Topic of the Day: How Do You Decide Where to Celebrate the Holidays?

What are you all up up to for the Christmas/winter break this year (assuming you get some sort of break)? Here in NYC, public schools don’t let out for the winter break until the week of Christmas (next Friday, the 21st, is the final day of the calendar year and then school resumes on Jan. 2), which is a week shorter than most school districts around the country and what I was used to growing up. Instead of maybe enjoying an extended vacation somewhere, or one week at home and one week traveling, you have just a week to pack everything in with your kids that you want to before they’re due back at school. So we choose to stay put. Jackson stopped believing in Santa this year, but Joanie hopefully still has a few more years of magic left, and I find it much more enjoyable to have Santa visit us in our own home rather than look for us at the grandparents’ where we then have to figure out how to get gifts home, along with car seats, luggage, stroller, etc. through overcrowded airports amid other cranky travelers.

Because our kids only have one set of living grandparents, and their other set was Jewish anyway, there’s not a fight over Christmas. If we traveled to see anyone, it would be my parents, but we choose to visit them in Missouri during other school breaks (NYC schools get a week in February, another week in April, a bunch of long weekends, and, of course, all of July and August). For now, we spend the holiday break at home. (Family is invited to join us if they want, and if not, we make plans to see them another time.) The last few years we’ve usually met up with friends who are also staying local, on Christmas Eve at some point, to enjoy a holiday toast at least, if not a whole meal. I almost always make a lasagna for Christmas Eve dinner, which I plan to do again this year, and we might invite friends over to help eat it. On Christmas morning, we continue my own childhood traditions with gift-opening and a big breakfast of biscuits and gravy, eggs, and fried potatoes. In the afternoon, we embrace the Jewish side of our family and watch movies and go out for Chinese food. I have now gained five pounds just writing this paragraph.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is probably my favorite week of the year. I love how the city empties out and how peaceful everything feels after a month of holiday madness. I manage most of the gift-giving in the family, organizing wish lists for family members, accepting the mail deliveries, wrapping all the gifts from everyone (with help from Drew) since everything is bought online these days and sent directly to us, and even though I strive to minimize this aspect – the consumer aspect – of the holidays, it always feels like a lot; I really relish the moment it is done, when Christmas is over, and we/I have a chance to relax, slow down, and appreciate what I think is the real purpose of this time of year: spending quality time with people you love and drinking a lot.

What about you? If you’re married or coupled up, how do you decide whose family to celebrate the holidays with? Do you forgo traveling like we do and stay local? Do you go on a beach vacation? If you have kids, do they still believe in Santa? Where do you open gifts if you celebrate Christmas? Do you have a traditional meal or food you always eat during the holidays? Do you ever wish the holidays could be like the winter Olympics and only happen every four years? No, just me?

PS If you do get together with family or if you have kids, these are pretty much guaranteed to be a hit!


  1. I would have liked to go back to CA for xmas this year but apparently the airlines have decided (wasn’t this way last year) to charge triple for tickets even when booked well ahead of time. Used to be if you book in advance it still was reasonable. We really didn’t want to spend $5000 just to go there (and frankly cannot as we have other things that money needs to go to) so we are staying here. Kind of sad about it since we have wonderful Italian xmas traditions. TONS of food, lots of people. A large chunk of my family has moved to different states in the last couple years and most are coming back so it would have been nice. I plan to next year, although we won’t be here next year.

    So we will go to husbands grandmas house ( he has very few family but they are here). Already mentally preparing for that. If she asks me my name one more time there may be some xmas violence. Ok not really but passive aggressive really doesn’t go over well with me. She constantly bitches she wasn’t invited to our wedding. LITERALLY NO ONE WAS INVITED. You weren’t excluded woman. Sigh. Already want to get that over with but of course I will be a good sport, be kind and not put grandma in a head lock.

