Picture-perfect families

by Grace aka costofcollege

Does your family look like this at holiday gatherings?


Looking at this photo and other similar ones from a recent Lands’ End catalog reminded me that few families present a picture-perfect image during holiday gatherings.  And not only in appearance, but also in behavior.  Maybe you’ve observed some of this firsthand.  Does your teenager spend all evening texting instead of chatting with grandma?  Does your brother-in-law insist on bringing up politics or other controversial topics that intrude upon pleasant conversations?  Do any of your relatives drink just a little too much?

On the other hand, many Totebaggers probably do bear some resemblance to the happy family in the catalog photo.  Do you play flag football after Thanksgiving dinner?  Do your little ones play nicely with their cousins?  Does everyone wear stylish clothes?

What does your family look like during holiday gatherings?  What do you all do before and after your meal?  Does everyone behave?  How do your gatherings today compare with the ones when you were growing up?  Do you look forward to getting together, or do you dread it?


111 thoughts on “Picture-perfect families

  1. OK, that picture is *awesome*. I wish I could show you the pic on my desktop; it basically involves me and DH and the kids surrounding my stepdad, with all of us mugging and making faces at the camera (even DH is smiling slightly). That’s our version of normal. And I like it that way.

    I love the holidays. With family scattered, it’s nice to have time to get together in groups. I also love cooking the holiday meals, but we’re skipping that this year — T-day is in TN for my Granny’s 90th, and Christmas is a week early (when my sis and her kids can come visit), so we’ll be in FL on the actual day. I find it hard to skip the traditional, even if it’s in a good cause — but hey, at least I get to eat latkes at my SILs like usual. :-) I’m just going to have to make DH his pumpkin pies some other time, as we will go through serious withdrawal without them.

    Side benefit of the TN trip is we get to join my cousins in what is apparently their post-Thanksgiving tradition: eating leftover pie and shooting pumpkins at the gun range. I am unreasonably excited.

  2. Nope, not picture perfect! We are small just us four and now my mom is the only living grandparent. Last year we had two Thanksgivings – one with my parents at their retirement community and then one at home the next day. It worked out as the visit was limited time – so no one was super tired or grumpy and kids couldn’t run off, Then, we could have our favorites without taking my parents dietary issues into account the next day. It was more low key, no dressing up, no fancy dishes, etc. Kids liked that part.

  3. I grew up going to Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents house which was a pretty large gathering complete with a kids table. Our Thanksgivings since we’ve been married have just been us and my FIL, so pretty low key but sometimes it feels a little sad to me being such a small gathering (and often it doesn’t even feel worthwhile to get myself or the kids dressed up). This year, both of my sisters and their husbands are coming as well and I’m really looking forward to it. They’re staying all week so we’ll have a full house and to me it will really feel like Thanksgiving. And yes on the relatives drinking too much, my FIL goes through an entire handle (sometimes one and a half) of gin in four days when he visits.

  4. My family immediate and extended, growing up really enjoyed getting together and holidays were always fun. My grandparents and later when the aunts/uncles hosted, always had a wonderful table full of food. The family usually contributed dishes so it was not all work for the host. Everyone dressed nicely and depending on whether the meal was lunch or dinner we spent a good part of the day together. We also spent some holidays out of the city in the countryside and the group weekends together were fun.
    I was so hoping that I would have the same experience with DH’s family. Unfortunately, though the SILs/BILs and kids all get along, the in laws somehow try too hard and complicate things, so now we get together for short visits once a year. It has become a duty rather than a fun get together. I am sad at this state of affairs, I used to try but now I have given up. I also have stopped offering to host, otherwise no one else would volunteer to host.

  5. We usually have big holidays, but this year, our Thanksgiving will be smaller. Just our nuclear family and grandparents, as my sister’s family is travelling. We don’t dress up for Thanksgiving, but we have a nice dinner with fancy china.

    As most of the crowd will be vegetarian, I am thinking about baking a turkey breast or smaller ham piece and forgoing the fried turkey. So sad.

  6. This is an interesting topic.

    My marriage brought my parents and DW’s parents together, and we’re lucky that they get along seamlessly. We generally all spend most of the big holidays together, and as you know, we even get them to go on joint vacations with us. My brother and his family are often a part of this, too (his in-laws are on the opposite coast). DW’s aunt (FIL’s younger sister) usually comes into the holiday mix with their family of three. As a result, DW’s aunt’s husband (uncle, obviously, but I’m just illustrating the connection linearly) often brings his own widowed mother, and his sister and her family with two teens. So that’s our core group. Everyone gets along great.

    But nooowwwwww DW’s cousin (the one child of Aunt and Uncle) is engaged and her fiancé’s family, while very nice if you can actually talk to them, is a bit more insular and generally just not into these sorts of big gatherings. They have their family, their two kids (DS is the first to be getting married), and they seem very set in their ways about how they always have to do this for Thanksgiving and they always have to do that for Christmas. And to be fair, Cousin and her parents are kind of particular in their own right–they’re happy with a crowd, but they expect to be with their daughter.

    Aunt is kind of freaking out about these impending changes. Since my brother and SIL are hosting Thanksgiving this year, she asked her to please, PLEASE invite the fiancé’s family, too. Think about this connection for a second. Please invite to Thanksgiving dinner your husband’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s fiancé’s parents and sister. And of course she said “yeah, sure, that’s fine.” But I don’t think the fiancé’s parents themselves are interested in us at all, and that’s terrifying Aunt, who’s desperate to get this precedent set NOW.

    Closer to the topic, everyone tends to dress in the conservative, business casual style in the picture, so it don’t look out of place to me. That outfit the woman is dressed in is exactly what my Mom would wear. And those gigantic Pottery Barn bowls with the flowers (are those really in Fall season?) are right up her alley.

  7. “your husband’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s fiancé’s parents and sister.” Channeling Mel Brook’s… and that makes us absolutely nothing.

  8. @Milo – can I come to Thanksgiving dinner and all your vacations ? :-). As my family would say the more the merrier.

  9. Milo, my hydrangeas are long dead, so that catalog photo was months ago :)

    Our family used to do big holiday dinners at Grandma’s with all the aunts, uncles, and cousins (about 30 people), but that ended when she died several years ago and the big house was sold. We are the only ones with enough space to host and we aren’t centrally located.

