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The Mandatory Christmas Visit

I’ve always loved Christmastime even though certain members of my family sometimes ruin the day for me.

I also come from a split up family that lives near me, but not too near me and Christmases are usually spent with one or the other.

My fiance and I are getting married in the new year, not long after Christmas.  And we decided as a couple that this year is going to be our Christmas with just us and our cats and we can be with family other years.

So a few weeks ago, I heard from my sister that my Mum was planning Christmas dinner in the city near where we live and I needed to keep it free. I made no promises but said I’d keep it in mind. Bear in mind that she and youngest sister both live interstate.  Not long after that my Mum called and we talked of the plans, my fiance was invited to the dinner as well but I explained to her what we had decided and the reasons. She, my stepfather, and aunt were welcome to drop by on the way home (it wasn’t out of their way) and that we’d make a visit around boxing day or so. A few weeks later she called again to confirm, sounding a little disappointed but I informed her again of our plans. There would be other years where we could visit, I said.

Fast forward to sometime later and my younger sister calls me demanding to know why I wasn’t coming to Christmas and Mum was cancelling the plans now. She also claimed I lied to her about keeping it free. I tried to tell her that a) I’d never lied to her and said we’d come, b) we’d decided to have our first Christmas together as it was the first one before we got married, c) this was between me and my Mum, as she’d organized it and I told her our plans.

I didn’t get through to her and she starts to throw on guilt trips, saying she gets very few holidays (true, she’s a doctor) as does youngest sister and we owed it to her to show up. She also brought up quite a few unpleasant things about my wedding where she’s a bridesmaid (a whole ‘nother story) that I had been prepared to forgive and forget.   I admit I did say a few unpleasant things to her, which I apologized for soon after, as I was at breaking point with the trouble she was stirring up about everything.   When I suggested that we see each other Boxing Day or another day around then, she said no, as she was arriving Christmas Eve and going to see another relative Boxing Day.

It might be what she wants, but I still feel slightly guilty over our plans for Christmas. Was I wrong in wanting to spend Christmas just with my future husband? Was I right to stand by him against my family? I admit I had no inking of how problematic the holidays could be. 0905-12

When the nuclear family dynamics begins to change due to children marrying, getting careers or moving away, it does becomes a challenge for family members and parents to readjust their expectations.   Navigating through the maze of work schedules and new demands on a new couple’s time to arrange family time together is a normal part of moving through the seasons of life.    When my eldest daughter married, our family could no longer expect that she would be in attendance at annual family events because she now had her husband’s family to factor into her life as well as obligations to her own newly formed family.   One family had grown into three families who all had claims on one daughter’s time.

As parents, our solution was to continue to host our annual parties and get-togethers regardless of which relative could come or not.  If someone could not make it that year, oh well!  We’ll miss you! Maybe next year!   For major holidays, the request was made that everyone make a concerted effort to be together every third year for one holiday (such as all agreeing to meet for Thanksgiving but not Christmas). This allowed all the adult kids to have their own celebration on year, got to the in-laws another year and be with their nuclear family the third year.   To expect one’s kids to show up every single year to every single holiday is selfish and ignores their need to start their own family traditions.

The OP’s sister makes the mistake of thinking bullying will produce compliance.   That isn’t the kind of behavior that will encourage the OP to come or create a longing to be with family.  At best it produces ambivalence about visiting family during the holidays.


{ 87 comments… add one }
  • Kathryn December 1, 2012, 5:46 am

    OP Please stand your ground for you and your fiance.
    It took me 4 years of marriage and a lot of angst over the snide comments from the family and inlaws before I finally took my husband to a hotel for Christmas for a quiet romantic time and I regret we had not done it sooner. (it was the first time in 10 years we woke on a Christmas morning and it was just the two of us) It was a great day that bought my husband and I closer together as our own family unit.

  • PM December 3, 2012, 6:30 am

    Deciding how you want to spend your own holiday is never “wrong.” You are not selfish. You have the right to decide how you want to establish your own traditions. Please don’t let your sister’s manipulative, bullying rants change your mind.

    I am a stubborn person. My immediate response to someone calling me “selfish” and telling me I owe them something is to dig my heels in, just to prove to them that I don’t have to give in. I suggest you inject a little stubborn in your spine. When your sister tells you that you HAVE to something, tell yourself, “the hell I do.” And then go about your business and do what you want/need to do.

  • Spuck December 3, 2012, 7:59 am

    This is a let them die angry situation. I know that it sounds cruel, but there is nothing wrong with setting boundaries or starting your own traditions. If they want to be angry or miserable about it? Let them.

  • Michele December 3, 2012, 8:10 am

    I’m on the fence.

    On one hand, if the OP had said it was her first Christmas as part of a married couple, I would’ve been behind her, in no small part due to several of the reasons the admin stated.

    On the other hand, since the OP said it’s her last Christmas as an -engaged- person, I think she really should just suck it up (for lack of a better term) and spend Christmas with her family. To me, it sounds like her mother probably wants to spend just one more holiday with her “little girl” before she’s married and spending the holidays with her husband.

  • Lo December 3, 2012, 8:20 am

    This one hits close to home for me.

    I’m recently married and we decided that we would rotate our family holidays because we could not please everyone. I did not expect the amount of guilt I would get from some relatives. His family has been nothing but amicable to our plans. My family has been the sticking point, unfortunately.

    I gave into some of the guilt and rushed Christmas last year by trying to please both sets by arranging too much for that day. Caused me a great deal of stress. Never again.

    I long to be able to celebrate Christmas with just us, no big parties, no plans, nothing major. We’ve agreed to do this in a couple of years, after we’ve had a full rotation of holidays with each other’s families. I fully expect we will get flack for this from my side because we don’t have children and that’s who the holiday tends to revolve around. But we’ll never have children, and that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a holiday with our own little 2-person family once in awhile.

