Keeping everyone happy....except us

Meet Jane who over the years has tried to find the balance of prioritising the expectations of her husband, Pete, her three children, her parents, his parents, both of their siblings, grandparents, cousins, friends around Christmas. Here's a little bit of her story and how they 'do' Christmas. 

Where and how did you and Pete meet?

Pete and I met at our youth group when I was 13 and he was 14. The older youth came to talk to us a bit about what it was like to be in their youth group and my friend was paired up with Pete… I wrote in my diary that night, ‘I wonder if he noticed me.’ He didn’t.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

We spend Christmas with our wider families – parents, sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews. After 14 years of being married, we decided we wanted to wake up in our own house on Christmas morning, with our children, and start our own traditions. Then, after a beautiful, festive and inspiring Christmas service, we head off to see our parents and stay overnight for 3-4 nights. That was a bit of a tricky conversation actually, to change tack, because both our sets of parents like us being around with them on Christmas morning, and we also knew it would be less exciting for the cousins if our children weren’t there. It’s always quite tricky to get together with the whole family on both sides for at least a day as all our siblings also have partners / families to consider so it definitely is difficult to please everyone! However, we know that our time with our wider family is always fun, long-overdue and so much better than the WhatsApp group relationship…

When you got together when did you first go to your partners family for Christmas?

As our parents only live 10 mins apart, we were part of each other’s Christmases a little the year we were engaged and then after we were married we tried to keep everyone happy by spending half the day with one and half the day with the other – not very successful! One year we even had Christmas lunch with one family and then a big Christmas dinner with the other! After a few years, we opted for 25th with one family and 26th with the other.

Did you notice any traditions that were different from your own families?

We were surprisingly similar – stockings in the morning, generally with deodorant, underwear and other practical and useful essentials…, church in the morning, big Christmas lunch, listening to the Queen at 3pm and only then… presents! Cheese and wine in the evening, with a bit of Christmas TV en famille or games if we had some energy left.

Have you created any of you own Christmas traditions over the years?

Only recently really. We’ve started to make 24th December more of a day with our own children, enjoying some outside time together – by the sea! Then we have a ‘dress-up dinner’ and we all have to choose a surprise costume, we light candles, have ‘children’s champagne’ in wine glasses, let them open a single present from under the tree on 24th before settling in to watch The Snowman all together. Once they are in bed, we spend a cosy evening just the two of us with some candles and treats and last year we managed to light the fire.

How do you now split your time at Christmas between your respective families? Is everyone happy with it?

We decided not to get into a strict rhythm of alternate years with each family so there wasn’t the expectation that we HAD to be with one certain family. However, I’m not sure how successful that has been! It’s hard to co-ordinate now with other siblings on both sides and their respective partners’ families. It’s often felt pressured to keep everyone happy – normally one family is a little less happy that we are with them 26th but they understand we can’t be everywhere and we really try to keep it balanced.

Any things you have learnt in terms of ‘doing’ Christmas with your families?

Starting our own Christmas traditions has been really lovely. We’ve purposefully tried to include our children (9,7,5) in what they’d like to do and build it around their age and stage and what they love. We hadn’t realised how important this would be for them but during the year they’ll talk about it and come up with another idea – months in advance! It’s taken us a while to get the balance right between travelling and visiting everyone else – and ensuring we actually celebrate with our own children. It can sometimes be a pressure and can lead to awful nights with young children - the worst one being when I woke up one Christmas morning at a parent’s house after a few hours (or was it minutes?) of broken sleep with all three of our children, one unwell, somehow nestled in with me and Pete wrapped in a single duvet on the carpeted bathroom floor!

Try to talk as a family about what would make it a special day / few days for everyone. Try to balance the sense of meeting everyone else’s needs – we are after all still our parents’ children! – with our own family’s wishes.