Monday, November 15, 2010

Holiday Obligations

Ready or not, it's that time of year again. This holiday season, some people will find themselves in the same quandary as years past. Do we drive to see our families, or do we get them to come to us for a change? A reader recently wrote me this question; my answer follows.

Dear Etiquette Guy,

This will be my first holiday season in my own apartment with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years. As excited as I am to decorate, bake and enjoy the holidays as an adult, I am a little concerned about how to handle some of the holiday activities.

We are going to see our entire family (his and mine) on Thanksgiving. Is it wrong of us to want to spend Christmas Day in our own home this year instead of hiking from house 1, house 2, etc.? My family has a bit of an old mentality, and expects us to be there since we are 1) not married yet and 2) are not hosting the holidays ourselves.

Should we suck it up and travel all day during Christmas, or enjoy a couple's Christmas in the place we worked so hard to obtain?

Thanks for your advice,


Dear L.P.,

Thanks for asking this really good question. I have found myself in this position both as a single person with a significant other and as a married person. My experience tells me that parents usually do want their children to make the trek, sometimes even if they are burdened with kids. I can totally identify with your position of wanting to spend Christmas in your home with your beloved. My advice is to be as compassionate to yourselves and to your families as possible. This means being accommodating when possible, yet protecting your private time as well and without feelings of guilt. I think family traditions become traditions because most of the time they work well. If you step and back and look at the big picture, you in fact may be the most flexible; in which case you would be appropriately expected to bend more.

This in no way diminishes your desire to spend a quiet private Christmas in your own home. The symbolism which surrounds that is very strong and important. It is also resilient. My advice is to follow your instincts and "suck it up". Be grateful that you have two families to visit on such an important holiday.

I hope this helps,


We all have challenging schedules. The larger our families and extended families grow, the more complicated these schedules become. When I was young, our holiday schedules were fixed. Routines were never broken and we knew what was to be expected of us and of our valuable time. As I grew older and my own world expanded, my time had to be more cleverly divided. The holidays are times when we want everyone to be happy and feel as though they are the most important people in the world. From a practical and logistical view point, this is not always possible. My rule of thumb is that those family members who are most senior in age deserve the most consideration for a lot of obvious reasons. Many are on a fixed income and travel is too expensive. Elderly people don't travel as easily as they once did physically. In the end it is easier to call on them or to spend the holidays with them than it is to expect them to do so.

Married couples are often faced with deciding which in laws to spend time with. Many have no choice but to drive between both families, weather conditions cooperating or not. This is trying, but it is often times the only solution. The festivities around the holidays carry with them many traditions which families want to share and pass on to their children and grandchildren. These traditions are important to a healthy society and facilitating this within a family is a good thing.

In addition to sharing with your larger families, the holidays are a time to create your own traditions. Pick a day during the season to spend with one another. Decide to cook a special meal, open a gift. Decorations can be put up and removed at your discretion. I have a friend who keeps a few Christmas items around her house all year long. It’s all up to you.

I can think of no better time of year than to pass on the number one cardinal rule of etiquette. Put others first. Whenever possible, this is a guideline not to be ignored. If we take the time to consider what may be best for others, we can be surprised at how easy it for us to be accommodating. The old adage "it is more blessed to give than to receive" became an old adage because it is the right thing to do.

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