    The thing that I’ve come to realize is that even well meaning people are often incredibly short-sighted about what meeting family obligations can mean for some people. If you live within driving distance of family people expect that you will of course come to be with the family because family always comes first. Except it should be YOUR family that comes first, you and your husband and any children if you have them. The immediate family always comes first.

    My inlaws have been nothing but gracious about the holiday rotation so that I always look forward to spending holidays with them because I know it will be a guilt-free experience. Would that my own family understood this, I might be more eager to see them!

  • Cat December 3, 2012, 8:26 am

    This is easier to say than to do but my take on it is this: You have made a commitment to be a wife to this man and, even though you have not yet taken your vows, the commitment is there. For the rest of your life, he is going to be your first priority and that means over your mother and over your sister. There is an old movie in which a woman is about to humiliate her husband and someone gives her a fan with a motto, “My husband. Above all else, my husband!”
    I take it you did not force your sister to become a doctor at gun-point and that her lack of holidays is not because of your getting sick every time she makes holiday plans-so how is this your problem?
    Your sister thinks she can force you to do what she wants. You are not marrying her. If mother is not on her death-bed and won’t live to see Boxing Day, you can see her later. The American term for this is that your sister is “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” Stand your ground, firmly, politely, but stand.

  • badkitty December 3, 2012, 8:37 am

    OP, do your future self a huge favor and put your foot down… then keep it there!

    When I first branched off and started my own family, we tried to “balance” holidays by doing the rounds and cramming everyone into one day because nobody wanted to give even a little bit. Fortunately, my husband’s family is halfway across the country from us, but that didn’t keep my mother and my remarried father from both wanting the “real” holiday to be with them. There was exactly one Christmas where we spent Christmas Eve with my mother (at her insistence, since that’s when HER big meal was) and all of Christmas morning… yet when we made ready to leave around noon she was STILL put out that we were “abandoning her on Christmas morning”… never mind that we had a two hour drive ahead of us to see my father and stepmother, who also wanted the experience of seeing my son on Christmas morning, Then the whole afternoon and evening ordeal with my father before we were able to make the drive back to our own little apartment and our own beautiful tree to open OUR presents and spend a quiet moment as a new family. Nobody was happy that year, yet THAT was the perfect compromise, time-wise. NOBODY got what they wanted, which was the whole day with what they perceived as their whole family.

    I got lucky, and the next spring my mother moved to the opposite edge from my in-laws, but not everyone has such luck, lol. Be firm now, and save yourself the headache later when there are children involved… your new family deserves recognition and respect as a family unit, even of only two, and your other family units are just going to have to adjust their thinking if they want to gain a son rather than lose a daughter.

  • Jewel December 3, 2012, 9:29 am

    Kudos to the LW! I wish I’d taken this stand early on in our marriage. Instead it took 17 years to put our foot down and decide we were no longer going to spend a a thousand dollars for the privilege of dragging our family of four out of our home and half way across the country for Christmas. The “straw” for us is when I realized that the relatives we were going to see were singles or couples in good health with the money to travel who could more easily come to us than we could come to them (but never had, because THEY like to spend Christmas at HOME). At that point, our days of pre-shipping the gifts and hauling around 6 suitcases, a car seat, and a diaper bag through the airport at Christmas were over!

    Message for the Admin: Your “every 3rd year” idea seems a reasonable solution to share your daughter with her in-laws and new husband at the holidays, but having lived this personally, I can say that it may end up being onerous on your daughter as time goes on. After all, if you want every 3rd year, so will her in-laws, which means she and her husband will only have one holiday at home together (with their children, or eventual children) once every three years. I can’t say that I know of a better solution to ensure all the adult kids and their families get together, but can just say from experience that the “3 year” idea may work less well for her nuclear family as time goes on.

  • egl December 3, 2012, 9:31 am

    OP, you are correct that your family was trying to guilt trip you here and no, you’re not wrong to stand up to them.

    Frankly, now is probably a good time to be asserting yourself. If you and your fiancée decide to have kids down the road, I expect the family pressure to bring them over early christmas morning to open presents will start. View this as good practice.

  • Chicalola December 3, 2012, 9:41 am

    We tried once to split the holiday. It never works……too stressful! We finally decided to spend Thanksgiving day with my family, Christmas day with his family. Then we plan on a different day to celebrate those holidays with the other family. It works well for us. Now that we have kids, we decided that Christmas morning is for our family alone. This allows us to have our own traditions for the morning, and then join the family for the rest of the day. We love the arrangement. We’ve seen how bad it works for my brother-in-law and his wife….they usually make it for her family, and we rarely see them for holidays anymore. It can be hurtful, but when you get married, you are joining another family with their own traditions and they all factor in. You have to be strong and make your own mind up. Don’t let anyone guilt you…….because then you really don’t want to spend the day with them at all.

  • Ma December 3, 2012, 9:53 am

    Kudos to the OP for putting her foot down! I too have personal experience with this type of drama. Fortunately, my family and my ILs were able to work out Christmas but my ILs felt like they could pull guilt trips over everything single other opportunity to get people together and drove me crazy until the day I divorced their son.

    I remember being being asked to change the date of a birthday party (!!) even when I sent emails in advance suggesting dates and heard no response. People who are so convinced that their wants/desires are more important than mine/my family and honestly think it’s fine to play their hand to convince others to submit to their will deserve to be in ehell imho.

  • Shalamar December 3, 2012, 10:02 am

    Oh, boy, did this one hit home. Warning: this is going to be a little long.

    When my husband and I married, my MIL made it very clear that she expected us to join herself, my FIL, and my husband’s siblings on Christmas Day (my parents live out-of-province, and seeing them at Christmas was just too expensive). We did indeed join my in-laws every Christmas for many years – until one year about 17 years ago. We busted our humps to drive ourselves and our then-baby daughter 2.5 hours to the in-laws’ house so that we’d be there to open gifts with everyone, only to find that they’d gone ahead and opened them without us. That’s when I realized that they didn’t give a darn if we were there or not, and I put my foot down. No more rushing frantically out of the house on Christmas morning for us!

