Saturday, December 16, 2006

Question of the Week #18: Holiday Togetherness

Family time. Togetherness. Celebration. Those sound like the sorts of things that should help strengthen relationships over the holidays, don't they? A relaxing evening with a glass of bubbly. A romantic interlude next to the fire, with the Christmas tree lights blazing nearby. It's almost a Hollywood cliché for how to get people to bond with each other.

Or you could think about the relatives who don't see much of each other through the year, but are now thrown together in close quarters for a few days. Is it any wonder family tensions sometimes erupt? Then there is the stress of all the preparation, making everything just so, working hard and traveling far to meet expectations and live up to your family's holiday traditions. Yours wouldn't be the first set of nerves to be frayed from staying up late because of "some assembly required."

What is your experience? Pick one of your relationships, perhaps with your significant other or your parents, and consider this: Do the holidays bring you closer together? Or does the hectic activity create extra stress between you? And what could people do to make it more of the former and less of the latter?

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts. I'll post a few thoughts of my own along with my favorite comments next week.


  1. One of the most popular phrases I hear around the holidays, from family and friends is "I'll be so glad when the holidays are OVER!" So, yes, the holidays are super stressful.

    I don't know anyone who doesn't have to budget in some way at the holidays. Money being tight is always a high stressor.

    This year, Bob and I made a spreadsheet with everyone we needed to buy for. Then we put dollar amounts next to each name. We did three columns. One modest, one moderate, and one generous. Then we did totals of each of the columns to see the bottom line total, if we spent those amounts on each person on our list. Wow, is all I can say. That's a lot of money floating around. We ended up chosing the modest amount, and mostly getting gift cards for the more distant relatives, and actual presents for our parents and kids.

    We never buy for each other. We both agree that it's safer to just wait til after the holidays, and recover financially then we can each get ourselves what we really want. Not to mention that we can often supplement with gift cards we've received by doing that.

    We always travel at the holidays. That's another big stressor. Coordinating, packing, driving and figuring out who's sleeping in which room at the In-Law's always sets us on edge. Not to mention the difficult relatives that must be treated with kid gloves to keep the peace.

    So to answer your question, the hectic activity is a big stressor. The holidays always have an underlying (or sometimes overwhelming) current of tension. But there's nothing better than cuddling up on Christmas night, after the kids are happily asleep with their new toys, and holding each other tight, and saying "Thank G0d that's over". Well at least for another year.

  2. Anonymous5:57 PM

    for me, any holiday is stress. it's something i have to spend with my family and my family is no picnic. this year it's even worse cause we add my boyfriend's family, people who are complete strangers to me and who seem to see me only as a cheap replacement for his ex...

    honestly, i can't wait for everything to be over. i wish i was less polite and just say no to everyone and spend a quiet evening at home.

  3. Awfully stressful, no matter with whom. Emotion gets racheted up. Too much money spent on too many foolish things. I wish humanity could start all over and figure out a better way to celebrate.

  4. I send the Drama Klan Family their gifts and cards of holiday wishes a week before Christmas in the mail. Instead of spending the Holidays with them. I found I don't miss a thing for someone or another will call me drunk on New Years Eve just to fill me in on the latest conspiracy or gossip.

    For me - this works great. As my husband, daughter and I can enjoy our holidays without dysfunction.

  5. We refuse to do anything for the holidays that makes us miserable. We never travel. We don't let other people hijack our vacation time; we don't feel obligated to attend every single holiday function to which we are invited. We don't buy a lot of stuff. I make or buy five modest presents each year--mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, best friend. There is a family rule that cousins, nieces, and nephews no longer get gifts or money once they graduate from high school unless they are close on their own terms, so all the aunts and uncles are off the hook. Likewise, I have a mutual no-gifts agreement with my friends. Nobody needs the stuff and Lord knows we all don't want to shop for an extra person.

    Sometimes we take day trips to go birdwatching or sightseeing instead of spending a lot on things. My mother hates to cook so we have never done a big Christmas dinner; we get nice cold-cuts and make fancy sandwiches. We stay in on Christmas day, Dad makes pancakes, and we all play with our gifts. We make gingerbread houses. We go for walks to see everyone's decorations.

    I've decided that the holidays are only as bad as you let them be. If you hate it, don't do it. Make other plans and start new traditions that make you happy.

