I had lunch with my bridesmaids last weekend and we talked splitting holidays. One was saying that they didn't feel like actually splitting holidays (Thanksgiving with one family, Christmas with the other) was possible until they were engaged. But the problem is, when you live together and you feel like a family, you try to spend holidays together. But you can't leave one family for the other unless you are engaged and therefore really your own family making your own decisions. I get that, because we tried to make it work many many ways before we came up with our final decision. Which supposedly was to "spend one holiday with one family and spend the other holiday with the other family" but really hasn't wound up like that.
The conclusion we have come to is that nothing but Christmas Morning At His House will do to make Mark feel like his Christmas needs have been met. (There is a bacon casserole involved.) Nothing but Thanksgiving in Bethesda will make me feel like my Thanksgiving needs have been met.* So we work everything else around those two constants. This year, his family came to us for Thanksgiving, which was lovely. After a nice Thanksgiving midday meal, they headed home and we drove down to my Grandma's. For Christmas this year, we will go to his family for Christmas eve and Christmas morning, and then drive down to my Grandma's. We will have my family Christmas on the morning of the 26th and then head to Christmas/Hannukah with my Dad's side of the family. The midday Christmas drive is really not bad if you are not "missing out" on something - one year, we went to my Grandmother's before Christmas dinner to say "hi" and then hit the road as everybody was sitting down at the table - we missed out. In fact, it's a nice way to talk together and reflect on the day.
There are many many ways to deal with the holidays. Instead of telling you what to do, I will offer the following suggestions of Ways to deal with the holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving**:
1.) Don't kill yourself to make everyone happy. Unless you are with your parents for all of Christmas and you are 5 years old and love your new bike, the holidays aren't going to be Just Like When You Were a Kid. So accept that things will be different, and figure out what you and your partner need, and honor that while still honoring your family. Remember: your parents went through this process as well, so they will understand, at least a little bit. They're just going to be sad, and you are too, and that's okay. Just try not to cry in church.
2.) Don't make derisive comments about, for example, his family being "immigrants and therefore not real Americans and therefore do not need to celebrate Thanksgiving."
3.) Don't try asking the hostess about the guest list and then deciding where to spend holidays based on that.
4.) Don't use split holidays and travel during the day as an excuse not to bring food. Stop somewhere and buy a f*cking pie.**
5.) DO communicate your plans to your families early enough that they might adjust their plans accordingly.
6.) Don't be married to tradition. In fact, you are married to your partner, or will be. Go read How the Grinch Stole Christmas and then remember that Christmas comes without packages and trimmings and strings, and even if you can't decorate the tree with your family on Christmas eve, Christmas will happen anyway.
7.) Don't suggest to your parents and siblings that once you are married, everything will change all at once because You Are Married and A Grownup And They Don't Matter. If you want to say this, do it nicely. May I suggest, "we're so excited to start our own family and traditions."
8.) Don't suggest that just because he doesn't have any family in this country and Thanksgiving dinner is just him/her and his parents and siblings, it is therefore not a Real Holiday.
9.) No unyielding bitchiness. Compromise is key. You will regret saying mean things and they will taint your holidays.
10.) DO thank your in-laws and your parents for being flexible and accepting your new baby family (even if you think they could do a better job). I regularly remind my mother-in-law that it is lovely that they are so flexible with time of meals, so that we can make it to my (more rigid) Grandmother's dinner. We also regularly thank my parents for being willing to celebrate Christmas in different places or different times or on different days. Thanking people goes a long way towards making them feel like they did a good job of navigating the tricky waters of holiday sharing.
*Mark's little sister and her husband have announced they want to host Thanksgiving next year. My really bitchy response was something along the lines of, "That will be lovely. We're not coming." In all fairness, since my friends are all Jewish, nobody comes home at Christmastime and Thanksgiving is my only chance to see people. I also keep losing grandparents and I want to spend the holidays we have left with them. Nonetheless, I should have been nicer.
**Jews have their own problems, but I don't have experience with how to split Sedars, so excuse the Christian overtones here.
***Or help do the dishes. My biggest pet peeve is people who don't cook and don't help.