    Usually we do a holiday celebration with my side and one with DH’s side, and I try to make sure I only host one of them because both are 10-20 people.

    Ours is not a catalog worthy production because we are still several years away from the fine china – it’s paper plates for everyone and a big toddler table :)

  10. Milo, that sounds absolutely wonderful if crazy-making.

    Holidays at our house are full of family and friends too. But since we live far from family we have a local surrogate family in form of friends and we make a huge group with kids in broad age range. Everyone gets along wonderfully. And no we don’t look like that picture but great in our own way.

  11. Louise – We would have a great time with you. I could teach your kids to waterski.

    “my hydrangeas are long dead”
    HYDRANGEAS!!! that’s the word I could not think of.

    FIL was one of three, but his mother was one of 11, and when DW was young, their alternate holidays would be a trip down to Great-Grandma’s house with God-knows-how-many people all crowding into this small, old rambler. She played with cousins of her father who were her own age, as those huge family trees typically blend the generational divide. People ate sitting on the floor, or sitting outside. They slept on air mattresses on the basement floor. None of this is something that our families would tolerate now.

  12. Through the years beginning with my own childhood I’ve seen “husband’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s fiancé’s parents and sister” types of guests at holiday gatherings. This is one reason I relate so closely to the lyrics of Merry Christmas from the Family.

    “Fran and Rita drove from Harlingen
    I can’t remember how I’m kin to them
    But when they tried to plug their motor home in
    They blew our christmas lights”

    Our guests are usually nicely dressed, although each family in their own way. Some are Connecticut preppy, and some more Midwestern dressy. But my kids do their own thing, and may show up in t-shirt and jeans. How I miss those days when I could dress them up in cute holiday clothes.

  13. We have one cousin who shows up every year in her Christmas sweater. She’s tall and thin, and looks so tacky but so cute. She’s one of my role models for how to live my life during my senior years. Her part-time job is driving a school bus. I’d guess she’s in her early to mid 70s, and every year she takes some kind of driving test.

  14. We dress no where near as nicely as the family in that photo. We are much more casual. Throw in some of the guys watching whatever game is on, older kids either bored, texting or playing video games, and much, much more energetic younger kids whooping it up. Other adults are cooking, chatting and drinking and eating.

  15. Our Thanksgiving, as usual, will be spent at sea. Christmas is done on our fine china on a real table. Sometimes the TV is off. Generally, Junior and I get dressed, but sometimes it’s in Land’s End boxer shorts. And I do cook up a storm– even though it is just for the two of us. I cook almost all the stuff that we had with our very large family gatherings, even though it is just the two of us and the cat.

    My sisters are all with their own children and grandchildren.

    I try to make our holidays memorable for my kid, but I don’t think I do a good job.

    We have fun, though. I hope.

  16. I just took fall pictures of the kids which I put on our Christmas card. I make them dress up (something like the catalog picture) though DS hid his casual shirt under a nice jacket this year. Since, it has been our “tradition” the kids humor me and pose for a few pictures. We are usually surrounded by families with babies and toddlers taking fall/pumpkin pictures. I like to do the picture and my family enjoys seeing a card with a photo each year.

  17. “Junior and I get dressed, but sometimes it’s in Land’s End boxer shorts.”

    I think Lands’ End is missing a marketing opportunity by not having you all model for their catalog!

  18. I have to say that that recent Lands End catalog drove me crazy. Now, I love Lands End, and I’m all for family gatherings at the holidays, but it was just page after page of pictures of The Perfect Family That Does Not Exist in Real Life, coupled with incredibly treacly prose next to those photographs celebrating The Wonderful Joys of Family. A nice sentiment taken way, way too far, IMHO.

    That woman in the picture that Grace posted seems to be everywhere. Whenever a catalog wants to cast someone in the role of “Attractive Grandma,” more often than not, they use her. I have no idea who she is, but good for her for carving out a successful career as a grey-haired model!

    My family’s holiday celebrations are much less formal clothes-wise than the ones we had when I was growing up. When I was a kid, we all had to dress up for holiday meals; now, at our house, we’re totally casual. Oddly enough, though, my table is a lot more formal than the one my mother used to set. When I registered for china and flatware after I got engaged, I made sure to pick patterns that were dishwasher-safe. My mother had “good” china and silver that she hardly ever used, because none of it could go in the dishwasher, and it was too much of a burden to wash all that stuff by hand after large meals.

  19. Before we had kids, we would alternate with our families at T-giving and Xmas. DH’s family also used to have an Xmas party a few days before Xmas, hosted by his parents or one of the uncles, but now that not all of DH’s dad’s siblings are living near each other, that tradition has lapsed. It was always CT-preppy style-wise, except for the two “inappropriate” cousins who would always show up in t-shirts.

    Nowadays for Thanksgiving we sometimes travel, less so for Xmas. Apropos of yesterday’s post, I don’t like going to his parents’ any more since everything has to be dairy-free for our niece. Last year we had a “friendsgiving” beforehand just so I could cook all the good stuff. ;) We are also both perfectly happy to have the holidays at home with just our family, so traveling is when other people twist our arm, or not at all. Thinking ahead a couple of years though, it would be nice to have Xmas at my parents’ house (my childhood home) one more time before they sell it.

  20. If I wasn’t all hell-bent on doing my church duties, I’d give up the charade and take Junior down to the Keys for a fishing Christmas. After all, Jesus was a fisher of sorts.

    I’m sad this will be our last Christmas in this house. Next year it will be an apartment in the sky or a cinder block cube (depending on what I can afford and how good I am to the cat who likes the outdoors). So maybe next year we’ll give up the ghost and hit the road.

  21. I grew up in large families (I realized I was an only child somewhere in middle school). A typical holiday meal consisted of at least 30 people, and like Milo said, people eating inside, outside, on the floor, anywhere your rump could fit. I miss those days. DH’s family used to be like that. But as the cousins aged, they chose to spend the holidays with immediate family. While DH’s immediate family is 17 and counting, it’s still not the 30-40 strong in Gran’s house.