    Son is going to his moms in CA for two weeks. We have the same schedule as you do school wise. He leaves on the 23rd. I just ordered husband a new North Face coat, got him some matching gloves that have pads so you can still use your phone. I am a nerd because now we have matching coats and glove. Luckily he doesn’t mind matching me at all and totally goes along with it. I don’t even know his holiday schedule yet! We are just going to relax at home, I will cook something, I also probably will do lasagna, keep the Italian holiday tradition going.

    I will Facetime with my family on xmas eve and probably drink a bit too much, because, why not. I haven’t been drinking lately due to medication, and I feel like a damn alcoholic craving a drink haha. I of course don’t need to drink but keep finding myself craving a nice glass of wine. Doesn’t help that I have a bottle of Chateau Montelena sitting here, which is amazing and my favorite. If anyone is going to CA for wine tasting you must go here, it is the most beautiful location ever and fun fact was the first wine to win an award that put CA wines on the map!

    There is a bit of a dive bar a 3 minute walk from our front door (we live right on the main street) but it is friendly and nice and in this small town anyone you’ve met shows up there, so we will probably pop in there for New Years Eve. I will probably have two drinks and be done since I will be a lightweight by then.

    1. @Wendy I thought the school schedule was a bit weird, and for sure limits some holidays due to less time but I have found it to be amazing for us. Son can go to his moms more frequently. He get’s a Fall break, Spring Break and 2 months summer break, plus he isn’t doing nothing for three months over the summer. The shorter times with more breaks is fantastic for anyone sharing custody and not in the same state. Our custody agreement I think just has Spring and Summer break and alternate Christmas holidays but we let her do as much time as she wants as long as he has the time off. Truly benefits all of us. I know by month three of summer kids tend to be going a bit crazy running out of things to do and parents are pretty ready to get them back in school.

      1. I don’t have a problem with the schedule at all! I really like the breaks spread out.

      2. Plus you can travel at non high price times with more breaks! Another benefit I just found out! Woohoo. Hoping my kids can get this schedule when the time comes.

  2. Christmas is my favorite time of the year. I love it. I love feeling like a kid again and that’s how I feel every Christmas.

    I couldn’t imagine it any other place but home with my family. I’ve mentioned it here before… that the husband and I separate at Christmas. He has the same pull to spend it with his parents, he’s an only child, as I do to spend it with my parents, my sisters and my nieces and nephew. It really works for us and this is why:

    The husband and I aren’t having children

    My sister with the two nieces live in my hometown, as does her husband’s family, so they’re always there!

    My other sister married a Jewish man and the agreement was that their children will be raised Jewish because he’s more religious but their kids get to celebrate our traditional Christmas (minus church and Jesus), so they’re always there!

    However, the husband is coming home with me the weekend before so he can hang out. We’re taking his parents out the weekend after. It’s truly a win-win.

    Last year, I was sick for the the entirety of Christmas. It sucked. I missed everything. This year, I’m going to gain 10 lbs making up for what I missed last. Spiked egg nog! Whole hog sausage Christmas morning! More spiked egg nog! Disgusting cheese-filled party appetizers that are absolutely amazing! More spiked egg nog! Cookies and pistachios and more cookies. Spiked egg nog!

    Fyi. I have three different ways I spike the egg nog.

    A few other things I love… playing games with the nieces. Back rubs with my sisters. Staying up late on Christmas night and playing euchre with my mom, dad and other visiting sister and snacking on cheese and crackers and smoked oysters. Christmas movies with the nieces and nephew.

    1. And Wendy, your holiday break sounds lovely!

      1. It does sound lovely.

    2. Ooh what are your three different ways to spike the egg nog? Also, your holiday sounds lovely.

      1. Way #1 – Mix 1 qt egg nog with 3 oz each of rum, brandy and crème de cocoa. Serve over ice. Add a hint of nutmeg. Serve. (I make pitchers of this so usually add by the pint and then double the liquor).

        Way #2 – Straight up egg nog and brandy.

        Way #3 – My mom makes coffee ice cubs. Fill a glass with those and add brandy and egg nog.

        Way #1 is the best. Way #3 is second best.