    For a while, we celebrated Christmas morning with just the three of us (and later the four of us after we had Daughter #2), spending the afternoon and evening with the in-laws. Then one year, after a boring and non-fun Christmas that had basically consisted of staring at a football game on TV that my brother-in-law simply couldn’t live without, I put my foot down AGAIN and asked my husband what he thought of the idea of spending the entire day at home with just ourselves and our daughters. He loved the idea, but he was hesitant about what his mother would think. I said “She’ll live”, and so we put our plan into motion. Well – she seemed to take it okay. At first. On Christmas Day I headed out to pick up the Chinese food that was going to be our dinner (we all loved Chinese food), and when I got back, my husband was in tears. Aghast, I asked what was wrong. “Mum called, and … she called me a bad son.”

    OH MAN. I was all for jumping in the car and driving to her house to give her supreme hell. How DARE she do that to him? He’s the best son in the world, and the best father, and the best husband.

    Her actions that day made things easy for us, however. If that was going to be her attitude, we were never spending Christmas with her again. And we never have.

  • Shoegal December 3, 2012, 10:36 am

    This is a major problem that nearly every couple face – and well, now it’s your turn. I am on the fence about your decision but I fully agree that you have the right to make it. I also agree that you shouldn’t be guilted into it or bullied to attend. I just don’t see how the last year before you marry is somehow “special.” For me – I would have chosen to spend the last year unmarried with my family because it would be last time I would be apart of my parent’s family as their little girl before breaking off and creating my own.

    If you had decided to spend your first Christmas alone as man and wife I would agree wholeheartedly. But you will hopefully have all of your Christmases with your husband to look forward to in the future. This will be the last time you will have the opportunity to spend Christmas with your family as a full fledged member. I’m sentimental about that – I chose to be with my mother on Christmas morning right up to the last year before I married. Afterwards, Christmas became hectic with trying to be with two families and attempting to please everyone – which never works out. My husband and I actually have a pretty easy time of it since we celebrate on anonther day with his family and on Christmas with mine. We keep Christmas Eve for ourselves – we spend the entire day together with absolutely no family on either side.

  • Lilya December 3, 2012, 10:40 am

    You are not being selfish, OP: it’s your life, your holidays, your decision.

    As a side note, all this emphasis on Christmas day feels rather weird, although we get to divide our family time between Christmas Eve (dinner only), Christmas, Boxing Day and the Epiphany.

  • 2browneyes4 December 3, 2012, 10:47 am

    I agree with the statements that no one should guilt the LW into being there, and that it will only make LW not want to be there at all.

    In other words, if there is this much drama now, before the holiday, I sure wouldn’t want to see the drama that will very likely take place during the holiday. At this point, it’s probably best that LW stay home with the fiance.

  • Gee December 3, 2012, 11:03 am

    Admin is right on. We had a big fight about this with my inlaws when we were newly married. My MIL expected to get us for every single special occasion. I finally told her that her son married into my family just as much as I had married into hers. That means she didn’t get first crack at everything. And that sometimes, we’d want to spend time alone, just hubby and me. It took a while for her to learn to back off, but it had to be done. OP, stand your ground. You have every right to decide what you want to do for your holidays.

  • JWH December 3, 2012, 11:04 am

    Here’s one for the EHell community: What about single folks. If you haven’t started your own family, are you obligated to show up for various family members’ events every year?

  • Rap December 3, 2012, 11:10 am

    You know, this is why I dislike the holiday of Christmas – well, this and the gift giving. The non stop guilt trips… without any acknowledgement that it’s simply not easy to get the family together nor is it all that pleasant. The last time I spent the holiday “with the family” was a nightmare that I’m not allowed to acknowledge lest I be deemed a bad unloving child.

    My parents chose to move to a northern snowy state. I live on the west coast. So first off, these holidays are expensive travel wise, and it’s difficult getting time off. When I arrive, as the youngest, unmarried child, despite being in my mid thirties, I’m sleeping on an air mattress because well, there’s not enough beds and getting a hotel room is out of the question as it suggests I don’t love spending every waking moment with the family. This is the dynamic the entire stay, we’re suddenly children to be bossed around and if we don’t smile and like it, we’re ungrateful and don’t love our parents. Any questioning of the status quo – like my enjoying a glass of wine or two because I’m an adult and have been legally allowed to drink for years (and understand we’re not talking about drinking in an alcohol free home, my folks enjoy wine) is a debate about how its just not ok. Add in the fact that the holidays inspires my mom to bring up every bitter memory of childhood and we have to assure her that we had great holidays (or else we don’t love her) and every attempt to change certain holiday traditions is met with bitter resentment. One sister wanted to switch from “everyone gets everyone a gift” to “lets draw names out of a hat” and my mom put that down fast with the fact that Sister got that idea from her inlaws and therefore loves the inlaws family more than her own.

    I spent over a thousand dollars between travel and gifts, and had to finagle and work other holidays to make this special family holiday happen… so I could sleep on the floor, get yelled at, and spend the entire time being treated like I was five. This involved a Christmas morning that started with mom and different sister screaming vulgarities at each other over what happened three Christmases earlier.

    Now I just take the guilt trip of not “coming home” (to the place my folks moved to, not my actual childhood home where I could at least escape for a few hours with old friends) in a series of phone calls and accept I’m a bad child. Because I just can’t take it.

  • Dani313 December 3, 2012, 11:22 am

    My family is notorious for putting the guilt on when it comes to holidays. My parents were never married so I grew up going to several different houses during the holidays. Thanksgiving is now spent with my aunt (mom’s sister) and cousins 3 hours away from home. (We drove there once for Christmas and almost slid off the rode several times so we decided Thanksgiving will be their holiday.) This year I got some whining from my older cousins (this women are in their 40s and 50s) because “This is your dad’s first holiday in his new house” and “Holiday time is family time.” My dad’s house is not new, I have had several meals in that house, and my mother’s family IS MY FAMILY!

