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Christmas Expectations

On December 16th 2011, my fiancé and I moved into our very first place together. He had been living on his own since he was 16, but I was moving out of my parents’ house, and we were both excited at the prospect of spending a wonderful Christmas together, in our new home.

My parents were going abroad for Christmas, taking my two younger siblings with them, which meant it was also going to be the first Christmas I had spent away from my immediate family.

I was very excited by everything in a new home, decorating it myself, doing the Christmas dinner for the two of us, and starting new traditions with my fiancé.

Because it was such a big deal for me, being away from home and family, we agreed to have a small, cozy Christmas, just the two of us, though we would visit fiance’s family briefly to exchange gifts. Despite living away from his family, my fiancé would usually spend Christmas eve at his parents, sleep there, then spend the day with them. Because he knew that it might ruffle some feathers, my fiancé let his mum know what we were planning, and she was even there while my fiancé bought the meat for our Christmas stew. (I wasn’t about to make an entire roast dinner for two people, and neither of us like turkey.)

Come Christmas Day everything was going really well. We had a brilliant morning, and loads of fun incorporating a mix of both our family’s traditions, and making up our own.

About one o clock in the afternoon, as previously arranged, we visited my fiance’s family. They only live half an hour away, but me and my fiancé both ride motorcycles, and the day was very cold, wet and windy. Usually, it would be the kind of day that we wouldn’t risk going out on but, as it was Christmas, we wanted to go and see everyone and give them their gifts. Fiancé rang ahead to let his family know that we would be heading down but, as the weather was bad, we would only stay for an hour before heading back before the weather got worse.

When we arrived at his family’s house, we were made welcome, offered drinks and settled down to exchange gifts. Everything was wonderful, until my fiance’s mum asked what vegetables I wanted with my lunch.

Fiance reminded his mum that we weren’t staying for lunch and that we had our lunch waiting for us when we got home. That’s when things erupted into madness.

His mum and his two brothers started shouting and swearing at my fiancé, telling him that he had ruined Christmas for everyone. Fiancé reminded them that he had told them ages ago what we were planning, but this was met with, ‘I didn’t think you would actually go through with it! You always spend Christmas here! How can you stand to do this to your own family?!’

His grandmother informed me that, because I was only making stew, we could have that tomorrow and to stop being so selfish. While fiancé was explaining to his brother that I had given up a holiday with my family so we could spend it together, his mother turned to me and said, ‘Do you feel bad yet?’

The icing on the cake was when fiance’s younger brother said, ‘We all know you’d be here if it wasn’t for her.’

At which point my fiancé told me to collect my things, and we both left immediately.

To my fiance’s credit, he stood up for me, and later rang his mother to inform her that she, and the rest of the family, were out of order, and that it was totally unacceptable. I’m happy to say that his mother and grandmother have since apologized (citing excessive alcohol consumption as a main reason for the family’s outburst) and we have built a good relationship, and his younger brother has learned that we will not stand for any of his attitude, and so is extremely polite when we see him.

This year I am going to my parents’ house, while he goes to his – under the clear understanding that next year we will be spending Christmas together as a married couple, on our own. 1203-12


So, the family tantrum worked.   They now know that a display of drama will yield the results they want, i.e. eldest son home on Christmas Day even if means you two are separated.   When you carry through with your stated plan to spend Christmas together as a married couple next year, will it come as a surprise if the family howls, “We didn’t think you would actually do it!”?   No doubt about it, your in-laws won this skirmish and you think you won because you wagged a stern finger at them.

It is hard for a family to readjust to the new relationship dynamics when the first adult child either moves away from home or becomes involved with a lover who will eventually become an in-law.   There isn’t a lot of literature out there preparing parents and siblings for the shift of priorities that necessarily must occur when the first child or siblings gets married.   Children grow up and become independent adults (one hopes) and that means new families, new traditions and a different way of interacting with the original, nuclear family.   Some families have a very difficult time adjusting to the new reality but adjust they must if a new status quo is to come about.   You’ve just delayed the inevitable.