    Thanksgiving is always spent in our home. After we bought our house, I wanted one holiday for us. Even when it was just the 2 of us, we would eat off the fine china, at the dining room table in our PJs. By candlelight. Since we were hosted as “orphans” for Thanksgiving a few years (not able to get home or spend the day with a lot of people), we decided to pay it forward. Every year I tell my friends and family that if they are “orphaned” they can come to us. We average about 6 people around the table each year. And I never cook a turkey – always raviolis, lasagna, or some other fun meal. Maybe in a couple of years I’ll surprise people and roast a turkey. Alton Brown will rescue me.

    Christmas is and forever will be a crazy holiday. We have at least 3 celebrations on Christmas day. Morning with my aunt, afternoon with DH’s family, and evening with my dad. Last year I was grounded because they thought I’d go into labor. It was the most boring Xmas EVER! Never again. DS will learn that the Rhode household celebrates Little Christmas as our Christmas. Though that’s a few days before his birthday, so we’ll see how that all changes…

    Most holidays we dress in business casual, or nice jeans/shirts. Even if we wear nicer shoes we all end up in socks because it’s just more comfortable. I always make sure I wear fun socks to show off.

  22. Louise — Whenever I get holiday cards that have a single, group shot of everyone in a family looking perfect (or even decent), I wonder how on earth they managed to pull that off. I almost always have to do a collage of different photographs for our card, because for some reason my family of four cannot all manage to have open eyes, pleasant expressions, and happy smiles at the same time. I wish my kids (and my husband, for that matter) could humor me during our annual family photo shoot the way that your family members humor you!

  23. Holidays looked a little like that in my family while my grandparents were still alive. The stylish cousins from the city would drive out to the country where the farm cousins put on their best flannel shirts (probably a Lands End shirt received as a gift the previous Christmas) and cleanest khaki work pants. Doctor Uncle would always show up late and leave early, the only one in a tie, because people still have heart attacks on holidays. Grandma would set the table with her good china, kids in the kitchen. Women-folk would hand-wash the dishes after “dinner” (always at 1:00 pm) because there wasn’t a diswasher anyway.

    I have no idea what I’m doing for Thanksgiving this year, but my parents, brother, SIL, niece & daughter will be at my house for Christmas. The whole 4-day weekend. Hope the weather is nice!

  24. Rhode – ” Morning with my aunt, afternoon with DH’s family, and evening with my dad”

    This is why I am really glad that our family lives far away from each other. It would kill me to have to go to multiple places on Xmas! Even traveling too close to the holiday feels wrong to me.

  25. We’ll probably do a photo card this year… one of DS on his birthday, our first family photo at his christening, and then another family photo this/next month.

    Plus I have to organize photos for my SILs who make their mom a personalized calendar each year. DS will get his own month as the only January baby. (My goal is to fill out my MIL’s calendar by having babies in the months where no one has a birthday… January done. The last two are May and August…). And I have photos of all the family members from parties throughout the year.

  26. L – I’m so used to that now it seems weird to *not* do it. I grew up like that (morning with mom’s family, afternoon with dad’s family, evening with extended NJ family). One year I tried to add DH’s family and failed. I gave up seeing my dad’s family. But they agreed with me and we now celebrate Xmas the week before so everyone can breathe.

  27. Growing up, we always alternated between my aunt or my grandma (both Dad’s side of the family). My maternal grandmother would always come along because my Mom is the only family who lives close by.

    I’ve never attended a holiday where dinner was served on the fancy china, always paper plates and potluck dinners.

    When DH and I were dating/newlyweds we would attend my family, and both of his grandparents. It was chaos. We limit ourselves to one function on xmas eve (or thanksgiving) and one on xmas day (or black friday)

  28. NOB – I have never yet been organized enough to have a holiday photo taken, or even pull together a collage, for a holiday photo card. You’re lucky if I send any cards.

  29. Both of my parents are from large, loud families. Many of their extended family members get together for the holidays, so they are crazy and fun and crowded. We join them some years, but my husband (who is from a small and much more refined family) find them overwhelming, so I am cooking this year for Thanksgiving. My ILs and one of my brothers/his girlfriend are coming, so we should have 10-12 people. Nice and easy. We dress in business casual clothes. I am trying to figure out what to do with everyone for the remainder of the weekend. Maybe a museum or two. Hopefully the weather will be nice.

  30. My part of town is perfect Holiday Photo Card/Land’s End catalog happy family area. You see these professional photo shoots for Christmas and other family gatherings where everyone is wearing white shirts or T shirts with the same print. Let alone weddings and proms, there is a year round demand for professional photos and I guess teeth whitening since everyone seems to have great teeth.

  31. “Even if we wear nicer shoes we all end up in socks because it’s just more comfortable.”

    @Rhode: our family tradition is the “nice” dinner — my mom breaks out the china, we all dress up in nicer-but-not-fancy clothes (best: when leggings and oversized sweaters were in — dressy *and* comfy, even after multiple T-day helpings!), etc. Now that I do most of the cooking, I usually find myself running upstairs at the last minute to put on my good clothes, so I don’t get flour and everything all over them. But there has been more than one occasion when I found myself sitting at the table with a nice silk blouse, work slacks — and socks. Because I forgot to put my shoes on. :-)

  32. We have a large meal without fancy clothes. Often, we have it with friends. Usually, we have a holiday meal with close friends. The kids mostly play video games with one another. Often, we will break out a holiday movie “Elf” perhaps. There is always some drama relating to the inlaws.

  33. We don’t do Christmas cards. I feel mildly guilty about this, but not enough to actually plan, create, and mail them out on time.

  34. It really depends. Growing up, some gatherings were the big extended family gatherings, and some were smaller. There are pros and cons to both. I enjoy both in different ways.

    In our families, we have never put any special emphasis on celebrating holidays ON the day as a large group, so we often do a big Thanksgiving party with my extended family on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For the past 10 years, I’ve had my parents & little brother over to my house for a Xmas dinner on the 26th. We get a lot of different size celebrations that way with less pressure to have the food/atmosphere be anything specific. My personal favorite family parties are big gatherings centered around lots of appetizers – we’ve done that quite a few Christmas Eve’s, and it’s been perfect. I don’t think the clothes worn in that photo are that far off, but most people are more likely to wear jeans than khaki pants, and NO ONE would be wearing a tie.

    The one constant is that in the 13 years that DH & I have been together, we have claimed Christmas Day as our own with no obligations to do anything or visit anyone. It is lovely – one of my favorite days of the year. We hang out as our little family of 3 (used to be 2), go to the movies in the afternoon, and have a fancy dinner on china in our dining room together and then play board games and drink a fancy bottle of wine. It is a calm, family bonding day in the midst of many other large parties/gatherings. I love it.

