-grandparents to visit is prioritized by length of time since a visit, with the oldest family members receiving preference. Jan, also a grandmother, says that even though she and her husband would love to spend the holidays with their children and grandchildren, “our first priority is sharing the holidays with our own aging parents since they can’t travel any more.”
Select an Appropriate Location
How is the location chosen? Is it a place people can get to easily? Is it a place that is comfortable for all ages? Will some people have to travel and can that be rotated from year to year among all participants?
Wendie’s large, three-generation family fits best at her father’s house, which can accommodate their group of 35. “His house is warm and cozy; his fireplace is going; the tree is done just so and his house lends itself to a more formal event.” The only obstacle they’ve found is seating everyone and trying to serve them while the food is warm. “We opt for buffet style, serving kids first, getting them settled so then the grownups can sit back and relax. Everyone brings two dishes and the host never cleans up!”
When Kamala and her husband celebrate Thanksgiving with their two young children and two sets of grandparents, they don’t eat for several days before the holiday. That’s because the solution they’ve found is to attend dinner with one set of grandparents at 2 pm and then join the second set at 6 pm.
She says this solution has worked fairly well since they’ve had children but “we keep our therapist’s phone number on hand and call him for advice as issues arise—and they always do! We stay in a hotel instead of “choosing” a parent or sibling’s house. Then we aren’t playing favorites, but most importantly we have a space to call our own, to reconnect after busy days visiting family and friends. We love to have this special time and a quiet place for our children to sleep and wind down during this hectic and over-stimulating time. It has really been worth the extra cost to alleviate any familial upset!”
Get Everyone Involved
Preparation, decorations, activities, cooking and clean up all need to be discussed and delegated in the planning stages. Different levels of participation allow people to make choices and do what is meaningful and comfortable for them. When people contribute something, they usually feel more involved.
Joan’s large family is spread out on both coasts so they came up with a gift exchange solution that made it easier on everyone. When they get together for their annual Fourth of July celebration, they put all the names of the family members into a hat. Each person selects one name and gives just that person a Christmas present. At the holiday dinner the people who travel the farthest help with clean up, the hosts do the decorations and the rest of the family brings potluck dishes.
Jan confesses that the hardest years for her were hosting house guests and dinner on Christmas day. “I always wanted a Martha Stewart day and it always ended up more like an ‘I Love Lucy’ episode! It took me several years to realize that everyone’s favorite part was spending time in a loud, wild house full of people who love one another!”