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  • The Elf December 17, 2013, 3:18 pm

    Lacey, HollyAnn…… Why is it so important to spend Christmas alone with Fiance?

    Well, lots of reasons. One, maybe they wanted to have a drama-free Christmas. I think I can reasonably assume, based on the fact that MIL thought they “weren’t serious” after stating someting pretty clearly and then making a scene, that drama is a regular occurance. Maybe they’ve both been working very hard lately and just wanted a lazy day in pajamas. Maybe they want to start their own traditions since they’re about ready to embark on a life-long commitment to each other and are creating their own family. Maybe they were just thinking about the weather and how hard it is to get around on motorcycle in questionable conditions. I’d ask a return question: “Why is it so important to spend Dec 25 – exactly Dec 25, no substitutions allowed – with your parents?” Does familial love have to proven every year in person?

    My husband and I had a great Christmas last year. We don’t have children. We slept in, had a lazy breakfast, opened gifts, went for a walk, put dinner in the crockpot, had a drink, played a computer game, had another drink, played some more, called our respective families to wish them a Merry Christmas, had another drink, watched a movie……. It. Was. Awesome. We met up with my family that weekend and his family in November before MIL flew South for the winter. What I don’t understand is how this amazing Christmas together is such a terrible thing.

  • RC December 17, 2013, 3:31 pm

    I agree with HollyAnn; why isolate yourselves to ‘create new traditions’? You do not create traditions; they happen over time. It all seems very ‘look how grown up we are’ to me. Christmas in my family is about family.

  • Ergala December 17, 2013, 3:32 pm

    Holly Anne it is not about proving a point. When I married my husband I moved close to his home town which was far from my family. It was my first Christmas away from my family. That first year I was away from my family for the first time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. After our oldest was born we spent Christmas Eve with his side and then traveled to see my side and had Christmas with them. We did this for a few years. Then my mom moved cross country. And we moved far away from his side (3 hour car ride). Soon we had 2 children together. That 3 hour ride that was no big deal was now not so much fun. Not to mention all the people, the noise, the crowding, the over stimulation on all of us….I started to not look forward to the holidays. Then my husband’s grandfather became very ill on Thanksgiving and our plans were cancelled two days before the big day. So we had Thanksgiving at home. Then we had Christmas at home because he had passed away and we were all pretty sad. We found we were a lot happier remaining at home. So now we stay at home. This past year were going to travel once more for Thanksgiving but ended up having to stay home. We were relaxed and it was fine!

    But here’s the thing….we didn’t have any traditions of our own at first. We were kind of clueless. We’d always been with one side or the other for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Now we have our own thing and we don’t feel so lost when plans fall through. And now we prefer to stay alone together as a family of 4 with visitors later on in the day for an hour or two. It’s our day as well, we should be able to enjoy it how we want to. And if that means we spend it together without anyone else that is our right.

  • j. December 17, 2013, 3:47 pm

    Holly Ann, those certainly are some interesting assumptions.

    OP’s fiance left home at sixteen; they have been living under their own roof for quite some time. They are not “playing house” as you rather unkindly implied. They are not living their own lives to spite their parents, but because that is what adults do.

    If the OP and her husband can’t have children or opt not to, are they beholden to spend every holiday with these (unpleasant from the sound of it) people for the rest of their lives? Or is there done magical age at which they count as Real People and not spiteful children playing house?

    If my mother or MIL had said the same thing to us when we were newly married, we wouldn’t spend ANY holiday with them, not even Groundhog’s Day.

  • PrincessButtercup December 17, 2013, 5:59 pm

    I’m always amazed at how many parents want to be failures.
    The goal of a good parent is to create happy, healthy, independent adults that are productive members of society. That means that when they are adults they will make their own decisions and path in life.

    There are always endings to holiday “traditions”. Not always will they be so young that it goes over their head. Not always will matchbox cars and barbies be good enough. Not always will they leave cookies for Santa. Not always will you have to help them buy gifts for family. And not always will they be a little one still living in your house.
    When your kids get to be adults capable of making their own decisions, be proud, not angry.

