Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Mark: “I was just thinking…how would you feel if we had Christmas here this year? You know, at our house?”

Tonia: “You can’t be serious. You know that we’ve had Christmas dinner at my parents house every year.”

Mark: “I know, but there’s nothing wrong with mixing things up now and then, is there?”

Tonia: “Mixing things up? It’s called ‘tradition’ for a reason, dear. You don’t ‘mix up’ a tradition.”

Mark: “You know what I mean. I just think…well….it’s not an awful thing to do something a little different.”

Tonia: “You ARE serious! Wow. Do you really want to have THAT conversation with my mother? Do you!?”

Mark: “I’d be more than willing to sit down with her and your father to discuss it.”

Tonia: “Well, I still don’t know where you came up with this silly idea. It’s ridiculous to tell you the truth.”

Mark: “What’s ‘ridiculous’ about me wanting to have the family here this year instead? It’s not ridiculous at all. Besides, we both know your mother can’t cook. I’m sure everybody will enjoy their time here even more.”

Tonia: “Whoa, whoa, whoa. My mother can’t cook? Well, who was it, then, who went back for seconds AND thirds last year? Wasn’t that you?”

Mark: “You’re right. I probably shouldn’t have said that. We’re getting off topic. Let’s take a couple of steps back.”

Tonia: “Let’s just end the conversation now. There is absolutely no way we’re telling my family that we’d like to host the largest Holiday family gathering of the year. It’s no longer up for discussion.”


Holidays. We’ve become more and more convinced that the subject of Holidays should be fully discussed in pre-marriage counseling. For the most part, there are three major Holidays a year. Easter. Thanksgiving. And Christmas. Sure, families may have a major picnic gathering every year or other annual events. But Holidays, they’re sacred family time. They hold traditions. Attempt to break or slightly alter one of those traditions and you’re going to experience some wrath. Maybe it’s the wrath of your spouse. Maybe it’s the wrath of your in-laws. Maybe it’s the wrath of your entire extended family.

This topic found its way into our marriage/family early on as well. Just a few years into our marriage, Megan’s parents invited us to join them on a free vacation to Williamsburg. The catch? We had to leave the morning of December 25. Traditionally, Christmas dinner was always with my family, but we decided to make an exception this year. Who are we to turn down a free vacation? Sure we heard some comments from other family members here and there before Christmas. But after we returned we received some backlash. Some very heavy backlash.

“Why couldn’t you have dinner with us and THEN leave for vacation?”

“You seriously chose to travel instead of joining your family?”

“I sure hope you enjoyed your vacation. Our Christmas was OK, but it wasn’t the same without you.”

It was almost as if the extended family had spent their entire Christmas gathering in a large circle and came up with a joint plan – How can we make them feel guilty for not joining us for Christmas this year?

From that point forward, we’ve probably talked with dozens of others who have gone through similar experiences. All families vie for Holiday time together. And when two people join together as “one flesh”, figuring what family you’ll join for a Holiday isn’t always easy.

Understand: Your immediate family is more important to you than your extended family. While in-laws may have a voice in a Holiday (or another family gathering) conversation, you and your family have to decide what is best for one another. If you find yourself giving more input to your extended family than your spouse, you need to reconsider your focus.

Repeat after me:

“We are making this decision for our immediate family first.”

“We are making this decision for our immediate family first.”

“We are making this decision for our immediate family first.”

Very good.

Do: Make sure you AND your spouse are in full agreement for your Holiday travel decisions. We can’t tell you how vital this is for your marriage relationship. If you both decide to spend a Holiday with the wife’s side of the family, then the husband cannot talk behind her back about why it’s the wrong decision or about what HE wanted to do.

As you try to come to a common ground, there are good questions to ask one another, and bad questions. For example…

Good Questions:

Where would we like to spend this Holiday together?

What will bring our immediate family the most joy during this gathering?

What can we do to make this trip extra special for one another?

Bad Questions:

What is most fair to our extended families?

What will your mother think if we decide to do something different?

What will others in the family think about us?

Remember, you’re making the decision for YOUR immediate family. Keep your focus, energy, and questions on that.

Understand: Traditions are ‘sacred’ for some family members. Due to this, it’s quite possible that some extended family will be more in love with the tradition itself than they are with you or others in the family. Therefore, you must remember to try to see the situation from their perspective. Why is this tradition so near and dear to them? Why is it so difficult for them to let go of? After thinking this through, it’s time to have a conversation with them.

Do: Take the opportunity to educate family members who seem unwilling to change. For example, if somebody believes a tradition is sacred, feel free to ask them why they feel the way they do about it. As you discuss it with them, it’s important to remember that what they believe isn’t nearly as important as why they believe it. So, use the conversation as an opportunity to figure out why this tradition is so sacred to them. Is it a memory from their childhood? Marriage? Family? Something else? Whatever it is, ask them how you can help them keep that memory strong at a time other than the upcoming Holiday. They’ll get to keep their ‘tradition’ at another time, and you’ll get to spend your Holiday as you choose. It’s a win-win.

Understand: Holidays are just that – Holy Days. As you make Holiday travel decisions, you’re not only thinking through what is best for your immediate family, you’re thinking about how your family will spend this time together praising God. So, if you go into the decision making process with a heart of worship, then no matter where you decide to travel, you can have full peace in the outcome.

Do: Take the opportunity to worship God and not the day. It’s much more than a day off for you. Much more than a day for your family. Much more than a day of gifts or gatherings. It’s a day of rest. A day of relationships. A day of remembrance. But more than anything, it’s a day of worship.


How do you and your spouse decide where you’ll travel for family gatherings? Let us know in the comments below!

This is Part 7 in a series on Unmet Expectations. Read the rest of the series here:

Unmet Expectations: Introduction

Unmet Expectations: Rewriting Your Story

Unmet Expectations: Orgasmic Conflict

Unmet Expectations: Better Than The Best

Unmet Expectations: Guilt vs. Shame

Unmet Expectations: Quality Time

Unmet Expectations: Holidays & Family Time

Unmet Expectations: Friends Outside of Marriage