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Guess Who's Coming To Dinner

By Michael and Donna Martin

It’s that time of year again - time to plan Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner - time to bring out the china, polish the silver, and look for my mother’s dressing recipe.  I love cooking up good things for my family to enjoy.  But more than getting ready for the holidays, cooking the turkey, and baking the pies  - the best part is having my entire family gathered around the table talking, laughing, sharing, and just visiting with each other.  I would imagine it is every mother and dad’s dream to have all of their family home for the holidays.

When I was a child both sets of grandparents lived within fifteen miles of each other so, on Christmas day, we always went to visit one grandmother for lunch and the other grandmother for dinner.  One year we would go to Mammaw Prestage’s house for lunch and Mammaw Bomar’s house for dinner, and then the next year we would reverse the order and go to Mammaw Bomar’s for lunch and Mammaw Prestage’s for dinner.  My mother’s four other siblings and my dad’s one brother and their families all followed the plan, so all of the cousins, aunts and uncles were together at grandmother’s house to celebrate.  We had the same thing – turkey and dressing – at both houses, but it didn’t matter because I loved it. Even though we were stuffed by the end of the day my sisters and I always looked forward to going to our grandmothers’ houses.  It was so much fun to play with our cousins and listen to the grown-ups laugh and talk.  And the amazing thing is that my parents and their siblings got it all together without cell phones, e-mails, and text messages. They knew each year what the plan would be.  There were no surprises.

After my sisters and I married, our mother and dad started having Christmas lunch at their house.  But after we married, it wasn’t all about me and my sisters.  Each of us girls had to consider our husbands and their families.  Mike and I worked out a schedule with our sisters so that we celebrated Christmas Eve with his parents and his sisters at his parent’s house, Christmas morning at our own home so that our children could enjoy Santa at home, and then Christmas lunch with my parent and sisters at my parents ‘house. Included in this schedule was time for both of our extended families.  We all lived close to each other so it was pretty easy to do but still involved compromise and organization.

Deciding where to spend the holidays can be a real source of conflict for many couples - so much that it often takes the “merry” out of Christmas. The world is a very different place than it was when I was a child.  Children may live miles away from their extended family making it very difficult for them to return home for Christmas.  Due to the fact that so many families have experienced divorce, sometimes couples are expected to visit four different sets of parents all on Christmas Day. One spouse may have grown up visiting grandparents and the other spouse may not have even had grandparents, so there is sometimes misunderstanding about the importance of the extended family ties.

So how do couples deal with the holiday dilemma?   Here are some suggestions:

  1.  Communicate and plan ahead.  Don’t leave this up to your parents.  You and your siblings need to work this out.  It is really difficult for your mother-in-law to prepare a turkey when she doesn’t know whether to plan for 10 or 20.  But more important you must consider that you are not the only person affected.  If you are from a family of two or more children you have to be considerate of your brothers and sisters and their families.
  2.  Talk to your brothers and sisters and your parents.  It would be good to do this as far ahead as the summer so that vacation days and travel plans can be scheduled. 
  3. Decide on a time that is best for everyone involved. Talk to them in person.  Don’t just text or e-mail.  Call them on the phone so there is no misunderstanding.
  4.  Write up a schedule and distribute it to everyone involved, then there should not be any surprises and mom will know who’s coming to dinner.
    1. Accept the fact that you may need to celebrate Christmas before or after the actual date.  Work schedules and distance may make it impossible for all of your siblings and your parents to get together on Christmas Day.  You may need to celebrate Christmas the week before or the week after Christmas.  Or you may even need to celebrate Christmas at Thanksgiving.
    2. Don’t be selfish.  This applies to parents and children.  It may be necessary for you to spend Christmas with your parents and Thanksgiving with your spouse’s parents or vise versa.  If it is your turn to spend Thanksgiving with your spouse’s parents, then don’t pout because you can’t see your own parents.
    3.  Show love and respect to your spouse by being kind and taking part in the festivities.  Do not make fun of traditions and quirky celebrations.  Just join in and have fun.  You will look sillier if you do not participate.  It is understandable for you to miss your family, but just know that you will want your spouse to be kind and happy when it is your turn to spend time with your family.
    4. Also, if you are the parents of grown children, don’t make your children feel guilty because they are celebrating with the in-laws.  Remember you will have your turn and you won’t want your son-in-law or daughter-in-law leaving early to get away from your time together.

One way to compromise would be to spend Thanksgiving with one side of the family and then Christmas with the other side of the family. Then the next year you can reverse it so that one year you are with your family at Christmas and the next year you are with your family at Thanksgiving. This requires a compromise on everyone’s part because most likely everyone would want to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving with their own parents and siblings every year.  Sometimes this is just not possible and so you must be willing to compromise.  If it is your turn to be with your spouse’s family at Christmas then accept the fact that you will not be with your family and look forward to spending Christmas Day with them on the following year. This is only fair.  When everyone knows the plan, it is less stressful for everyone and much easier to get together and to enjoy the holidays sharing your time between your families.

Another benefit of this plan is that on the year that you spend Christmas Day with your spouse’s family, you can also plan to celebrate Christmas on another day or weekend with your family. So in reality you still get to celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving with your family on that year, just not on the actual date.

Some families still have grandparents and great-grandparents involved.  It is important to include this extended family in your holiday celebrations if at all possible.  If your spouse came from a close family do your best to cooperate so that your spouse and your children can experience this wonderful benefit of knowing and loving these extended family members.

Remember, your children learn from you and if you teach them that it is not important to stay in touch with family, then, one day you may find yourself alone at Christmas.

Leo Tolstory, a Russian author, wrote a story entitled Three Questions.  It is about a king who wants to find the answers to three questions.

  1. What is the best time to do each thing?
  2. Who are the most important people to work with?
  3. What is the most important thing to do at all times?

Through the course of the story the king learns the answers.

         1. The most important time is now. The present is the only time over which we have power.
         2. The most important person is whoever you are with.
         3. The most important thing is to do good to the person you are with.

If you keep these answers in mind, you can keep the “merry” in “Merry Christmas” and the “happy” in “Happy Thanksgiving.”

So this holiday season, don’t make your parent guess who’s coming to dinner.  Don’t make your parents come up with a schedule.  It is obvious that most parents want their family home for the holidays so get on the phone with your brothers and sisters and work out a plan that will work not only this season but also for the years to come.  Don’t make your spouse work it out with your brothers and sisters.  You need to talk with your family and your spouse needs to talk with his or her family and develop a plan that works for everyone.  It may be a little late this year, but take the opportunity when you are together this year to work out a system for the years to come if you don’t already have one.


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