When I got married, I was naive enough to think we had it so easy for holidays. My mom lives in Toronto like we do. My dad lives in Florida and does not expect us to visit at Christmas time. My in-laws live in Asia and likewise do not expect yearly holiday visits. Problem solved, right?
We failed to consider, however, that this meant that my family was the default for every single holiday. I mean, it's not like we're the Braverman clan on Parenthood (love that show!), but we do have somewhat regular get-togethers, and over Christmas, they can be numerous. Last year's family gathering at my mom's became somewhat of a gong show: Way too long, too many people, me serving everyone and Gil forced to make small talk with my relatives for what felt like eons. At the end, we we were exhausted and not so full of holiday spirits.
This year, my husband will be working on the 24th and on Christmas day, so I'll probably end up spending the majority of time with my family again, but I've realized that we need to have an ongoing discussion about how much family time is too much. Of course, this is hard, and I'm a people-pleaser. I've already had to tell my mom that I won't be coming over to do Christmas Eve dinner. Gil and I will not have much time together, and it's important that we make use of what little we do have. Saying no is not easy for me, but leaving and cleaving is important in establishing my little family with Gil. Some small things I've learned so far are:
1) It's important to have an ongoing discussion about Christmas plans. What works this year may not work in a few years when me and my brother (God-willing) have little ones. We started talking last winter about what worked and what didn't for Christmas 2011, and how things may change in the future, so we will be ready for that.
2) Not all traditions are worth keeping. Sometimes you just can't even remember why you started doing something year after year. If everyone still likes it, then that's great, but there's no reason to keep up things that have become meaningless or onerous. (Now if only my family would "see the light" about our annual plum pudding tradition... Yuck.)
3) Bring up plans well in advance and with grace. Some people hate change, especially at Christmas, so it's important to give them time to process and prepare if the status quo is changing.
4) Don't get so bogged up in your own needs that you forget to extend love. Some people over-extend themselves and entertain until they are exhausted, but others cocoon so much that they shut their families and friends out. I try to remember that most of my family do not love Christ, so sharing His joy is an important part of this season, even if it means making time when I would prefer to be with my immediate family or husband only.
Edit: One day after I wrote this, I discovered that my mom did not remember that I wouldn't be coming over on Christmas Eve, annnnnd all of the suggestions we'd made on making family Christmas a little less onerous were not implemented. I guess there's always next year for changing traditions! Merry Christmas nonetheless. :-)