  6. Good god my parents are Greek, it’s Hells Bells for about two weeks at their place and if Santa was to drop by unannounced, he would end up wearing an apron and baking cookies or tossed out the door.
    The world seems to go into frenzy and we all fall prey to the mayhem.
    It didn’t matter which ex I was with it’s all the same.
    Tensions do build up and if there is only one car it could get worse if you want to go do something one place and your partner needs to go do what she wants, leaving one of you set back for time and there never seems to be enough time to get ready even though you are ready, you just think your not but when all is said and done and you are sitting down to enjoy the holidays, the trouble is forgotten.
    The tension, arguments or frustration of not finding what you want or not having it as you wish that made it look like it was more trouble than it is worth is now worth while as you enjoy the atmosphere you created, the family and friends you share the season with and the memories you’re creating.
    I used to sit with my ex when the kids were sleeping and wrap their gifts together while sharing a bottle of wine.
    We used to look at what each of us got for other in our family and laugh at the prospect of what the recipient would think.
    For all the trouble and headache the season brings the joy and togetherness that comes with it overpowers the bad parts.

  7. Normally the holidays are very quiet, sometimes I make it back home, sometimes I don't... but this holiday season is different. My dad died three months ago and this will be the first time I have gone back home since the funeral. I have no Chritmas cheer in me but I know I will have to keep it together for my mom's sake. She has been a rock whereas I have been NOT like a rock. The thought of going back home again fills me with dread- just knowing that daddy will not be there is so awful. How can I even think of celebrating when he is not there? Ack...
    I don't know what this year will be like with the family- we all have been grieving differently and I don't know what to expect. Just holding on for dear life right now...

  8. Holidays with my husband are relaxed and comfortable. We don't give each other gifts, although we do put up a tree and have a celebratory meal, although not always on the day itself. This year I enjoyed doing holiday baking to give to friends.

  9. My ex's solution to the problem was to move far enough away from both our families that it would be totally unrealistic to go for Christmas, or any other holiday.

    I'm with "thee, hannah" up there, who says that if it's not fun, opt out. Create your own traditions that don't involve so much stress.

    My present husband seems to get stressed much more than I do. His family has a history of blowups at holidays. However, they are all gone now, and it's just us, and my kids, grandson and daughter's SO. The worst thing that happens is that I sometimes get a bit strict with my gandson, as my daughter tends to let him run wild until she can't stand it, and then unleashes holy hell on him. I usually try to make him sit somewhere before that happens. He's 8, so he responds pretty well.

  10. No doubt the December holiday season can be the most stressful of all the holidays. The biggest stress seems to come from the issue of buying gifts and meeting expectaions. Seems to me that Thanksgiving in general seems to a much lower stress holiday and the only real difference between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the presents. You still have travel, family and preperation, no presents to worry about removes the stress from this holiday.
    It really comes down to choosing what you will and will not tolerate and then acting accordingly. No reason to put yourself over the top just because it is tradition!

  11. Hi Andrew,

    I think the stress of the holidays gets to all my relationships if I let it. But I try not to let it. :) It's too easy to slip into stress, upset and anger for no real reason.

    What I try to do is find something I can do with my kids that allows me to sit back and enjoy. Yesterday, it was making cookies and listening to Christmas music with my daughter. Two nights ago, it was attending a firebird festival (complete with burning phoenix!) with my husband. Instead of filling my days with shopping and cooking and cleaning, I'd much prefer to have fewer cookies, more dirt, and better memories. :))

  12. i am a huge fan of the holiday season. i am one of those nauseatingly festive people who starts listening to christmas music, and drinking peppermint hot chocolates on november first, the day after the halloween decorations come down. however, my one complaint about this time of year would have to be the horrible feeling of obligation that it involves. so many people hate the holidays because they feel that they OUGHT to be buying gifts; OUGHT to be spending time with family; OUGHT to be feeling all warm and fuzzy... and, in my experience, there is no quicker way to ruin something than by making it a requirement.. family gatherings can, of course, be stressful. not necessarily because the family is all together, but because each person in attendence feels that they, and everyone else, are only there because that's what they are "supposed to do"..

  13. My husband has ADD. I don't require him to help us with the decorating, it makes him feel like he's going to throw up when he sees all of the decorations and mess out before it's put up. I do it with the kids and appreciate him for what he can do, which is be festive and merry and entertaining. I say, each of us should do what we can and not require of others what they can't give/do.

  14. Every year I look forward to the holidays, even if I'm without a significant other. This year I didn't think I could pull it off and I had the best time ever. I saw everyone and just enjoyed it all. There were lots of plans in place, but sometimes, things just happened at the last moment and it was a blast. I approached the season not really caring about the commercialism and the usual expectations from everyone. People were happier than ever at the things I chose for them.

    The friends, family and food was the best. If we could do that same thing more often but without gifts and cards, life would be good. I think the relationships are bonded in some type of "remember when" glue and we all secretly plan to keep it going all year round. Of course, it never happens, but why not? Our excuses for being busy are really lame and just excuse.