  35. On a completely different subject, I’ve got tickets for a Trump rally at his golf course down here on Friday. I am so excited! Last time I met up with The Donald I was representing a creditor and he was not very nice to me.

    I look forward to seeing him again and voting for him in the Florida primary.

    Of course, I am supporting Hillary all the way.

  36. “in the 13 years that DH & I have been together, we have claimed Christmas Day as our own with no obligations to do anything or visit anyone. It is lovely – one of my favorite days of the year. We hang out as our little family of 3 (used to be 2), ”

    Will you be happy if your DS and his wife decide to do the same, or will you be like DW’s aunt?

  37. We’ve been all over the map on this. Our Christmas card photos have tended to be just of our guys, typically the cover photo is them wearing sweaters outside our house, taken at Thanksgiving. So much the better if there is snow on the trees/ground. But sometimes not. This year will be like Louise describes…all them in matching shirts at the beach this summer, professionally photographed.

    For many years, say 2000- last year Thanksgiving was at home because at least one of our kids, often all three, had ice hockey tournaments to play beginning Friday after t-day. Then, once they had stopped playing, they wanted to be home so they could make big $$ refereeing games all weekend. A few times my in-laws visited, but that’s done for. So, for the first time in probably 10 years we are traveling for the holiday to my where DW grew up. Her parents and one sister with family live there. The 12 of us get along great and the cousins are all close enough in age (16-21) that they can do stuff all together or with just some. We’ll watch all the football we can, plus ice hockey…maybe get to an NHL game if the secondary market is reasonable.

    Christmas has been our usual travel holiday. Not always, but most years. This year we’ll travel since the timing works well.

  38. “In our families, we have never put any special emphasis on celebrating holidays ON the day as a large group, so we often do a big Thanksgiving party with my extended family on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. For the past 10 years, I’ve had my parents & little brother over to my house for a Xmas dinner on the 26th. ”

    I was just discussing this idea with someone who decided to shift their Thanksgiving to Saturday. This sounds like a good idea, and I would be agreeable to doing this if our family needs more flexibility in the years to come.

    I would dread those holidays like some have where two or three homes are visited in one day, especially when distances traveled are an hour or more.

  39. I will be voting against Hilary in our primary, even if I have to write someone in to vote for.

  40. I always try to organize group photos at family gatherings that take place in our home. I recruit my kids to help corral everyone before the meal, and using a timer we take a few nice, smiling shots and a few silly ones. I also try to take various candid/posed photos during the festivities, but often I miss people, including myself, so the group photos ensure that everyone is photographed.

  41. Also, T-giving at my parents’ house also involves putting up the Xmas decorations on the Friday (it is a big house so it takes all day!) and then going to get the tree on Saturday. Traditionally this would involve tromping all over the lot for 2 hrs before finding a tree that was big enough (they like a 10-foot tree) but lately the tree farm has had more big ones. DH will go along with it, but he is traditionally bah-humbuggy about Xmas so is often grumpy if I try to replicate that here. ;)

  42. As an aside, there is no literary reference less original and more overused than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “the rich are different…”

    If I were an editor, I would immediately ban that one.

  43. “I will be voting against Hilary in our primary, even if I have to write someone in to vote for.”

    She’s most proud of considering Republicans as her enemies, on par with the Iranians. Not exactly the stuff of “bringing America together.”

  44. “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but … it really is making value judgment about a particular group of people as a whole.” “Often, I use an analogy with my clients that coming out to people about their wealth is similar to coming out of the closet as gay.”

    Hahahahahahahahahahahaha. Someone needs to explain the concept of “immutable characteristics” to these guys.

    PS — of *course* the wealthy have real problems. And of course the knee-jerk “all wealthy people are bad” reaction is ridiculous and damaging. But when the mere fact of having wealth is making people so unhappy they need a therapist, well, I’m kind of a fan of the Dr. Phil approach: if something’s not working, then change it. There are a ton of worthy causes out there that will be more than happy to help you take care of that problem.

  45. “Will you be happy if your DS and his wife decide to do the same, or will you be like DW’s aunt?”

    I would be sad if they didn’t want to get together around Christmastime at all, but I wouldn’t be sad if Christmas Day itself was just DH & I. Or even me by myself if that were to be the case.

  46. This year, my parents requested that we all come to them for Thanksgiving. This will be the first time all of us have been together in 2.5 years, so I’m really looking forward to it. My brother and his wife are both in comedy as a profession, so they are very funny and a lot of fun. My siblings and spouses are very liberal, with my dad being the sole conservative. (My daughter is always a Republican when we visit, because she wants someone on Granddad’s side). My sister will sacrifice a kidney rather than leave her husband alone with my dad because her husband is determined to debate. For the most part, no one drinks too much and everyone is conscious of not offending. We play a lot of board games, go on a lot of walks, some will duck out for movies. My clan is staying in a hotel, which helps.

    My husband’s family is down to just his brother, and some nephews from his sister’s family. I have asked that this year we spend Thanksgiving with just my family rather than leaving after one day to drive to his family.

    I am really looking forward to it. I hope it lives up to my anticipation.

  47. I found the article on the rich fairly empathetic. My FIL is MC here, but rich in his home country. Every time he goes back, people come visit and *everyone* asks him for money. It’s really hard to tell who his friends are, because everyone views him as a giant wallet. He’s also terrible at saying “no”, and everyone gets offended when he tries.

    He already allows his brother to live in his house, but now brother wants a car…. FIL is not willing to give up his wealth (which he worked hard for), but these dynamics really get him down.

  48. I just vomited, Louise. I can’t tell if it’s from the pretentiousness or the cuteness.

    On the other hand, can we start a new hashtag… instead of #sorrynotsorry can it be #posednotposed

  49. “T-giving at my parents’ house also involves putting up the Xmas decorations on the Friday”

    For many years, DW and I, as well as kids when they came along, put up Xmas decorations on the day after T-day. But over the last several years that day has become more and more about shopping, so not all the decorations have gone up. Last year we spent most of the break, including Xmas and New Year’s days, skiing, so we didn’t really miss the decorations.

