How To Decide Where to Spend the Holidays

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how to decide where to spend the holidays each year can be overwhelming, tear-inducing and complex, especially after you’re married!

this time of year is filled with cookies, pumpkin pie, decorations and if you’re lucky $5 bucks when you pull out your winter coat. of course it is also filled with the stress of trying to figure out how to balance time with family. to complicate this, if you are married or in a serious relationship, you have the added freakout bonus of throwing in-laws into the mix!

it’s hard to figure out where to spend time during the holidays so that both sides of the family feel valued and so that you and your spouse don’t feel absolutely insane either.

Where to Spend the Holidays After You're Married

to give you a bit of background, my husband and i live in portland, oregon with none of our family closer than a 2.5 hour flight away so the holidays are extra expensive exciting to visit family.  his parents recently moved to florida (which i will just add is a fantastic place for your in-laws to live because hello beach!) his grandma and aunts all live in tampa, florida and his sister is still in texas.

both of my parents live in the same state of colorado but are divorced so there is always extra planning to space out time at each of my homes. my sister is in arizona, grandparents in missouri and south carolina, uncles in california and missouri and cousins all over the midwest.

as you can see, we don’t have the luxury of living in close proximity to our families so this time of year can be hard on everyone involved. over the years, we’ve developed ways to help us cope with deciding where to spend the holidays so hopefully it can help you too!

1) talk about what you want as a couple

before involving the rest of your family, take time with your spouse to talk about what both of your ideal holiday season would look like and then prepare to compromise. my husband and i have decided we want to always be together for thanksgiving and christmas. since our family is spread all over the country, one of us will not be with our immediate family for each holiday. if you are lucky and have both families nearby, it’s still important to discuss how the days will be spent and what traditions like post-thanksgiving flag football playing or christmas morning brunch are important and then go from there.

2) be clear with both families about expectations

of course both families are aware they are no longer the only ones involved but it’s still important to acknowledge they will have to share you and your time with another family, especially during the holidays. for us, thanksgiving and christmas are the biggest holiday so over the years we’ve switched back and forth visiting our families together for each holiday.

for our first christmas we stayed in portland because of lack of money to go anywhere else and after i cried for a few minutes on christmas eve because i wanted to be home, i found how special this was for just the two of us to be together. let your families know you are doing your best and love them both equally but have to be conscious of time and money.

3) allow enough time to plan

chances are you have siblings and other family members so it’s important to start the planning early enough so everyone can save up if travel is necessary and/or to ensure they don’t make plans with other people.

we casually start talking about ‘next christmas’ when we are together for the holidays but planning gets more serious at the end of spring and then tickets booked early fall (or sooner!) to make sure the airlines don’t gouge you.

4) pick family spokespeople! 

this christmas is going to be outrageous because both of our families are coming to colorado! i know it will be amazing once everything is sorted out but in my mind i pictured all of us just gathering around a huge fire place drinking spiked hot cocoa, playing games and laughing until our sides hurt. while i know this will happen, we have 3 separate locations to bounce from in terms of my mom’s house, dad’s house, and family friend’s house where my in-laws are staying. all of them are at least 25-45 minutes away from each other without snow.

in order to organize this without having too many cooks in the kitchen has been tough so we’ve decided that it’s going to me communicating with my mom in terms of that side of the family (and my dad too) and my husband to coordinate with his side and then together we will organize and plan everything out. it’s been a bit stressful but i know once we get it all planned out, everything will run smoother and most people’s needs will be met once christmas gets here! pick a family spokesperson to ‘represent’ the sides of the family so it doesn’t get too complicated.

the most important thing to remember is that you get to spend time together with your spouse and your loved ones so soak it up and enjoy!

1) how do you decide which family you spend the holidays with?
2) where will you be spending the holidays?
3) any favorite traditions you and your spouse have started?

if you found this article helpful or want to remember it for the future, please consider ‘pinning’ or posting on facebook so you don’t feel crazy next year either!


  1. Brittany

    November 20, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Well I have a similar situation. My family is also all throughout the USA and the hus is from Australia. We live in Florida now (unfortunately not at a beach) but we tend to just stay home and have a holiday with all of the people in FL that also are unable to go back to their homes. As graduate students many of us are working or don’t have the money to go back so it has become an awesome tradition to just spend the holidays with our family away from home. I will occasionally take some time to go back to CO (born and bred) but it will be between the actual holidays so that we can spend that time together. One tradition that has happened is that some how every Christmas after eating we play telestrations (best game ever!) and end the night playing Rock Band of all things. Its a great time!

    • chelsea

      November 21, 2014 at 11:47 am

      that would be even harder to have his family all the way in australia (not to mention WAY more expensive)! i’m glad you’ve found others that are unable to go back home for holidays and you make the most of it with all of them, brittany! i will now have to google ‘telestrations’ because we are a game family-thanks for the suggestion and woohoo rock band! love the traditions you are starting together

  2. Jess May

    November 20, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I love this post. It gets tougher every year! Both sets of our parents are divorced, my sister has her own family, there are grandparents to see and MAN IT GETS TIRING! Before I know it the holidays are over and I’m excited to go back to work just to get a break.
    Jess May recently posted…The Fire Stokers – Nicole of GenTwenty

    • chelsea

      November 21, 2014 at 11:48 am

      it does get harder ever year, doesn’t it jess? i can get super tiring trying to balance all the different family members’ needs as well as your own wants. i definitely know that feeling of being so done with it you just want to get back to ‘regular’ life but hopefully you can find a happy balance!