  3. Allornone says:

    My boyfriend has a strange relationship with his parents. He likes them well enough, but has it made it clear he has no desire to spend the holidays with them. This is great for me because it means we spend every holiday with either my dad and stepmom (who are local) or my mother, stepdad and sisters (about a five-hour drive north). Who we ultimately spend a given holiday with depends on how much time my boyfriend can get off his retail job (a difficult feat for the holidays). This year, we got lucky for Thanksgiving and were able to drive to my mom’s (incidently, my dad happened to make that trip for the first time too this year, so everyone was actually together). The bf probably won’t get that much time off around Xmas, so if my dad stays in town, we’ll spend it with him. If he doesn’t, it’ll still be a lovely, quiet little xmas with the man I love.

  4. Just realized I’ll be out for 17 days!!! I’m on vacation next week, the following week we’re doing a little “work from home” but basically off, then the week after that we don’t go back until Wednesday. Whoa!

    This year, there’s some serious challenges in my family and I don’t think we’ll be spending the holidays with anyone. Probably just a quiet restaurant dinner. We’ll see how people are feeling.

    1. Sorry about the family stuff but hooray for 17 days off! Make sure to eat something really fantastic and fattening!

    2. I’m doing the “work from home” thing the week between Christmas and New Year’s too.

    3. Sorry to hear about your family stuff this year. But a quiet restaurant dinner sounds like it could be nice.

    4. Thanks guys. I don’t care much about holidays in general other than being off work, but this is some serious shit that’s happening.

      1. Sending you good thoughts. I’m glad you’re able to get away!

      2. I’m also sending good thoughts. I hope things get better.

    5. 17 days off sounds fantastic.

  5. Ugh. I love the holidays, but managing the two families makes me feel very anxious. We live in the same city as my husband’s parents and a three hour drive from his brother and sister. We are a 2 hour flight from my parents. My brother is across the country so I only see him twice a year- Christmas and once in the summer. I think I wrote in here about this year’s Christmas dilemma…which is actually rolling into next year’s Christmas dilemma as well.

    Usually we try to spend some portion of the 10-12 days of holidays with each family. This makes for a lot of travel and juggling, but we make it work (really only works because we don’t have kids yet). It doesn’t help that husband’s family are not great planners nor communicators about plans. Somehow it’s ended up that 4 of the last 5 years we’ve done actual Christmas eve/day with my family. We gave husband’s family priority for the week with Christmas eve and day in it this year, same with his younger sister, but instead his parents decided they wanted to do a two week trip with everyone. We had to decline (same with younger sister), because at the time husband and I didn’t have enough holiday time off to swing a trip with his family for two weeks and be able to see mine sometime between Nov and Feb (my request) (not to mention, I wouldn’t be seeing my brother). This didn’t go over so well with husband’s parents. (i.e. His dad tried to insist that we ‘save’ two weeks at Christmas with them next year to do a big trip. That’s not how that works…) But whatever. It is what it is.
    Next year, my family has been working to plan a big family vacation which we haven’t done since we were teens. Around Christmas time is the only time that really works for my brother. But husband won’t have spent 5 of the last 6 Christmas eve/days with his family…… so now we need to work on juggling that. (Yep, stressing about 2019 Christmas plans before 2018 Christmas has started because my parents like to book trips AGES in advance). Somehow we have to find a way to either nail down Christmas day/eve plans with husband’s family….and ensure that it will be something we can do (i.e. not a two week trip far away) and plan a mid-December trip with my family so that my brother and I overlap for at least a week on the other side of the world. JOYOUS HOLIDAYS.

    TL:DR: Love the holidays. Right now it’s a crazy juggling act that involves a lot of stress and travel. And a lot of learning how to set boundaries. Really hoping that by the time we have kids we will have sorted out a good rhythm. Or kids will force that rhythm for us!

  6. Buzzlebee says:

    I have my favorite tradition of the year at Christmas! For the holiday itself my husband and I drive the 7 hours back to Ohio where we are both from. We’re lucky in that our families all get along and live 10 min apart. My family all go over to his for Christmas even and then his come over to mine Christmas day. We’re incredibly lucky to not have to decide between the two. We stay there for about 4 days and then drive back. But that isn’t the greatest tradition.