    This year DS has a debate tournament the Friday and Saturday after T-day, so we might not get any Xmas decorations up this year.

  50. When I was young, we always had big family dinners for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter. It was always between our house and my mother’s aunt’s house. Always nice and always crowded.

    When we started getting married and having our own homes, we shifted to having the dinners. I have done them all, sometimes all major holidays in a year – a lot of work. Sometimes my sister hosted one or two of the majors. We also made sure that my in-laws were included as their family was in the mid-west.

    My sister has a lovely home in the mountains and we go there for T-day. She doesn’t have enough bedrooms for everyone so we stay at a local hotel about fifteen minutes from her home.
    Attendance is not static, this year my cousin and her husband and her daughter’s family will be joining us but unfortunately some others will not be able to attend this year. Always a good time.

    Christmas is only the five of us (maybe six this year if my son’s girlfriend joins us). I find this very weird because I am use to a large gathering – though I certainly don’t miss all the work. When my children were small I hosted a tea for their babysitters and the mothers on Christmas Eve, then dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast with my kids and in-laws and then Christmas Dinner for 20 to 25 – it was exhausting.

    I never want my children to think they have to drive themselves crazy going from one family to the next on the holidays. I am flexible and will celebrate anytime they want.

    We are nice casual for T-day and now that Christmas is only us, my children have been known to come in sweats and pj’s with a nice coat for driving over.

  51. We’ve started a tradition of hiking the local hill the morning of Tday with friends. This will be the third year. We all have separate dinner plans, but hike together. I like getting some exercise and getting out of the house for a bit because we host Tday dinner and it helps motivate me to dress up a bit, instead of just staying in my cooking clothes.

  52. I might not be super dressy, but the table is dressed to the nines. China, silver, crystal.

  53. This post reminds me of how moving so far away means I rarely am in contact with my adult siblings and their families and I developed only a limited adult relationship with my parents. On DH’s side, we usually celebrate Thanksgiving NOT on Thanksgiving Day but on Friday, because Thanksgiving Day has usually been reserved for the other DIL families, who have all been reasonably local. (We travel 300 miles and spend the long weekend with MIL.) If/when I have young grandchildren, I hope to be an easy MIL, as my MIL is.

    Since both DH’s brothers have joint custody arrangements due to divorce, holidays are complicated. Other than the one cousin who always lives with his two married parents, we don’t know which cousins we’ll see. I tell my kids, “You’ll have fun with whoever is there,” but I always come home with renewed appreciation for DH and our comparatively sane family

    No one I know in the Pacific Northwest dresses up for holidays.

  54. “I’ve never attended a holiday where dinner was served on the fancy china, always paper plates and potluck dinners.”

    This is interesting to me. I never use paper plates. Not even for a BBQ.

  55. “No one I know in the Pacific Northwest dresses up for holidays.”

    Or for anything! My friends in Seattle made their wedding black-tie optional in the hopes that would prevent people from showing up in jeans!

  56. I described my big family gatherings earlier, but neglected to mention that they were always on the Saturday before Christmas, and then my mom and her siblings all spent the actual Christmas Day with their own families and/or the spouse’s side. When DD was born, I set the rule that we stayed home on Christmas Eve/Day, but all grandparents, aunts & uncles were welcome. We would travel for gatherings with extended family on other dates if we could. My brother & SIL have set a precedent that they alternate years – Thanksgiving with her folks & Christmas with us this year, switch next year. I’m trying to set up DD’s schedule between H & me to match so that she can spend one holiday per year with her one cousin on my side. But that leaves me alone with my parents for the other holidays! I’d really rather start a new tradition like the orphans’ Thanksgiving mentioned above, or serving at a homeless shelter, or traveling somewhere tropical, but we’ll see what happens after I get through this year.

  57. SWVA – I totally recommend Orphans Thanksgiving. Just find people to have a meal with – either you go there or they come to you. Last year we did Pyrex Thanksgiving – we had one couple and their young daughter, DH, my mom and myself. Everything happened to be served in Pyrex (total happenstance, but we ran with it).

    Every year we participate in Small Business Saturday. We get out the door by 9am to hit stores and villages throughout the state. It’s a real fun experience with DH and my mom. Plus I get a ton of Xmas shopping done! This year I’m excited to have my good friend join us. She’s visiting for the holiday weekend.

  58. To paraphrase the Russian soccer coach from the movie The Cutting Edge:

    Grocery Bags, your statement “Or for anything,” is not entirely correct. I went to a funeral a few weeks ago and people dressed up.

    (The original movie quote is a response to prima donna Kate’s complaint that Doug Dorsey is missing skating practice to go off whoring in NYC. Russian soccer coach’s response:
    “Is not entirely correct. He went to Boston.”)

  59. When I was in college, I never went home for Thanksgiving due to finances (and lack of interest in flying on that terrible travel weekend). So I spent Thanksgiving with a number of different friends. One year, I was invited to a friend of a friends in a wealthy burb of Boston. Omigod, it was straight out of Lands End, or maybe LLBean. The family lived in a fancy house with horses. The kids horsie trophies were displayed all over. People were dressed up in total prep. We were all expected to go out and play flag football. Who plays flag football in real life??? And to top it off, just as we sat down to the big fancy meal with candles and centerpieces, the pastor of the nearby Congregational church stopped by and enjoyed a toast with us. Wowsa.

    Another year, I did ghetto Thanksgiving. The mom’s BF picked us all up in a white Cadillac, dressed in leather pants. The actual meal was in the apartment in the projects in Cambridge, all of us perched on beds eating fried chicken. It was more fun than the flag football and horsie trophies.

    And then there was the reggae Thanksgiving year. It was a bunch of Somali and Sudanese guys, all smoking dope and sharing some kind of booze, with reggae blasting. One of the guys sisters decided to shove a bird in the oven, and we ate it sitting on the floor

  60. No one in DH’s family dresses up for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I don’t like to be uncomfortable when eating, so I am happy with that. They used to use china for Thanksgiving but now it is paper. On Christmas Eve, it is always paper and a sandwich platter from the supermarket. That bugs me because I like to have fancy food on Christmas Eve. They have been pushing the celebration earlier and earlier though, so this year I may put out fancy snacks for my family when we get home from the celebration. Kids are usually starving when we get home anyway because there are never enough sandwiches on the platter.