  3. Lindsay @ The Newlywed Notebook

    November 20, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Coordinating who you are going to be with when and for how long is honestly the WORST part about the holiday season for me. I know that’s terrible to say, but I hate hurting feelings, which just seems inevitable with this kind of thing. You have some really great tips here though! Hoping that planning very far in advance this year will help!
    Lindsay @ The Newlywed Notebook recently posted…Wardrobe Wednesday | Wearing My Husband’s Clothes

    • chelsea

      November 21, 2014 at 11:50 am

      i know how you feel about not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, lindsay because i feel the same! it’s too bad we can’t just aparate back and forth like harry potter and see everyone! i hope your planning comes together and you have a great time with less stress this holiday season 🙂

  4. Cathy Gidley

    November 20, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    The holidays are stressful enough but even more so when one of the families adds undue guilt trips for not celebrating with them. Mike Gidley and I have alternated family holidays for 25 years. Like you and Avery, we have always stayed together during the holidays instead of dividing and conquering. Add court-ordered holiday visits with the non-custodial parents and it further complicates the holidays. Further stress happens when certain relatives insist that ALL the family must attend church services or they will be disappointed and have to answer to God why their family doesn’t attend church??? We have flirted with the idea of going on a cruise or out of the country to intentionally avoid the holidays. Emotionally immature people have ruined a wonderful time of year for me.

    • chelsea

      November 21, 2014 at 11:52 am

      thanks for your comment, cathy. i can only imagine how much tougher it gets when you have court-ordered holiday visits to squeeze in too! i’m sorry that the guilt trips have gotten worse and it no longer feels as wonderful this time of you for you both because it’s so emotionally draining. maybe a cruise or escape is just what is needed because it sounds like you need to do what is best for you both!

  5. Bridget Lohman

    November 20, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Oh the Holidays! This is the number one argument in our marriage. My family lives in
    California and my husband’s lives here in Colorado about 20 mins from us. I always want to go home for every Holiday because I don’t get to see my family as much with them being out of state and any vacation time I get I want to be at home (especially now with a baby, I want her to know my family). He thinks we should split Holidays every year and alternate between Thanksgiving in Colorado and Christmas in California then switch the next year Thanksgiving in California and Christmas in Colorado. While that may sound fair we see his family a lot and when we have time off I think we should spend it with my family! Every year we have this argument around and around in a circle. It is so hard to share Holidays and traditions are different but I guess the most important thing is being together with the one’s you love and eating lots of dessert!

    • chelsea

      November 21, 2014 at 11:55 am

      i’m really glad you brought that up, bridget because we often talk about what that would look like if we moved back to CO so my family would see our potential, unborn, future children a lot more than his parents in FL. i can totally appreciate how you would want to go home to see your family and show off that sweet baby, especially since you don’t live near them. that sounds like a tricky spot to be in and sometimes one holiday at a time is the best we can do so hang in there!

      you are right that the most important thing is dessert…oh and being together (the best we can) with the one’s we love 🙂

  6. Rachel G

    November 21, 2014 at 4:23 am

    I feel like Angel and I averted this complication pretty easily since as a nurse he always worked either Christmas Day or Christmas Eve or New Year’s or two of those and we lived super far from both of our families so we could spend Christmas with no one!! 😛 Honestly, I think it will be really weird, though of course, awesome, if I ever again over the course of my life spend Christmas with my parents and siblings. I think for us, we just kind of accepted early on that holidays are not necessarily ‘family time’ for us–we take our family time when we can get it!
    Rachel G recently posted…Air Pollution

    • chelsea

      November 21, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      wow super interesting to think about that being your normal, rachel! at least you’ve avoided all the headaches and stress that can come with holiday planning. it will be interesting/weird/awesome if and when you do all spend it together again-i bet it will be like family-holiday overload! hope you’re having fun in HG!

  7. Brittany

    November 24, 2014 at 6:13 am

    I think I got what you might call “lucky” with this one. Michael is Jewish so Christmas in Philly is automatically mine. So I make the sacrifice and give him Thanksgiving in Raleigh. His family has come in from Hong Kong the past two Thanksgivings too so its only fair we make the trek to see them while they’re in town!

    • chelsea

      November 24, 2014 at 7:51 am

      that is excellent that you ‘lucked’ out! glad christmas is automatically yours and fun that you also get to celebrate hanukkah! wow that’s great that his family has made the trip from hong kong the past 2 thanksgiving so i’m glad that works out too brittany!

  8. LIndsay @ The Wife in Training

    November 24, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    THIS IS SO HARD. Like, seriously. The holidays should be a subsection for discussion in premarital counseling. Last year was our first holiday season together and we were all gung-ho about planning our special traditions, just the two of us. That helped tremendously in terms of compromising our time between the two families, because it gave us something special, only for us, to focus on rather than the stress that can accumulate. PS – where in Colorado will y’all be? We’ll be outside of Redstone at Andy’s family’s cabin!

    • chelsea

      November 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm

      it is totally hard and you are SO right that it should be a part of premarital counseling (adding that to my invisible list) 🙂 i’m glad you started traditions with just the two of you last year-i will be stalking your blog in hopes that you talk about these.

      i wish we were going to be closer to each other! can’t believe you’re going to CO for christmas-how fun! we are in between the suburbs of denver in lake/morrison/centinnial. when do you fly in? drinks at an airport bar?? 🙂 (i’m out dec 18 and leave dec 29)

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