  • Angie December 17, 2013, 6:16 pm

    I do think that more than an hour would have been nice. They felt slighted (although they could have handled it differently.
    However, I have sympathy for the OP. My DH and I have been married for eleven years and still face this problem. Two years ago, the IL changed the date of their family Christmas celebration from the weekend before Christmas to Christmas Eve due to a family illnesses. As we live an hour away and also needed to attend Christmas Eve mass in our town( my entire family would be at Mass and several nephews were performing in the Children’s choir), we made plans to go early in the day. Two days before I was in a car accident but we borrowed a vehicle and arrived promptly at ten. By two, my autistic daughter was melting down, I was in severe pain and we needed to leave. Cue the upset family who claimed we ruined Christmas and chose my family over his ( no, we chose a religious celebration that is actually the reason for the season). They have continued to bring it up as an example of how I have turned DH against his family. Last Christmas was celebrated the weekend before Christmas at our house and I was “rude and hostile” because I was not merry and happy after having buried the man who was a second father to me for 25 years that morning. Some IL you just cannot do enough for.

  • The Elf December 17, 2013, 6:49 pm

    RC, “Christmas in my family is about family”

    Mine too. My husband and I *are* a family.

  • startruck December 17, 2013, 6:49 pm

    wow iam amazed at the people asking why they would want to be alone on christmas. why not? i mean she did say that his parents lived close by , so its not like they only see them on rare occasion. whats wrong with spending one christmas alone , at your new house, relaxing and enjoying each other? my mother in law is the same way . she lives litterally 5 minutes from us , sees us all the time, but if we dont spend the entire day with her on christmas she gets upest. this year i finally put my foot down and told her we were staying home with the kids on christmas.

  • Dee December 17, 2013, 7:44 pm

    @Green123 – Many people do not own a car OR a motorbike but still manage to lead a full life by managing transportation to and from work, social life, appointments, and family events. OP did not mention any attempt to plan any transportation that would allow them to attend fiancé’s family’s event for a reasonable length of time, only that they made the decision to stay for only an hour, just long enough to open presents and say “hi”. And that decision being made at the very last minute, I can’t imagine a host/hostess not being insulted by such little effort made to uphold a minor commitment.

  • Joni December 17, 2013, 8:20 pm

    Admin’s advice is spot on – there is no instruction manual. I was the first of my siblings to marry – no really knew what to do with my husband. We spent our first Christmas as (very) newlyweds under my parents’ roof and neither of us enjoyed it. We vowed that we’d always spend Christmas in our own home going forward. As my other siblings have married and had children, I think they’ve appreciated the precedent we set.

    I must disagree with Holly Anne’s advice that the OP and husband shouldn’t try to start their own traditions until they have children. If they don’t put a foot down now, they will be walked all over if and when a baby arrives. I’ve read enough submissions on this site to know that parents who are demanding of their adult children’s time become more so, not less, when a grandchild is involved.

  • j. December 17, 2013, 9:48 pm

    “some,” not “done”

  • NostalgicGal December 17, 2013, 10:31 pm

    I don’t see where there was a tantrum give-in there, Admin.

    2011 they stuck to guns, fiancée stood up, and the family apologized. The next year they were not married yet, so they each made a trip to be with their on families once. And next pass (apparently 2014) they indicated they will be celebrating together as a married couple; aka not caving to ‘tantrums’.

    It can be hard when the alcohol flows and the dynamics change. After over three decades of being married my side still goes ‘huh???’ when I mention I have other family I am making plans with. Oh yeah, his… yep. And at least one of his is still wishing I’d dry up and blow away or something, and I just make sure to stay out of her way. I’m still here, still married to him, put on your big girl panties and cope already.

    Hang in there OP, you have a right to do what you want. A blended pass of we’ll do X with mine, Y with yours, and Z all to ourselves; may take some time to iron out. Good luck and stick to your guns.

  • Kate December 18, 2013, 12:37 am

    First of all, kudos to your fiance for standing up to his parents in order to support the decision you made as a couple. So often, we see submissions on here where an OP is having problems with their in-laws and their spouse seems conspicuously absent.
    OP, in order to appease the family in the future, could you celebrate Christmas with them on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day? This year, my husband and I did Christmas with his family on December 13th (due to his mum’s work schedule), with my extended family on the 15th, and on the actual day it’ll just be us two and my parents because everyone else has other plans. It’s easy for us because we’re both atheists, so Christmas for us is just about seeing family, which can occur on any date.

