The War for Christmas: Whose House to Go to for the Holidays?

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Photo: ©Paramount/Everett Collection

One nice thing about being single? There’s no battle for whose family “gets you” around the holidays. When you’re coupled up, you’re forced to choose between your family and your partner’s — and ultimately, one side’s going to get hurt.

My husband is from Tennessee. I’m from California. Decisions about where to spend the holidays have to be made. Any other year, one family would get Thanksgiving, and the other would get Christmas. But this year, we’ve had a wrench thrown in our plans: My husband is working this Thanksgiving, so we have to stay in Manhattan. We decide to make our respective cases for whose family gets Christmas.

“I promised my dad we would come down there,” says my husband, whose father is a recent widower. “He’s on his own now.”

I can’t compete with that. Argument over.

Not because my husband says it is, but because what he’s saying makes sense, and if I were in a similar situation I know he’d never question spending Christmas with my family. Besides, I can’t exactly justify playing Santa for my nieces in the sunny California weather while my father-in-law is alone, still grieving.

The only problem? I didn’t think about this a few months earlier when I promised my mother that I would absolutely, definitely, 100 percent come home for Christmas (an oath that was sworn before checking with my husband, which is the biggest mistake couples make when planning holiday visits).

At the time, I didn’t really think much about it. My mom and I were talking about my next visit to the West Coast, and she said, “Why not come for Christmas this year? That would be so much fun. We can all be together, and it would really mean a lot.” Then she delivered the knockout punch: “I’m turning 75, and I’d like to have you here because we never get to see you.”

“Sure,” I said without giving it any pause. “Of course. Consider the ticket purchased.”

The logic-defying stakes of holiday planning were perfectly illustrated on the new HBO comedy Divorce last week, when Robert (Thomas Haden Church) is stunned by the idea that, even though he’s leaving the marriage, he won’t be a part of the traditional celebration.

“Everybody’s supposed to be together at Christmas,” he says. “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

When his soon-to-be-ex-wife fears that he’s making some kind of devious plot to gain an advantage in their divorce proceedings, he lays it out: “Hey, come on. Would I fuck around with Christmas?

Indeed, no. No one wants to fuck around with Christmas.

Which is why multiple what-to-do, how-to-choose guides exist for the dilemma, the best one being Lifehacker’s “How to Decide Whose Family to Visit for the Holidays.” It can be boiled down to the following: “1. Don’t commit to anything right away. 2. Talk to both sides of the family. 3. Communicate what’s important and pick your battles. 4. Celebrate the holiday another time. 5. Give your relationship the tie-breaking vote. 6. Host the holidays yourself or go your own way.”