Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: do I have to spend Christmas with my in-laws?

In this week's Christmas special, Viv discusses how to choose who to spend Christmas with, being alone at Christmas, buying presents for children and negotiating with separated parents

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

Before we were married, my then-boyfriend and I spent Christmas Day with our respective families, visiting one set together on Christmas Eve, and the others on Boxing Day. This arrangement worked well for five years, but apparently, this year, as we are now married and I am "part of the family", my new in-laws want me to spend Christmas Day with them. Of course, parents being parents, mine have proposed that I bring my husband to spend Christmas Day with them. How can we navigate this without having to do two Christmas dinners on the same day? I don’t think either would be pleased to be told they’ll have to wait until next year!

Oh good Lord, please no, don’t eat two Christmas dinners on the same day. You will explode like Mr Creosote and no one wants that on December 25th. You are, however, facing the situation that every single couple faces everywhere: two warring sets of parents who both want you to themselves. The only consolation is that we all have to face this dilemma. And, believe me, it only gets worse when there are children involved and the parents can call themselves grandparents.

I am really tempted to suggest you go to neither of them. As you’re newly married, you have a great excuse to do your own thing. Believe me – as someone who has been married for 15 years and never had a Christmas alone without one or more sets of parents – you will never get this chance again. If you are remotely tempted to take this opportunity, go for it. Even think about going away somewhere. Or pretend that you have gone away somewhere. They wouldn’t expect to come with you on your honeymoon. So why would they expect to share your first Christmas? Plus, it sets a great precedent for you doing what you want to do at Christmas and not always caving in to other people’s emotional demands.

I can sense, though, from your letter that you probably aren’t the kind of person to welcome this suggestion with open arms. Or maybe you’re already logging on to lastminute.com and booking a holiday in the Caribbean. I really hope so. But in case you are prone to family guilt – and God knows, we all are, especially at Christmas – there are other options. Could both sets of parents come to you? You don’t have to cook. Invite them to a pub doing Christmas lunch. Again, because you’re newly married, this is a great opportunity to send out the message that neither of you are kids any more: you have your own life and your own family and there are new Christmas traditions emerging.

Another option? Do they like viral videos? Can you take a video of the two of you wearing Santa hats flipping a coin? Post it to their Facebook wall. Heads you go to his, tails you go to your parents. Make a joke of it and make it honest. The truth is, both your parents probably had to face this problem themselves when they were first married. Everyone knows what it’s like and everyone still wants to win at this stupid game of favourites. If I were you, I’d opt out and go to the Cayman Islands. But then I have got both my mother-in-law and my mother coming for Christmas dinner, so I have definitely not figured out how to make any of this work. Although, to be fair, it is my husband who cooks the dinner, so I don’t have to actually do anything apart from eat a lot of cashew nuts.

Dear Viv,

I’ve recently moved here from New Zealand for a job and am worrying about spending Christmas alone. Is there any chance of finding a group of people in a similar situation, and having Christmas lunch together? Or am I making it too big of a deal? I’m not too religious, but we’ve always spent Christmas as a family and this will be my first time being away from them over Christmas. What do people usually do in this situation?

Oh, I feel so sad about this! You can come to my house! My mum will love talking to you and asking you lots of annoying questions about whether New Zealand is really that different from Australia. (Actually she may have to get behind me in the queue for asking these kinds of stupid questions.) Seriously, though, I do not think you’re making a big deal. I think you’re being sensible and trying to predict how you’ll feel on the day. And you know that you like big family Christmases and you’d like to be with people. However uncomfortable you might feel about it, I think you should think about broadcasting your problem as far and wide as possible. On your Facebook wall: “Facing Christmas alone over here. Any tips?” I predict you will be inundated with invitations.

Similarly, can you talk to people at work or maybe even put up a notice or send an email round? Keep it light and jokey and it won’t be weird. Are there other people at your work who might also be on their own? It sounds like you might like to be with some of them, rather than gatecrash someone’s family Christmas. Although, believe me, don’t feel awkward about this at all – I have often longed for a complete stranger to come and sit at our Christmas table to break up some of the family angst, or at least provide us with someone to gossip about afterwards. (Sorry. I’m sure whoever you visit won’t gossip about you.)

You ask “What do people usually do in this situation?” and I think the answer is: do everything they can do to avoid it by getting invited somewhere. But I sense you have the guts to be a bit more creative. So cast the net far and wide and get some good options to choose between. If your letter had a different tone I’d also suggest going away somewhere on your own, somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. But I reckon you want company. Do you have neighbours or single friends? Could you set up a dinner for them all? One final suggestion: lots of people volunteer for charities on Christmas Day and Boxing Day and find that is a great way to get through the festive period, especially if loved ones are a long way away or if they’ve had a big change in their circumstances. But you don’t have to come over all worthy, if it doesn’t suit you. I confidently predict your boss will invite you round for an extremely interesting and useful Christmas. That’s if my mother doesn’t get to you first.

You can hear the answers to these and the following question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Dear Viv,

What are the rules around buying presents for young children and babies of distant relatives? We’re having our second cousins and their families over this year on Boxing Day, and I need to know what they’ll be expecting!

Dear Viv,

My parents divorced three years ago and haven’t got on well since. Last year, we had my mum over for Christmas, while my brother had our dad, as they refused to spend the day together. With a two-month-old baby, my husband and I didn’t mind having fewer people to cook and clean up for, so we put up with it. But I’d really like our daughter to grow up with memories of seeing her grandparents together, rather than always just one at a time. My brother has also said he’s like it if we could all do Christmas together. How can I convince my parents to set aside their differences?

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

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