    The greatest tradition is “Buzzlebee” week. I take the week off between Christmas and New Years and stay home and watch bad TV and eat nothing but left over Christmas cookies and enough veggies/protein to not feel ill. We don’t have kids so I don’t have to be running around taking care of someone else, although since we got a puppy I have to put on pants enough to take him for his walks. Otherwise it’s just decompressing and basking in the literal glow of all the decorations and my happy memories of the family I no longer have to hang out with. My husband refers to it as social hangover and that’s a pretty good description. It allows me to go flat out for the rest of December, including hosting a pretty elaborate Christmas party and the travel to see family. I can’t recommend it enough.

      1. Buzzlebee says:

        I LOVE THAT

  7. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    On the “believing in Santa” question, I don’t have kids yet, but I’ve been thinking about doing something similar to this with my kids when I do have them and they get older (I’m linking a Facebook post that describes it, but I think most people have heard of something similar to this):

    I’m curious as to whether anyone else has tried this with their kids and can comment on its effectiveness? It just really speaks to me as someone who wants to ensure his kids grow up recognizing the world is bigger than themselves.

    1. I read this a while back and think it is a great idea!

    2. I think that sounds really nice. We haven’t specifically done this, but it sounds like a really nice thing to do.

    3. anonymousse says:

      I haven’t tried it, but I’m looking forward to it. I have a suspicion my son (4 1/2) is putting the pieces together. He loves getting gifts and keeping that type of secret from his sister and cousins, so I’m sure he’d be a sport about it.

      1. We haven’t raised our children to be particularly religious and they didn’t know anything about the real Saint Nicholas. So when my older child got suspicious I told him the the spirit of Santa Claus is real and started with the example of Saint Nicholas. But he was a lot older than four and we also have celebrated Yule, the Winter Solstice, and other traditions so I think he understands that the modern personification includes several cultural traditions.

    4. Oh my god. That’s amazing. Thanks for sharing Guy Friday!

      Once I started questioning Santa, my mom had “the talk” with me and taught me about the spirit of Santa. To this day, I still believe in Santa. I’m 38.

      1. When I found out i was TICKED, and I mean LIVID….because I realized my mom had been eating the cookies. Fat Janelle coming through there. No concern over the Santa part, just the cookies.

    5. Northern Star says:

      I love that. What a cool idea!

    6. That’s a sweet idea!
      Jackson did not seem bothered by Santa not being real. He Tod us matter-of-factly months ago that he knew Santa wasn’t real and I was like, “You’re right he’s not, but the magic of Santa is real and now it’s your job along with ours to keep the magic alive for joanie.” And it wasn’t planned this way, but this was the first year that we had Jackson do something charitable during the holidays. He collects money in his tzedakah (sort of a piggy bank for jewish kids earmarked for charitable giving) and this year the synagogue that we joined was collecting items for gift bags to homeless people, so I had Jackson take the money he had saved this year in his tzedakah and we went to the drug store and bought some hats and gloves and toiletries and for the collection. We talked about how it we’ll make it a holiday tradition and that giving can be more meaningful than receiving, etc.

  8. anonymousse says:

    This is our first year on the same coast as family.
    We might do Christmas Eve with his family (45 minutes away) and we’re definitely doing Christmas Day with them. My husband’s family has always made much more of an effort to stay involved in our lives. They have always visited us a lot even when we were in Seattle and Utah.

    My dad and stepmom came here for Thanksgiving, which was fun but kind of nuts. I’ve seen him 3 times in the last fifteen years, each time me being the one instigating the visit, all to say of course, there’s a lot of Feelings about it.

    I can’t really imagine going to my mom’s ever for Christmas because it’s a six hour+ drive, or a short flight but two hours to her house from any airport. And we don’t get along very well.