  • Politrix December 18, 2013, 10:15 am

    J, Joni, Ergala, The Elf, PrincessButtercup,
    Won’t go into details of all of my spouse’s and my past holiday debacles, trying to please those-who-can-never-be-pleased, so let me just say:
    You are 100% correct. THANK YOU 🙂

  • Roslyn December 18, 2013, 11:18 am

    Aahh, the Holidays. Guilt trips, obligations that can’t meet with expectations, emotional turmoil. No wonder so many people are miserable at this time of year.

    My husband and I went through these games played by both sides of our families. Snubbed by one side because we dared to want to spend time with the other side. Only to have the other side be rude and snide because we spent time with the other. Back and forth year after year. You will never make all sides happy when they are already willing to emotionally abuse their own family members and play sides.

    The Holiday Season is just that, a season. It is many days, and many weeks filled with celebrations from many cultures and religions. Why can’t a family get together with festivities and traditions be just because the family has gathered? Not because the family has gathered on one particular day set aside on a calendar.

    We are a small globe now, with many people, from many cultures with many traditions and we need to get over ourselves and find the joy in the moment. Whether it is because it is a Tuesday and all individuals are available to feast and celebrate or because that Tuesday is actually December 25th.

  • Dust Bunny December 18, 2013, 11:53 am

    RC: “Christmas is about family.”

    So is mine. But when you choose a life partner, that person becomes your primary family, and parents, siblings, etc., drop to extended-family status. If the LW had been my sibling, I would have been more concerned about him driving around on a motorcycle in bad weather than about him interrupting an old habit. “Stay home, bro; we’ll see you when the weather clears.” Because having your brother killed in an icy motorcycle wreck at Christmas is a damned sight worse than having him not stay for lunch. Family is about caring about each other, not just collecting relatives.

    My mother, in an ideal world, would love to have us all in one place for holidays, but she has always known that that is not how adult life works and has never, ever, guilt-tripped us into visiting. We do visit voluntarily, of course, but we can’t do it every year, or always on the “good” holidays–sometimes it has to be on a random weekend later when the weather is better or there are fewer competing obligations. And because my mother cares about her family, too, she doesn’t pitch a fit and make us feel badly about this.

  • Dust Bunny December 18, 2013, 11:58 am

    Also: We almost always spend Christmas alone (as an immediate family). We don’t have family nearby, and our extended family almost never comes to see us. We see them every other year or so, but they don’t come here. Holidays are holidays to me: I work around people all the time and I want some down time that isn’t completely eaten up by chores. Much as I’d like to see family, I don’t want to spend my holiday on the road or at the airport. Visiting is fun only up to a point for some of us, even if we like the people. It’s not relaxing. I have enough must-do’s in my regular life; I don’t want a pile of them over Christmas, too.

  • Shalamar December 18, 2013, 12:30 pm

    My husband’s family used to have a tradition about Boxing Day (I live in Canada). They’d have the family get-together on Christmas Day, and on Boxing Day they’d have an open house for family and friends. People would come and go, visit for a while, have a cup of tea and some fruitcake, that sort of thing.

    Over the years, the Boxing Day tradition changed so that it wasn’t friends anymore – it was just the family. And it wasn’t a come-and-go event anymore – it was a sit-down meal. I was part of my husband’s life by that point; I was puzzled and said “But we just saw your family yesterday – why are we seeing them again today?” He agreed that it seemed a bit much, so we told his parents that we wouldn’t be joining them for Boxing Day. Well. You would’ve thought the world was ending . My MIL demanded to know what plans we could possibly have that would interfere with her Boxing Day tradition. She wasn’t very pleased by my answer, which was a bit tactless but truthful: “Go to the sales, come home, and eat Chinese food in our pyjamas.”