  61. “or serving at a homeless shelter”

    First: I am not picking on/pointing fingers at SWVA or anyone else when I say what I’m about to say…all contributions of time, talent, treasure are worthwhile and appreciated. Her comment just reignited the spark in me…

    Lending a hand, serving meals, donating food, once or twice between Thanksgiving and New Years, really seems to be a “thing to do” during the holidays for the totebag class and above. Too many times that’s all there is until the next year, with the possible exception of Easter, when many/most of these places need help throughout the year, most especially in the dead of winter and when school is out in the summer.

    I get this from DW who is very involved with our local food pantry when I ask if we’re donating to that when I do all of our year-end charitable contributions. She always says “not now”…we’ll do something in February when donations are about nil and then again in the summer. Plus, she always takes some food/personal care items they’re short on in with her when it’s her turn to volunteer.

  62. We will sometimes toss a football in the yard before dinner, and simulate a few basic plays. And for the past couple of years, we’ve done a turkey trot 10k in the morning. Since football has been steadily moving down-market over the years, I’d submit that semi-competitive charity racing is the new flag football.

    We never use paper plates, but DW and I don’t have any “china,” either. Neither of us ever saw the point of it, and it’s just more stuff to store. We also don’t have any silver.

  63. Growing up Christmas and T-Day rotated between our house, grandma’s, or my aunt’s. I only liked it when we hosted, because my cousins are all much older than me. Grandma’s and my aunt’s was dreadfully dull. We would dress up and eat on fine china, except my uncle, who only dressed up for weddings and funerals. My mom worked every other holiday. Looking back, the actual day was never very fun for me. I missed my mom and the comfort of my house.
    As an adult, I love the holidays. Merging with DH’s family took some adjusting, but now that the rule is we travel to my parents for T-day every year and stay home for Christmas, every family knows what to expect. Christmas Eve is the big family get together for DH, and then on the 25th it is just hanging out at home with our little family.
    We are casual for T-Day, but dressed to the nines for Christmas Eve. Fine China is always used.

  64. We do a race on Thanksgiving, but it isn’t charity, nor is it a recent fad. My DH and I have run it every year continuously since 1985. It is a huge race, very well known in CT. It attracts thousands of runners. It is definitely the best part of Thanksgiving. This year all three kids will be running for the first time

  65. We never saw the point of china and silver, but we inherited some china from H’s grandmother that we use during the holidays. It’s about 6-8 place settings, so we use it along with our everyday white dinnerware. Sometimes I’ll dress up in my fanciest outfits, mainly because I don’t get many other chances to wear that stuff. So my outfits may vary from a sweater with jeans to a satin skirt and sparkly jewelry. Basically, everyone wears what they want, and that’s fine.

    Some of our relatives have special holiday dinner plates, which they store the rest of the year. When I’ve been gifted with holiday dishes, like serving plates or mugs, they go right to charity.

    I’ve been meaning to initiate a holiday hike when we get together, but somehow it never materializes. We seem to start drinking and eating too early to make time for hiking . . .

  66. Ironically, my goal this Tday is to get my 10 yo DS to wear jeans to Tday and not athletic pants!

  67. I use the crystal and china we got for our wedding. I specifically chose some that was dishwasher safe. I have my grandmother’s silver. It was a wedding gift to her from my grandfather. They were quite poor but she had the silver and loved it, so I like using it. It is kind of a pain to polish and clean, but it is pretty and fun to use.

  68. We have china, but we only use it when my parents go away for T-day because otherwise we’re out at their house. Dress is usually aloha shirts, non-work dresses, basically what the fashion industry terms “resort wear,” for the adults. For the kids, it really depends on what they packed so they may be wearing something nice (in the case of my youngest, possibly his tuxedo) or they may be wearing shorts and a t-shirt. My aunt and her boyfriend are likely to come, and my cousin and her husband and daughter may also be there.

    For Xmas, when it’s my family’s turn my mainland-dwelling sibs will travel here and it’ll be a full house out at my parents. This year we’re at my in-laws, though. Being in the NW, they indeed do not dress up for Christmas dinner.

  69. “Who plays flag football in real life???”

    I used to. Back in my single days, a bunch of guys would get together at a park on Saturdays and play for fun. Sometimes we’d go for beer and pizza afterwards. A few of us from work would sometimes play on the lawn in front of our office after work.

    During summers, another group of friends would meet at a park on Sunday mornings to play softball.

  70. This reminds me that I need to set the kids to silver-polishing. Even assuming we’re not hosting, the stuff needs polishing, especially my g-g’mother’s tea set that sits out on display.

  71. As we talk about holidays and food, I want to highlight something that Fred mentioned above about donating time, goods or money to food banks/pantries all year. I became aware of the problem a few years ago when an elementary school teacher asked the class to give her gift collection to the large county food bank. Our family was able to volunteer there a few times, and it is amazing to see what they receive, and what has to be sorted for distribution to smaller food pantries. There is never enough food for distribution to all of the pantries that need it in the county. It is humbling to learn how many people do not have enough food – especially the elderly and children.

    Most of the synagogues in this county run large food drives on Yom Kippur to collect food for the county food bank. The clergy in our temple learned that there are families within our own community that do not have enough food. A small pantry was set up in our temple, and I’ve started to get more involved because it is really shocking and heart breaking to learn how many people are going hungry. Even if you don’t have time to work a soup kitchen etc, you might want to look into how you can help a food bank or food pantry all year. Some of the most challenging times are during the summers because kids don’t have access to free breakfast and/or lunch that they receiving during the school year.

  72. Finn, you are clearly not familiar with Central Square. Actually, this was back when I was in college, so it could well have totally gentrified by now. In the 90’s, there were still projects there.

  73. My family used to play football on thanksgiving. Luckily, my mom – the instigator – is 77 now so no longer has an interest.

    Grocery Bags, my son won’t wear jeans but will wear khaki-ish pants from Hollister that are cut kind of like skinny jeans. They are a really soft cotton, so comfortable. If it’s a texture issue, maybe there’s a solution that is not jeans.

    My son annoyed my sister by being on his phone a lot at the last family gathering. Her sons are 4 and 6 years younger than him, and they don’t have a ton of overlapping interests. So instead of just visiting as much as I’d like, I’m going to have to keep an eye on that and make sure he is chatting sufficient amounts.