    1. That sounds fun. We’ve never done Christmas Eve anywhere else but we did host my nephews for Christmas eve and morning the year my oldest was born. It was really fun having the energy our house. I think we will do a Christmas breakfast this year with some people and we will meet up with to celebrate with cousins and parents in the evening.

      1. anonymousse says:

        That sounds perfect.
        I kind of wish everyone was coming to our place, because we’re going to have to get up, open gifts and hit the road which might be a serious time crunch (although maybe not?) but we’ve been hosting a lot of family stuff all year so I’m happy not to be this time.

  9. We had all his kids with us for Thanksgiving in one way or another (2 in the flesh, 2 via FaceTime).

    Last year we put my family as a priority, something told me we had to go back home for me. This was proven to be true when my Grandma passed suddenly in June.

    We are putting his family first this year and going this weekend (a week early due to costs). His Abuela isn’t doing as well either.

    We then will have a revolving door of his kids until after the New Year. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year. We seem to play it by ear and make plans be November for sure. With the wedding next year I don’t see us going anywhere.

    Last year was great. Just him and I, a couple friends, meatloaf, pie and wine.

  10. We are gloriously staying home. We also stayed at home for Thanksgiving (well, we went to friends’ for Thanksgiving dinner. But no planes!) My mom asked me to try to come to Albuquerque – from Virginia – but the cheapest flights for our family of 3 would have been $2400+. No thanks. I feel bad for not seeing my mom at Christmas, but she didn’t want to do holiday travel this year either. I don’t blame her! She’s coming to visit in February, though, and I’m taking my daughter to New Mexico for a week next June after school lets out.

    My MIL will come to visit for a few days after Christmas. My FIL passed away earlier this year, and 12/28 would have been their 59th wedding anniversary. I’m hoping that her visits to family around the holidays will help it not feel so bad for her (and for my husband). My FIL’s 81st birthday would have been earlier this month, and my MIL sent me a text asking if my daughter and I could talk about some of our nice memories of Grandpa that day (my husband was on a business trip). At dinner that night, I said, “You know, today is Grandpa’s birthday” and before I could say any more, my 5-year-old exclaimed, “We have to get him a present!” Umm… ? It was adorable and also heartbreaking.

    BTW Wendy, I love your pictures of domestic life. Your home always looks so cozy!

    1. Oh, and I am pretty sure my daughter still believes in Santa. But she’s terrified of him. We haven’t been able to take Santa photos since she was 18 months old, because she won’t get within a 20-foot radius. Doesn’t stop her from writing a letter asking for toys, though!

    2. Sorry to hear about your FIL. I think it’s really nice to be able to stay put for Christmas, especially at that age and with those time zone changes.

  11. Bittergaymark says:

    Not really feeling christmas this year. Can’t wait for it all to be over. Though the new year promises to be rather bleak.

  12. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

    Our school break starts on the 21st and they are back in class on Jan. 3. Our break was never longer than that when I was a kid.

    We’re going to visit my MIL for Christmas. She’s been alone for the last several years at Christmas because my SIL has a boyfriend that my MIL can’t stand and then add in his family and she would rather be alone than spend a few days with them. We decided to do this when we went on a trip to Europe this summer but not to England. We knew when we took the trip that we would need to work in trips to the parents. I took the kids to see my parents at the end of summer and now we are going to see her for Christmas. I’d prefer to stay home but she is in her 80s and ends up in the hospital on her death bed at least once a year. We need to go and she is very excited to see us. I fear getting stranded at an airport for days due to a winter storm. The ten day forecast seems to be favorable!

    We have three parents remaining and all three are in their 80s and all three had at least one day during the past year where they were sick enough no one knew whether they would make it through the day. I keep wondering if they will all make it through the winter. The immune system becomes fragile in the 80s. For now, all our trips will be family trips except for college visits.

    1. I always have the same fear about airports in the Winter. You sound like a thoughtful DIL to make the sacrifice so your family can enjoy having you close at Christmas (and last summer). I really fear getting to be that age and I hope I’m kind and lucky enough if I live that long to have people make the effort to visit. Good Karma.