    This year Christmas will be split between my dad’s, mom’s/stepdad’s and boyfriend’s family. Christmas eve/morning should be spent with the nuclear family (like other’s have said to start new traditions). The tradition at my mom’s was to open gifts at midnight but since I live with my boyfriend that tradition won’t apply at her house but I may keep it for mine. We will visit briefly at my dad’s because usually my stepmother starts arguments, have our first meal at my mom’s and then head to boyfriend’s family event. Although boyfriend has stated we don’t have to spend much time visiting his family so we may end up laying on the floor in the living room, drinking spiked egg nog and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

    The point is that these are your holidays and you should spend them how you want. You have no obligation to visit anyone and are well within your rights to stay in your pajamas all day!

  • Audra December 3, 2012, 11:25 am

    Echoing the thoughts of many of the previous commenters- stand your ground. If sister wants to be with Mom, she can go to Mom’s house. Refuse to feel guilty for wanting to spend your holiday with your soon-to-be husband.

    When newly married and later, as the kids came along, we tried the “go to everyone’s house” on the holidays. It seemed like we never got to enjoy our holiday because we were busy dividing time among the three sets of grandparents ( my mother & stepfather, hubby’s mother & stepfather and hubby’s father and stepmother. My dad lives out-of-state and made no demands on our holidays), each wanting to spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with us/the kids, and my youngest child’s birthday is around Thanksgiving, sometimes falling on Thanksgiving, so it was hectic.

    My first breaking point was Thanksgiving. We could not eat 3 huge meals and someone always felt slighted. If son’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving, then he wanted his own birthday cake, not a piece of pie at grandad’s. It just wasn’t the same and I didn’t blame him. So one year, when son’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving, I told all the grandparents well in advance that we would not be coming for dinner. The new aquarium in our state was opening and he wanted to go, so we went on Thanksgiving Day (his birthday) and it was one of the best days ever! No stressing about running around to everyone’s house or watching what we ate so we could eat again later. Seven blissful hours of having fun with our kids. We came home, lit the cake, sang happy birthday, ate cake and all fell asleep in the floor of the living room watching a movie. BEST DAY EVER! I told all the grandparents later that Thanksgiving would be on a yearly rotation- like admin’s suggestion- but when son’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving, we skip that year in favor of doing what he wanted on his birthday. They weren’t happy but I was tired of trying to please everyone and running around.

    The second breaking point came the very next year at Christmas. One of the other grandkids pushed my kid off the couch arm. Son was sitting there watching a movie, not bothering a soul and other kid’s parents were camped in the kitchen, nibbing on food, waiting for someone else to arrive so we could eat (their always late sibling) Son fell on a side table, bumped his head and ended up with a knot. I went in to ask other kids’ parents to come speak with their kid, they refused, saying my kid had to do something to provoke their kid (not true- I was actually *watching* my kids) and that they didn’t believe their son would do that for no reason. I gathered my kids and left. My husband showed up at home about an hour after I did because he was too busy in the garage, gossiping with his dad, to know what had happened, (a whole different issue) and I had left him there. ( I was so angry, if I had not left immediately, things would have gone further downhill, FAST.)

    I wrote all the grandparents a letter the very next day, saying that effective immediately, Christmas was no longer going to be split among them, with us running around to 3 houses, tyring to adjust to their preferred times. They were all welcome to come to our house on Christmas Eve to spend time with the grandkids/family, and Christmas Day was going to be for just me, my husband and kids. Again, they weren’t happy but sometimes, you just have to do what is best for you & your family.

    I think your family will survive a year without you. Dr. Sister needs to grow up and realize that her working schedule cannot dictate your holiday schedule. If being a doctor interferes with her family time, maybe she needs to consider scaling back her work schedule.

  • Roslyn December 3, 2012, 11:33 am

    Wow!! My best advise, after 22 years of Holiday Debacles is simply, decide what you want and make it clear to all parties how you will do this. It began 22 years ago at Thanksgiving. My Mother wants dinner around 12 to 1pm. And Husband’s Aunt says that dinner is at 1 to 2 pm. However, we would always arrive at 1 (because we were told to) and her dinner would always be 3 to 5 hours LATER. With everyone sitting around talking and basically starving to death. This is even worse when you have little ones and are trying to keep them quiet and occupied when they are starving to death.

    To me the solution was simple. Hit my Mum’s place at noon and then his Aunts at 4 or 5 (the usual ACTUAL eating time). However his Mother and Aunt threw the biggest hissy fit because they would NOT change their time. I could never get through to them that they only said they wanted to eat at 1, but they never did. I was always wrong. Thanksgiving became the big nightmare. We tried getting my Mother to hold off to 6pm (that one really pi$$ed her off) and then went to his Aunts promptly at 1pm, yet waited until 4:30 to eat and had to leave an hour later to make my Mum’s by 6.

    After several years of this we tried to do one dinner one year and the other dinner the next. Well, each year we had to listen to the Aunt bitch and moan about not coming last year, and it really didn’t help that we had to listen to the same from my Mother. This happened year after year, we tried our best to make everyone happy with a compromise, yet no one was EVER happy, least of all us.

    Then we were saved by a family feud. We still to this day don’t’ know the whole story, but his Mother and the Aunt who hosted dinner each year got into a huge fight and she stopped Thanksgiving all together. Shortly after that his parents split and his mother and all his siblings are now 10 hours away and we don’t travel over the Holidays (put our foot down over that years ago). So now when my Mother is in town we still attend her dinner, but my cooking is better so we do prefer me to cook. 🙂

    Christmas is a whole different story and we have always done Christmas morning at home with the kids and then will visit after 11 to 12 to my mother’s house. Back then we would go to my mother’s earlier in the day and then that afternoon to his families house. They seemed okay with it at that time, however a few things have come out to make us believe they hold grudges over it all these years later.