  74. 1. There were and still are lots of projects in Cambridge. Many of them are quite nice, but the one in Area 4 north of Central Square less so. My younger son attended a magnet program at that neighborhood’s primary school, and when you went to the kid performance assembly there were dime store sneakers and jeans, not fancy shoes or name brand clothes. But on the first day of school every kid was in her best party dress with perfect braids or in his Easter suit if he had one. My sons attended CRLS, the public high school. Only 50% of the seniors went on to college of some sort.

    2. I was typing my usual Thanksgiving rant when my DIL texted me about how this year, as in all years, the plans were being crafted to accommodate the in laws (not her parents – my ex’s parents). So I vented to her instead of to you all. If everyone agrees, they will let her host in the suburban palace, I will be sous chef, and then retire to the large living room with giant projection screen and watch 10 hours of football. I hope that sometime before I am 70 I get to host the big dinner (I have 4 leaves to my table, and I am the best cook of the bunch). If it gets scheduled at the greatgrandparent’s apartment, stuff brought in, kids crammed in, DH and I will have a duck or something at home and watch football.

    3. @ Milo “Think about this connection for a second. Please invite to Thanksgiving dinner your husband’s brother’s wife’s cousin’s fiancé’s parents and sister.”

    That is absolutely normal in my culture.

    mishpocha – (Yiddish) the entire family network of relatives by blood or marriage (and sometimes close friends); “she invited the whole mishpocha”

  75. Grocery Bag, love the hike! May do that here.

    We dress up for both! Thanksgiving is usually here with local sister in law and brother in law and dogs. Frankly, I like the hanging out but not the meal. If these foods were sooo delicious we’d have them more than once a year, but I digress. Both our families live too far to make a trip for Thanksgiving anything more than a horrible travel experience only to turn around and have a horrible travel experience back. No thanks!

    Christmas is usually just the four of us here. My parents like us to come to them and that is the one time I get to see my brother and his kids but honestly I hate traveling during that time. DH works a lot and if I had my druthers we’d just stay here and be a family for a week – but my parents are old and we are dutiful so we go – but not until the day after Christmas. In my childhood we spent a lot of Christmases away and I hated it. DH’s family is much larger but they all leave the day after Christmas to go skiing or to warmer climes so it doesn’t make sense for us to make the trip which is fine with me because their present opening is just a huge free for all that is over in like 15 minutes. We do one at at time with the youngest picking first (you can’t pick for yourself). Oh and we usually have fillets for dinner!

  76. Central Square resists gentrification to this day, although there are a few good restaurants there now. :)

  77. Meme’s mispocha reminds me of my Dad’s saying that even though we might have a mishmash of guests (like Milo’s) our guests shouldn’t be mismatched. In my Dad’s view mismatched guests are the ones that get into heated debates or arguements which spoils the evening for everyone else. My parents tried to invite like groups of people when possible.

  78. Mooshi, no, I’m not. I just googled it and saw that it’s right in between MIT and Harvard. When we did our campus tours we took the subway, so we didn’t’ see it.

  79. I got mugged once near those projects. The police actually saw it happen and gave chase, but the kids melted into the projects

  80. No china! No silver! Who are you people? I have 3 sets of silver, and have just been offered a 4th but asked my Mom to hold it a bit longer. We keep ours in regular rotation – always pull it out for any celebration, and any time we have company, so at least 3-4 times/month. If you use it, it doesn’t tarnish so much, though it does need to be polished about once/year. I send it to a silver shop, which is no more expensive than sending out dry cleaning.

    My china isn’t super fancy, and we use it frequently as well. I love to set a pretty table, and we eat in our dining room every night with candles, cloth napkins, music. It’s such a pleasant way to come together at the end of the day.

    We have no firm holiday traditions, due to unpredictable work and travel schedules amongst various family members. It used to bother me, I used to want the “we ALWAYS do XYZ for Thanksgiving”, but I’ve come to appreciate the fact that everyone’s expectations are lower, and everyone gets a pass to do what is best for them that particular year. We get together frequently with both my family and DH’s throughout the year, so not such a big emphasis on the actual holidays.

    We do fry a turkey no matter where we are for Thanksgiving, and we do always wake up in our own house on Christmas morning. But that’s it as far as traditions.

  81. And of course we have holiday china! It’s not a typical pattern – I found it only one place and bought the whole set, have never seen it for sale again. Very simple and pretty. We pull it out the day after Thanksgiving and use it every day through New Year’s Day.

  82. I send it to a silver shop, which is no more expensive than sending out dry cleaning.

    I was like, “That is a thing? Let me google this immediately!” But no, it is not a thing, or not in Honolulu, at any rate. Alas.

    Central Square was the place to go for the good Chinese and Indian restaurants back in my day. Toscanini’s was also down that direction.

  83. I’m wondering what our T-day will be like this year. We usually have DW”s brother and his kids over, but his youngest graduated this year, so I don’t know if he’ll join us, or perhaps spend it with his GF and her family.

  84. Reading these posts put me in a festive, holiday mood! It is fun to read about everyone’s different traditions.

    We used to do Thanksgiving at the in-laws, and Christmas at my parents (not 25th, but a few days before or after). Both families live in different states from us and from each other, so we had to travel. When my MIL died the torch was passed to one of DH’s sisters, but by then the older siblings were wanting to do their own nuclear family Thanksgivings, so it has faded away. This year DH’s brother, his wife and their three teens are coming here for Thanksgiving, so we will be 10 (with my kids and DD’s boyfriend). It will be a nice change from just the four of us.

    I started a mini tradition in December, with DS and I flying in to visit my parents for a few days (him from college as soon as finals are over, and me from home). Then we both fly home to San Francisco. It is close enough to Christmas to have the true holiday feeling, but then we are in our own home for the actual celebration.

  85. I discovered Korean food for the first time at a hole in the wall restaurant just off Central Square. I know Korean food is ubiquitous today, but this was back in 1987, and I had never seen it before.

  86. I was like, “That is a thing? Let me google this immediately!” But no, it is not a thing, or not in Honolulu, at any rate. Alas.

    Well, I am in the South, where silver is worshipped right along with ancestors, so of course there are a million places to send out silver to be polished.

  87. ssk – that’s so nice that you and DS see your parents like that. Lovely mom/son tradition and I’m sure your folks love it.