  13. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

    Usually my Christmas plans are pretty chill. This year I am in a ballet company and am performing in the Nutcracker, and have been completely consumed by that since October. The shows are the 22nd-24th and the 29th, but luckily there is only one show per day and they’re all at 11am or 2pm. I am so ready to be done- it’s fun but totally consuming almost ALL of my time not spent at my actual job or sleeping. On Christmas Eve I’ll go to dinner at my boyfriend’s aunt’s house (his mom lives 4hrs away) and Christmas Day we’ll go to my parents’ house for the day. In January I’ll go up for a visit at my sister’s house to see my 2 nephews. Usually my family goes up for a visit (2 hr drive away) right before Christmas but I can’t because of Nutcracker!

    I also am taking a vacation from work from the 22nd til the 4th, so YAY for a break! I’m planning to visit with friends I haven’t seen in awhile and catching up on my to do list from the month of December!

    1. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

      Forgot to add! I am totally on top of my holiday shopping, since I ordered almost everything online (thanks black friday!). And I think I have 2 stores to go to for a couple of things. I’m going to send off a few cards this weekend and pack up my gift for my friend in Norway. And over my time off I also am going to spend as much time as possible with my boyfriend since I’ve been neglecting him due to the above-mentioned nutcracker rehearsals. I can’t wait for a break!!!!

      1. I have a friend from high school who dances ballet in a Houston company and performs each year. All while being a doctor. Woman amazes me. Sadly she won’t be this year as just after the birth of her daughter she is having serious health issues and may need a new liver. Truly hurting for her and praying she gets through this.

        Always enthralled at her seemingly unlimited talents.

    2. Dancing in the Nutcracker sounds dope! Hopefully it’s a fun experience even though it sounds stressful.

      1. Agreed. I’m perpetually amazed at all the gifted people and all the fascinating lives we get to hear about, here.

      2. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

        Thanks Copa! I think it’ll be really fun- it’s just a lot of work and it’s so time consuming!

  14. LisforLeslie says:

    Ah, this is the time of year when Christmas is not even a consideration. I get Hannukah gift cards for the nephews. I send holiday cards out right after Thanksgiving. Donations have been made. I even got my butt to drop off stuff at the thrift store. I am done. My cousin is coming for a visit and we’ll meet up with an Aunt and Uncle for brunch. My task list is a trip to the grocery store and clean the apartment.

    Christmas is movies and Chinese food. I’m thinking The Ballad of Ricky Bobby 2: English version (aka – the new Will Ferrell flick).
    New Years is packing for Florida because I am avoiding winter again this year: 3 months in Boca.

  15. Rangerchic says:

    When the kids were little, we would divide up Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and then alternate them every year (whichever family was xmas day one year was xmas eve the other). this would sometimes piss my mom off but she had to deal. Thanksgiving was the same way – alternating years.

    Now that we are not in the same state….we stay home for Christmas and make cookies (weekend before) and have some awesome xmas lunch and play games, go for walks, watch movies, whatever comes up. Plus only one kid left at home who is in college – and the other is 2.5 hours away though they (her and her partner) aren’t coming this year.

    I work for a college and get 2 weeks off…this year starts next Friday and I am pumped for some time off. Don’t go back until the 7th!

  16. allathian says:

    Ever since my husband and I built a house a some six years ago, my parents, sister, MIL and her current husband and SIL when she’s been able to make it have celebrated Christmas at our house. Christmas Eve is the big day for us and we basically follow Lutheran traditions without the religious component, as neither my husband nor I are particularly religious. We’re lucky in that my parents as well as my sister and in-laws live in the same city, so it has been easy to get together. We usually have potluck Christmas dinner, with us providing the entrees and side dishes, and my parents bringing the ham and casseroles and my sister bringing the dessert. It has been fun. Our son is also the only grandchild in both my husband’s and my family, as neither my sister nor my SIL have children.
    We’ll see how it goes this year, neither my dad nor my MIL’s husband is feeling particularly well currently, so the plans are all up in the air.

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