    So, now my heart-felt advise. Devise a plan and explain to that bully of a sister what it is in clear and concise words. Christmas is only one day in the whole year. It is NOT worth destroying the family dynamic over this gimme gimme mentality. Yes, gimme gimme for your time. Just because you are getting together the day after Christmas (isn’t that Boxing Day?) doesn’t mean that you aren’t together for the Holidays. Heck, if family is torn up for the Holidays then make your own. Pick a weekend two week before Christmas and make that your big Holiday Family Bash. Many families do this, especially when members of the family work in jobs that don’t allow them to get away on the one actual “Holiday Day”. That is the day for all family members to set aside other family obligations with spouses’ and work and get together. Then on the actual day you can have your quiet morning (until kids come that is) and enjoy your holiday with your new husband and even include his family because yours already had your big bash/dinner etc.

    Just because the calender says “It’s Christmas today” doesn’t mean that you can’t change that and make your own special Christmas day. It isn’t a time of year for fighting, threatening, guilt trip laying or bickering. It’s the time of year to come together and celebrate what your family has together and make it special in your own way.

    Good Luck!!!

  • Mary December 3, 2012, 12:00 pm

    My mom told me when hubby and I got married, once we had kids we needed to do what worked for us for holidays. At first we rotated all of the holidays. Then we we moved closer to my in-laws and we started going to my family on Thanksgiving and his for Christmas. My sister-in-law is obsessed with celebrating on Christmas Eve. However, after three years of arriving back home after midnight only to celebrate with his entire extended family the next afternoon and evening, we said no. So now we go up to my in-laws the weekend before or after, plus Christmas afternoon with the whole family. We have Christmas Eve and morning all to ourselves.
    However my sister in law won’t join us on that weekend celebration and still tries to guilt trip my husband every year about Christmas Eve. She already did it in the last week. I refuse to cave and the more she bugs us about it, the more stubborn I will get. She doesn’t have kids and I don’t think she gets that her nieces want to participate at the Mass pageant that night and spend Christmas morning in their own home.

  • Lisa Marie December 3, 2012, 12:02 pm

    I agree with Michele. OP is not married yet and this is the last Christmas her mother will have with her before she becomes a wife. I am all for putting your own family first but they haven’t become a true family yet. I would not disappoint my mother on this last Christmas (having recently lost my own dear mother) there will be plenty of future Christmases for OP and her new family.

  • KiKi December 3, 2012, 12:22 pm

    I’m with the majority, OP. Put your foot down and don’t let her try and use guilt as a weapon to get you to change your mind. Like others, I, too, have a story like this.

    My DF and I have ok jobs and are living well, for the most part. Not much extra money, but enough to get by. His parents paid for us to fly to his sister’s home (out of state) last year to celebrate Christmas. We thanked them and enjoyed spending time at his sister’s family’s home.

    This year, we got a phone call. His father wants us to spend Christmas at sister’s home again. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to be logistically possible. My DF is still a probationary employee and doesn’t want to ask for the time off. I’ve already made a commitment to my employer to be here for the holidays. Not to mention, we’re both trying to save up our vacation time for our upcoming wedding. DF explained all this to his father, who expressed his disappointment and disbelief that we wouldn’t drop everything and “make more of an effort” to go there to see DF’s new niece (I refused to mention the fact that I rarely see my own brother and SIL and their two children because of their location – I know that they are excited to be new grandparents, but they made it seem as if we are refusing to see the new baby and are shunning her or something). DF put his foot down and said it just would not work this year and perhaps we could go to see them this summer instead. FFIL wasn’t happy, but he finally accepted that he wasn’t going to get his way. Sister’s family is flying here this year, instead.

    The moral: you can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes, you just have to say “no.”

  • WildIrishRose December 3, 2012, 12:24 pm

    I live several hours away from where my sisters live (we were reared by our grandparents, who are gone now) so I don’t get to see them for Christmas very often. My in-laws live just a few miles from us, so we spend holidays with them. Which I love. But I would give anything to be able to go see my family once in a while.

  • Jenn50 December 3, 2012, 12:31 pm

    Oh, I am SO glad that our immediate families are close by, and mature, sensible people. When we had kids, we decided that henceforth, Christmas morning would be spent under our OWN tree. Anyone was welcome to join us. Christmas Eve, we made the short trip to HIS parents’ place. Christmas dinner with mine. Nobody guilted, nobody complained. I realize not everyone is lucky enough not to have to travel, but if you want to stay home, you should do so.

  • Allie December 3, 2012, 12:34 pm

    Shalamar, I’m sorry your husband had that hurtful and untrue thing said to him. I found as my grandmother (who raised me and was more like a mother to me as my own mom lived very far away – too far to visit for the holidays) aged, this kind of behaviour increased. I don’t think she was a bad person. I think it was a control issue. As she got older and felt more vulnerable, she started the old “if you loved me you’d do this” routine as well as the stereotypical threats about cutting various of us at various times out of the will. I never held it against her and she’s passed now (what I wouldn’t give for another Christmas with her and my dad, imperfect as they were). Thankfully for my husband and I, in his culture it is typical to eat late and the Christmas meal would be served at about 10:00 pm. Grandma’s Christmas dinner would be served by 5 or 6 and sometimes even earlier, so we spent many years going to two Christmas dinners on Christmas night (only a 20 minute drive apart so no rushing around to speak of). Thankfully, we were younger then so the waistlines could bear it.

    OP, let go of the guilt and stick by your decision for this year. However, don’t write you pushy relatives off altogether. Make plans to spend another holiday with them or make an effort to work out a Christmas plan (perhaps alternating years) that works for everybody. The holidays should be a time of joy, not a nightmare!

  • acr December 3, 2012, 1:04 pm

    I agree that OP’s sister was mean and rude. However, I don’t think OP is entirely blameless.

    “So a few weeks ago, I heard from my sister that my Mum was planning Christmas dinner in the city near where we live and I needed to keep it free. I made no promises but said I’d keep it in mind.” If the OP knew then that she and her fiance wouldn’t be participating, she should have said so right then. “I’ll keep it in mind” just feels kind of vague and PA to me.