  • kingsrings December 18, 2013, 2:34 pm

    I see nothing wrong at all with the OP and her fiance wanting to spend their Christmas with each other solely. Like Elf said, that is their definition of family. There is nothing wrong with breaking tradition and starting your own if you see fit.

  • Alibabble December 18, 2013, 3:18 pm

    I find myself getting a bit upset when people talk about family as if it is only composed of shared genes and legal contracts. My boyfriend (common-law spouse? partner?) is my family. He’s my primary immediate family. He is the family that I chose and that I’m creating. We won’t be getting married and it’s looking doubtful that we’ll have children. He is still my first priority and what I think of when I think of my family. Parents and siblings are extended family now. Love them to pieces but they’re not top of my list when planning things. Nor should they be.

    That means that when he and I spend a holiday together we are spending it with family. We are creating traditions for our family. I would be very upset if either of our parents were to guilt us about this. Thankfully, our families are pretty good about holidays. We rarely manage to travel and see them but video chats bridge that gap nicely. Our extended family recognizes and respects the family that he and I have created. If they did not they would find themselves being excluded from our lives quite quickly.

  • Mae December 18, 2013, 3:22 pm

    The moment the swearing and yelling began, I would have been out of there, too. At least your fiance stood up for you.

    When I first married, we tried split holidays evenly between his family & mine. After we had kids, it was more difficult, so after 2 years of trying and everyone being grumpy & complaining, we invited everyone over after New Year (my mom & SFIL, his dad & SMIL , his mom & SFIL, my dad lives 600 miles away) and told them ” We are no longer trying to shuttle between 3 homes for Thanksgiving and Christmas. We will have Thanksgiving at our home and Christmas Day at our home. Christmas Eve will be divided between the grandparents and rotated yearly on who gets us first, second and last”.

    No, they did not like it and complained but it got them nowhere. I agree with @The Elf- why does is have to be a certain date? Once children grow up, they have their own lives and families to manage so parents are considered but you really have to be flexible and willing to change.

  • Marozia December 18, 2013, 3:31 pm

    One wonders what is going to happen if OP’s young BILs gets married and have their own families. They both might marry girls with a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude to family Christmas’.
    What then are they going to say then to their wives and children, “You ruined Christmas for us!”, or maybe “If it wasn’t for you, I’d be having Christmas here with my family!”
    At least the family now knows where you stand.
    BTW, stay away from the grog.

  • ImJustSaying December 18, 2013, 10:11 pm

    I think there is a misunderstanding here. My read of this story gave me the impression that OP and Fiance would spend EVERY OTHER holiday with family. As in the first year was the Family tantrum at the gall of the newlyweds to want a holiday, happy and only with each other, this year holidays with family, NEXT year holiday alone…and so on until kids come into the mix (if at all)
    Also it sounds like they called ahead to warn about the short visit due to unforeseen weather conditions. The family must know they ride motorcycles so that precaution shouldn’t be a surprise. I think they covered all their bases.
    OP sounds like she and her fiance had polite spines about it all and will just have to be a bit on guard around her InLaws

  • LizaJane December 18, 2013, 10:43 pm

    Once again, I’m amazed that my 7 siblings and I, coming from a Christmas Day family, all married into Christmas Eve families.

  • OP December 19, 2013, 6:02 am

    Hello all!
    I wrote this such a long time ago it’s now a distant memory.

    We are now married, and I have a great relationship with most of his family. We did indeed spend a chunk of Christmas last year apart with our respective families, which was a lovely sort of ‘goodbye’ to our individual families before joining them together earlier this year, but we both returned home to watch Dr Who together and open gifts from each other. It was a lovely evening, but I am looking forward to next week when we will both be sunning ourselves on holiday, away from everyone else, and I get to spend the whole of Christmas with the man I love.

    Next year we have yet to decide what to do, but I have no doubt that it will go smoothly whatever our plans are.

    There has been no fuss since that Christmas, and I have well and truly put my foot down with various members of his family. I have a great relationship with his mother and she was a great help when we realised that my husband, having never been away before, didn’t have a passport. She sorted the whole thing out, and is more than happy for us to be away for Christmas.