Last year, some married friends of mine, one Jewish and one Christian, got into a huge smackdown over a poinsettia a guest had brought to their latke party. He wanted to display it. She did not. While they carried on—loudly—I got nervous and uncomfortable and ate all the dreidel cookies.
Back in the days of limited tolerance, this was the traditional interfaith family blowout: Hanukkah dukes it out with Christmas. Now we all know better. There are a lot more religions and a lot more people in the world—like Hindus, who celebrate Pancha Ganapati in December, which requires a living room shrine. Add to that atheists. There are members of my family who do not cotton to my crèche on the mantel.
Teri Apter, PhD, author of What Do You Want from Me? Learning to Get Along with In-Laws suggests trying this line of questioning: Do you not want to put up the poinsettia because you didn't grow up with this particular kind of religious decoration? Or do you not want to put it up because it's upsetting to you and a matter of principle? In the latter case, you may have to find a more radical way to accommodate everybody, such as celebrating one religious event in your house and the other at a restaurant or an in-law's house. In the former, you might be able to find a compromise in the home, such as no Christmas decorations during the Hanukkah festivities. Or Christmas decorations in the study and Hanukkah decorations in the living room. The key is creating your own family customs that everybody feels comfortable with—even if they deviate from the so-called norm.
An iPad for Every Cousin Versus the the Holiday Card IBought for $2
Maxing out your credit cards every December can be a joyous event, especially when you see the expression on your son's face as he tears off the wrapping on the Lego Star Wars Clone Turbo Tank set with pop-up handle, dual cockpits, moveable guns and a command station. It can also lead to a lot of bickering with your spouse because—hello!—$107.95 is a lot of money to spend on a 5-year-old child.
Other more down and dirty versions of this discussion revolve around the office, friends and extended family, such as, How much should we spend on cousin Jamie's live-in girlfriend, and, Why do we have to buy her a gift, anyway? Or, Do we still have to do a $25 Secret Santa for all the grandkids, even when some of them are in their 40s? Or, Isn't $50 a lot to spend on Debra from Accounting, especially on a scented candle?
Ultimately, it all boils down to this: Whom the heck do we give to and how much do we spend? Which can be further distilled into this: Are they going to think I'm generous or a big fat cheapskate? Linda Metcalf, PhD, president of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, suggests that you think about your holiday budget as if it were your vacation or a monthly food bill. Start with what seems reasonable to you—and not what others may think of you—and then go shopping.
Through the Woods to Grandmother's House We Go Versus Through the Other Woods to the Other Grandmother's House We Go
Which family do we visit? It's an argument encapsulated by the all-too-revealing words of my neighbor Kristen: "I'm fair about a lot of things, but I want to see my family every year. I don't care what my husband wants. It's horrible, but I just can't help it." A bitter corollary to this fight is the one that goes on in my house: Do we visit our family or just save the two grand on airfare and stay home?
One way to deal with the decisions of where and when to travel is to have a meeting that includes your children and discuss your options, says Linda Metcalf. Nobody—not even the youngest of us—want to get dragged around the country without agreeing to it. If you're absolutely set on going to one place and can't honestly compromise, try to find some small way to incorporate the desires of everybody else, like letting your husband pick the time you leave (no early morning flights!) or agreeing to give your son the window seat. These small acts "soften up the rest of the family and make them feel listened to and important." You might also consider out-of-the-box solutions to the annual problem of whose family you'll see this year, like visiting one set of relatives during the holidays and the other for a January weekend or a Christmas-in-July celebration when airfares are much lower.