    I expect we are creating a new tradition where DH and I are alone for American Thanksgiving and the kids all head to Canada. DS called a few weeks ago to ask if he could spend Thanksgiving weekend driving to Canada to see his grandparents–his dad’s mother, and my parents. He invited his sisters along and they jumped at the chance for an all-kid international road trip.

    My father and DS’s grandmother have had some sudden, unexpected and very serious/frightening health incidents in the past several months, and I know DS worries that his chances to see them are dwindling. He’s no longer within easy driving distance of them (when at school) and on the many occasions when I’ve zipped up to see my dad, DS has lamented his inability to do that.

    My parents and fmr MIL haven’t stopped emailing and calling me excitedly about the kids’ impending visit, and I know all three of them will be talking about it for months to come. I believe the kids will always remember it too, and will always be glad they took this time to be together, and to see their grandparents. So, our family photo this year, and maybe for several years to come, will be me, DH and the dogs, unless we snap a group shot before the kids climb into the Flex and head off.

  88. The neighborhood under discussion (which is a lot safer than it was 30 years ago) north of Central Square is where the Frugalwoods bought their house. I lived 3 blocks from the Charles River from 1980 to 2000. I used to walk the 12 blocks south from the Central Square subway stop in the dark after work. The risks of street crime declined markedly in my neighborhood during that period, and now it is mostly gentrified. Finn, I wouldn’t worry about it if one of yours goes to either Cambridge institution.

  89. What to do? We’re planning to go away this weekend to a VRBO rental in the mountains, leaving Friday morning. My oldest got sick (vomited) at school this morning and is home resting, supposedly feeling better.

    Is it a bug that will infect others and make the weekend miserable, or is it a one-time thing? Should I try to cancel VRBO now, ask for a rain check, or do nothing? (I’m not entirely familiar with their cancellation policy.)


  90. I may be the only person who loves to polish silver.
    We go to my in laws for Thanksgiving, it is usually anywhere from 6 to 10 of us. No dressing up. Christmas is just the four of us–the nearest family is 8 hours away. We used to travel to be with DHs siblings, but their traditions are so different from the way we wanted to spend the day, so we stay home with our own traditions. Christmas dinner features china, crystal and silver. Again, no dressing up.

  91. Milo – You can look at the listing for the owner’s cancellation policy – VRBO has some overall policies, but it is mostly an electronic classified ad platform that collects fees from the owners who set their own rules. I doubt you can get any money back now, but if you go to the listing and see open less desirable date weekends later in the year you could ask to switch (and that would be an owner just being nice – no refund, rebate or switch should be expected). I would personally just wait and see, and if the family is too sick to go, just remember that one of the advantages of being (if not feeling) UMC is that you can in reality absorb the financial loss even though it sticks in your craw to do so.

  92. We have china and silver (passed down from DH’s family) but only use it for holidays and entertaining (which has become infrequent lately). Milo – if it’s just one vomiting incident that doesn’t sound like a bug that would infect others. With my kids when they have a stomach bug, it’s never just once.

  93. I would go on the trip, even with the sick kid. Last year on our VRBO one kid was sick before we left, then got better then day after we arrived, then I got sick and had to go to urgent care, then as I was getting better the second kid went down. The great thing about the VRBO is that you can just hang out at the house all day feeling crummy while the rest of the family goes off and sight-sees. It you were stuck in a hotel room it is a totally different ballgame and so much more uncomfortable for the person sick.

  94. I find my kids either vomit once and then they’re fine, or they keep going continuously. If no more puking by lunchtime, I bet you are in the clear.

  95. Good tips from all. I dug up the reservation on my email, and it’s a 30-day policy. So I think we’re going to go for it! It’s a mountain biking trip, and we’re sharing it with my parents.

    Lark, I was thinking/hoping the same thing. 90 minutes to go!

  96. “Ironically, my goal this Tday is to get my 10 yo DS to wear jeans to Tday and not athletic pants!”

    I don’t know if this will ever happen with DS. I just try to get at least one pair of comfy pants that can be dressed up a little bit for certain occasions. Mostly the annual ES holiday show, not so much family parties. The last few years, I’ve made him wear pants from a ring bearer tux, but this year, I don’t have anything nice that fits. Will have to buy something.

    The last couple of years, we have done a Turkey Trot 8K with a family group and then also some of the family members played some light and casual football and wiffleball in the backyard at the IL’s. Touch – we don’t own flags. I skipped the football but joined the wiffleball. We’ve been #blessed with good weather the past few Thanksgivings though – it can be really unpredictable here.

    In my single 20’s, I played flag football in one of those coed rec leagues where the point is more about meeting people and having a few beers after the game than anything else. It was fun. Kind of like the beer league softball teams, but perhaps even less serious. I did that too.

  97. DS loves athletic pants and now those wicking shirts. It is hard to get him to wear anything else. However, he does have to a wear a uniform including formal uniform some days with a tie. DH had to show him how to knot a tie – the lesson was not a success as DS kept feeling ticklish and was horsing around.

  98. DS1 likes soft pants. He asked for and got corduroy pants from Gymboree (in store, where he could feel them) a couple years ago and has worn them to church without complaint. I need a larger size and that’s on my Gymboree Thanksgiving shopping list. Gymboree has been cheapening their clothes, so I hope the corduroy pants are still like they were.

  99. Milo, any other symptoms? If not, my first guess would be that it’s not necessarily a bug; it could’ve been something your kid ate, in which case it would be over before the weekend.

  100. Finn – seems to be feeling better and eating now, but the teacher said three other kids in the class have been sick.

  101. WWYD?

    @Milo: just remember, every giant-family-puking extravaganza becomes an awesome story in a few years.

    We spent half of last year’s ski trip with DS And The Giant Neck — he got some weird bug that manifested itself in a fever and one side of his neck swollen like Alien was about to pop out of it (he was still begging to ski, but somehow I sensed that the instructors might disagree). So, you know, after we got back from the ER, we took pictures to memorialize it, and he and I snuggled up and watched cartoons. And a couple of us (specifically, me) ended up feeling punky for a day or two, but we still had a good time.

  102. LfB – I think when they get to the ages where they can be trusted to get to a toilet or trash can in time, I’ll worry about this stuff a lot less. We may be there now, or pretty close, with my older two.

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