    Also, if your mom is a doctor and doesn’t get very many holidays off, then I think your insistance on “we want to spend Christmas alone as a couple” is not very nice. Perhaps your family is unpleasant at family gatherings, and that makes more sense. But if you enjoy spending time with your family, then I don’t understand why you and your fiance couldn’t have a “just us” Christmas Eve and spend one of your mother’s few Christmas Day’s off with her. I can’t imagine how hurtful it would be to finally get a Christmas Day off of work, only to have my daughter tell me, “Oh, no thanks, Fiance and I want to spend Christmas alone and snuggle on the couch!”

  • DowagerDutchess December 3, 2012, 1:21 pm

    Well, why did you tell your mother you’d keep the date free when you weren’t? I’m all for people establishing their own traditions, but you owe it to your family to be upfront and tell them early, especially when you know they are traveling and have limited vacation time.

  • Tsunoba December 3, 2012, 1:24 pm

    Holidays aren’t the only situations where this can happen. Birthdays can cause problems as well.

    My maternal grandmother, mother, and sister have birthdays one right after the other. I don’t just mean pretty close together. I mean that we have my grandmother’s birthday, and the next day is my mother’s birthday, and the day after that is my sister’s birthday.

    The very first year my sister wanted to spend her birthday with her friends, my mother AND my grandmother became angry with her for not coming up for their birthdays. This wan’t even a situation for compromise because of the distance between us. My sister could be up here for everyone’s birthday, or stay home for hers and miss out on our mother’s and grandmother’s. There just was no reasonable way to do both. My grandmother even tried the “I’m old and I might not be around for much longer” guilt-trip. But my sister stood her ground, and stayed home.

    Everyone forgave and forgot shortly afterward, but I still remember wondering why I was seemingly the only one in the house who thought my sister was allowed to spend her own birthday the way she wanted to.

  • Lindsay December 3, 2012, 1:43 pm

    I disagree a bit. When sister proposed the plans to OP initially, OP’s answer of “I’ll keep it in mind” was excessively coy. At that time, she should have laid out her plan quite clearly. I think other sis was thinking typically: “My sis always spends the holidays with us, so “keep it in mind” must mean that she’ll be there”. As this is the first year that OP planned to change the plans, I think it is totally reasonable for doctor sis with scant days off to expect status quo. She then made her travel plans expecting to see her sis+fiance. And was understandably upset when OP appeared to change her plans at a later stage.

  • Sarah Jane December 3, 2012, 1:53 pm

    I will never understand why family members choose to GUILT other family members into spending time with them. Being together for the holiday should be a “want-to”, not a “have-to.” It really ruins the spirit of the season to pressure people with “traditions” that may not always be their priority.

    Because of my husband’s work schedule, we refuse to make each holiday about the DAY itself. We are very fond of having alternate dates to celebrate the holiday, such as the weekend before or that afterward, and we find that it frees up extended family members to spend the day itself with other sides of the family or in their own homes with just their nuclear families.

    One year we had had earlier celebrations with all sides of the family, so for Christmas Day, my husband took me out for a very romantic Christmas dinner at a luxurious resort. It was wonderful.

    The holiday is whenever you designate it to be.

  • sv December 3, 2012, 2:05 pm

    When I first began living with my (future) husband, Christmas started to evolve into a high stress, gotta- please- everyone kind of deal. It became a day where we were literally watching the clock, as members of my family and his family were both demanding our time and attention. After several years of this it just became unbearable – one Christmas we literally were on the go for 12 straight hours with no time to actually enjoy our own gift opening or anyone’s company. It was exhausting and not at all what Christmas should be about. By the next year I was pregnant and feeling nostalgic for the Christmases of my own childhood – we stayed home and had a leisurely day every time. So I put my foot down and told both my family and his that once the baby arrived we would be spending Christmas in our own home, and they were welcome to join us if they liked. Christmas eve day was dedicated to my husband’s family, and Boxing day was dedicated to mine. Best move I ever made – that was 12 years ago and we have had 12 peaceful Christmasses, where everyone gets a day to host and we get to enjoy our holiday as a family. And PS – both my parents and my husbands parents have visited each Christmas day without fail 🙂

  • Angel December 3, 2012, 2:11 pm

    I give the OP a lot of credit for standing up to her family. At Christmas time people tend to be very testy, especially when things don’t go their way. I wouldn’t take anything your sister says to you personally. Spend Christmas with your fiance. A holiday should be just that–a holiday–a relaxing time where you catch up with family and friends. It doesn’t have to be stressful yet some family members seem intent on making it that way. You could just as easily celebrate the holidays at any point in December. Why does it have to be the exact day? I know lots of families that celebrate together the weekend before Christmas. Or get together at New Years.

    It simply isn’t fair to expect people to run around from house to house at Christmas. My husband and I used to do that early on in our marriage. Now that we have two little kids, forget that! We either have my siblings and parents over our house or go over to one of their houses. And we spend Christmas Eve with my in-laws either at our house or theirs. We all live within 5 to 10 miles of each other so it works. My sister-in-law’s family lives across the country so sometimes her parents come. And sometimes they go out there. Not often though because they too, have little kids. Expecting people to travel thousands of miles each year at Christmas is just nuts! I would never do that.

  • Calli Arcale December 3, 2012, 2:24 pm

    If there is any error on the OP’s part, it is a tactical one, not an etiquette one. By saying you’d keep the date in mind but couldn’t promise anything, you allowed your sister to hope that the holiday would be the magical wonderful thing she evidently was envisioning. Now, its’ really her fault for taking that as a commitment, but from personal experience with relatives who assume to much, I’ve learned to be very straightforward in my responses. If I had something planned for Christmas, I’d say as much. It nips the problem in the bud.

    Some people are magical thinkers at times. They get the idea that everything will be all right if only you can have The Right Christmas (or whatever holiday; for some, it’ll be Thanksgiving, for others it’ll be Easter, for still others it’ll be the Fourth of July — whatever, but especially something with a family tradition of hosting a gathering). This becomes especially significant if there has been a family trauma such as a divorce and/or there is an upcoming major life change, such as a marriage, which will forevermore change the family dynamics. They will latch on desperately to the slightest hint that yes, the party will be able to go on as they dream it, and refuse to recognize any potential obstacles. A response which doesn’t completely negate coming will be interpreted as a “yes”. And anything that compromises their vision will be blamed for any perceived fault in the magical event.

    Another thing is the invitation passed through a third party, another thing that is an issue in my family. OP was asked by her sister to keep the date, even though their mother was hosting. OP didn’t give any promises, and then later declined directly to the hostess. Sister, who had issued the invite, took exception. OP did it correctly, but sister took offense at being left out of the loop. I have had endless problems with pass-around verbal invitations in my family and have learned that these just simply don’t work. They’re too unreliable for all but the most informal of gatherings. It seems to be “the way” in my family, but it really causes too many problems. So nowadays, I go old-fashioned and contact everyone directly, even if the others think I’m being silly for doing that. When it comes to etiquette, I’ve learned to err on the side of more etiquette.

  • Jenny December 3, 2012, 2:25 pm

    I have mixed feelings. I don’t see the big deal about spending at least a couple of hours with family if they are going to be in town. Of course it’s your choice and you shouldn’t have been bullied, but I can understand their disappointment.

  • travestine December 3, 2012, 2:29 pm

    I may have a little different perspective on the whole “we want to be alone for Christmas” plan.

    When I was 23, my mom passed away quite suddenly in the fall – she spent her last Christmas with my stepdad’s family back East, so I didn’t get to spend her last Christmas with her. I wish I could have. Both of my brothers passed away, one in his 20’s and one just after his 40th birthday, again very quickly and unexpectedly. I’d give anything to spend a Christmas, even a Christmas Eve, with one of them. This past year, my beloved stepdad passed. Again, I wish.

    Please, unless there’s a really good reason, don’t pass up a chance to make memories with your loved ones. And take photos – lots of photos. I mean really, it’s your first/last Christmas before you marry – what will you do? Have a toast, watch a movie and then what? Spend it with your family. You won’t regret it.

  • Miss Raven December 3, 2012, 2:32 pm

    OP, your situation sounds uncomfortable, but it also sounds like typical family growing pains. Your mother and sisters are fearing the change coming in your life and how it will affect your relationship with them. While they’re coming off as overbearing, try to understand that it’s because they love you so.

    In fact, try to make them understand how much they mean to you while you’re explaining that you won’t be spending Christmas with them this year. Explain that your decision isn’t meant as a reflection on your relationship with them, or meant to disrupt any cherished traditions. Tell them how much it hurts you that they are so upset and ask them to see things from your perspective.

    Then, close the conversation.

    When my dear Grandma died several years ago, it was one day before Thanksgiving. It was horrible. She was our anchor and we loved her dearly and it was very sudden. My family and I spent the holiday moping and mourning and crying together. It was the worst Thanksgiving ever. Since then, my aunt has been having Thanksgiving each year with my uncle’s family rather than have Thanksgiving with us and re-live that awfulness.

    She is coming around. This year rather than a traditional Thanksgiving, the whole family skipped town together. It was glorious, but we just needed to give her some time.

    Family holiday traditions can be upset for a whole mess of different reasons. What’s important is your family’s ability to remember what’s really important, and to be able to adapt and roll with the punches. Good luck.

  • badkitty December 3, 2012, 2:35 pm


    How AWFUL! What a horrible woman, and your darling hubby is better off spending his holiday with you and your girls. I’ve been there – my husband’s mother and father have both reduced him to tears and self-loathing on a few occasions, until I calmly restate the situation and he realizes that they twist facts to emotionally manipulate him – and it’s gotten to the point where emotionally-charged discussions don’t take place unless I’m there to back him up. I’m sure they think that I’m ‘controlling’ him or some other such nonsense, but we know the truth and that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

  • travestine December 3, 2012, 2:35 pm

    And @Shalamar, really? I just have to ask – is your husband REALLY happy that he hasn’t spent a holiday since with his family in 17 years? Or is he just afraid to tell you, since you are so pleased that you’ve gotten your way and divided this family, since they were so boring? There wasn’t another way to handle this situation? Perhaps you all could have gone over later in the day for lunch, after spending a nice morning at home.

    I think this is really sad.

  • Andie December 3, 2012, 2:35 pm

    Don’t give in OP! Not just for the reasons stated by the admin and previous posters (which are valid) but just because if you give in to that kind of manipulation once, you’re just letting the manipulator know that they found a really good button to push the next time they want to control you.

    There’s absolutely no reason your sister can’t be polite about asking your holiday plans, and there’s no reason she doesn’t have to accept a polite decline with grace.

  • Kel December 3, 2012, 2:53 pm

    I can see both sides.

    As a person who had guilt trips laid on me by both sides of my and my dh’s families, I am all too familiar with the desire to have “time alone” on a holiday and/or to avoid the stress and logistical problems of trying to be with everyone.

    OTOH, I can also see the sister’s pov. She has — as the OP admits — few holidays to spend with her sister, so she wants to take every opportunity she can. Also, the OP seems to have deflected in the original phone call with her “I’ll keep it in mind” obfuscation rather than telling the blunt truth right away. The problem with those polite obfuscations is that they’re not really all that effective or all that polite. They’re really just a way to avoid telling an unpalatable truth right now and IMO, a way for the speaker to deny responsibility: “Well, I never ACTUALLY said I was going to do what you wanted. It’s not MY fault that you didn’t hear what I was REALLY not saying.” (When in fact the speaker is hoping the listener didn’t really hear what they were saying because they’re trying to avoid a fight.) To me those so-called polite obfuscations really are lies by omission.

    The sister in this case did not hear the real intent behind the OP’s words because the OP omitted the truth, which was that she was not going to be at the family Christmas celebration. Without a clear indication otherwise, the sister assumed that everything was a go, only to find out that the OP never had any intention of doing as the family planned. So from the sister’s pov, my guess is that she feels that she was strung along, deceived and cast aside, that she’s the “old toy” who’s been tossed into the bottom of the toy bin in favor of the new favorite.

    So while the OP is within her rights to have the holiday the way she wants, I do think she bears some burden for not clearly telling the truth as soon as she knew it and that she needs to keep in mind that doing as she wants is not free of consequences.

  • Angela December 3, 2012, 3:07 pm

    It’s not often that I’m relieved that I married an orphan….

    You have the right to decide how and with whom you’ll spend the holidays. May I make one observation? When you made no promises but said “you’d keep it in mind”, this gave sister (who sounds rather narcissistic) the opportunity to assume that the lack of a firm “no” meant “yes”. Don’t be afraid to start off with the firm “no”. Also, this works well when I have had to deal with more dramatic factions of my family: “That’s my decision and I’m sticking to it. This conversation is over. How is the bean dip?” and then repeated “No, I’m done talking about it. If there is nothing else up for discussion, I need to do so-and-so. “

  • just4kicks December 3, 2012, 3:11 pm

    We started a tradition a few years ago, that was not well received for the first few holidays. My parents always hosted Christmas at their home, about 45 minutes away from our house. As our five children got older, I wanted to have it at our home, so our kids could come downstairs and enjoy their presents in their jammies without worrying about getting to Grandma’s on her time schedule. I was met with some resistance the first few years, but we stuck to our guns. Now, grandma and grandpop come up in the morning and we all have a relaxing day. It is your life, you are adults…do what you want with YOUR holiday.

  • Ann December 3, 2012, 3:58 pm

    I like what Shalamar wrote “Her actions that day made things easy for us”. This is so true.

    OP’s sister is making it so easy for her to stick to her guns. Change nice plans to attend a “family” event after dealing with someone’s anger and manipulation? No way.

  • MaryFran December 3, 2012, 4:58 pm

    You know, I don’t think OP’s sister fully understands the consequences of her bullying. I mean, who looks forward to a holiday with the family when they’ve been bullied into attending? Every time there’s drama in my family about some holiday or another, I am immediately wishing I had booked a cruise instead {wink wink}.

  • Kit December 3, 2012, 5:30 pm

    We have been celebrating our Christmases for several years with my in-laws now (or maybe it is more that they celebrate with us, as it usually happens in our home).
    1) My in-laws were half hour drive away (now 5 min, as we moved them nearer to us for health reasons), my parents 4-5 hours.
    2) My in-laws have nobody else of younger generation to spend it with except for my husband and our children; my parents have total 3 children and 4 grandchildren plus my single aunt so I figure missing us is not a too big deal.
    3) My husband’s relatives’ health is declining to the point where they aren’t really too able to host a party themselves, so who is going to do that if we drive away?
    But I have wondered if that makes me a bad daughter…
    But now in the light of these comments – I can actually say that that’s exactly what I have been doing, celebrating it with my own (husband+children) family, it’s just that my in-laws have chosen to attend my party and my parents not? Yay!

  • Spuck December 3, 2012, 5:44 pm

    Just because the OP might have been obscure with her words does not mean she did anything wrong. If she has relatives that can’t handle a direct No I completely understand why she did not give it. The fact is that a guilt trip is a thousand times worse than weasel words any day. Things change, my grandfather was the one who used to travel for Christmas Day and Thanksgiving every year. As he got older her preferred spending his winters in Florida. I don’t miss seeing him on holidays because I know he is in a place that he would much rather be and we still get a phone call on those days each year.

    People just have to suck it up. Things change. When you marry or are committed to someone the only person you have to confer with is them. If spending the Holiday alone as a couple is what they want to do then they should do that. No guilt trips, no there are only so many holidays left, no someone might die. If you hold yourself to past traditions you never get to experience no potentials.

  • Basketcase December 3, 2012, 5:54 pm

    Posts like this really make me realise just how easy I have it.
    Christmas is the only holiday we are expected to “do” here. DH and I live in the same city as my parents, and his live a 3 hour ferry + 4 hour drive away.
    So we decided right at the start to do a three-yearly rotation. One year we go to his family, and do a road-trip starting Boxing Day. The next year we do Christmas with my parents, whether at their place or somewhere else (this year a 4 hour drive to my Aunt & Uncle), then head off for a few days in one place chilling out.
    The third year we “host”. Christmas is at ours and whoever wants to come can. Last time, it was our first Christmas as a married couple, AND we had been in our first home for 3 weeks on the day. My parents and brother came, while DHs stayed home to spend the day with their other two kids (and partners) who have other local family.
    I cant wait for next year – we are “hosting” somewhere other than home. Will be interesting to see who comes. Especially since its going to be our babies first Christmas… Expecting just my family for the day to be honest.

    And with “would you regret missing their last Christmas”: If they live in a totally different city and getting there for Christmas is not financially or time feasible, then you are always going to be at risk of missing someones last Christmas. There are other days you can see your family – we often travel down to see DHs family in early December for a weekend if we aren’t there for Christmas. Hasn’t happened this year with pregnancy, renovations, redundancy and trainings…

  • JK December 3, 2012, 6:17 pm

    While I think that sister behaved hurtfully in laying on such a guilt trip, I can sympathize with the OPs family in this story. It sounds like all the other immediate family is making an effort to be there, and OP is saying “no thanks, we’d rather stay home with the cats.” OP’s offer to visit another day during the holidays to me simply drives home that OP does have some other time available during the holiday period but that she and fiance could use for some alone/quiet time.

    Then again the best Thanksgiving I ever had was the one before I got married. It was just me, my parents and brother. (Fiance was with his family, and that worked out great!) We knew that it was likely be the last holiday we would get to celebrate with just us, and we made the most of it. We didn’t bother with things that had become tradition but that we personally didn’t really care about and instead focused just on what we individually loved about the holiday. It remains one of my most favorite holiday memories.

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