More holiday season conversation

by Finn

With T-day in our rear-view mirror, we’re well into the holiday season.

Are you sending out cards? What kind do you send? Do you attach a newsletter to your cards? How do you feel about receiving newsletters with cards?

If you do send out cards, here’s some grammar help:

Are Your Holiday Cards Grammatically Correct?

Do you have travel plans for the holiday? Kids coming home from college? Do you have any travel planning tips to share? Ever tried Google flights?

Making travel planning less stressful this holiday season

Do you have any gift ideas to share? What items seem to be this year’s “it” gifts?


88 thoughts on “More holiday season conversation

  1. We send a folding picture card. Family photo on front, small(er) individual pics of the kids above the fold on the inside and a couple of ‘kids together’ pics on the back. No newsletter, but generally like getting them from others.

    We are driving to DW’s parents’ on Friday, returning on Tuesday. We’ll also see one of her sisters and family. Spending Christmas Day/dinner at SIL’s. DS2 is home from college so there will be 4 of us traveling. DS1 lives near my in-laws so we’ll see him for dinner on Friday night, all day Christmas and maybe Mon or Tue depending on his work schedule.

    I have not used Google Flights but I have used which is also part of google for flight search & planning. A bit clunkier than Flights seems to be but it’s worked well for us.

    What items seem to be this year’s “it” gifts? Drones. DS3 wants a $500 one — he wanted a $1000 one for his b’day — so depending on how much money he gets and how much he wants to invest of what’s left of his own employment earnings (after paying for the speeding ticket he just got) maybe he’ll buy it. Not coming from us or grandparents.

    Related Christmas card question…how do you decide to drop a kid off the card? Not for dis-owning reasons, but at some point, like car insurance, cell phones, EZPass (I think, right?) this has to be a passage to adulthood. Clearly if they marry, but what about 20-somethings who are living, working on their own in a different place. Oh, and it’s not as if he’s going to send his own cards to relatives I don’t think.

  2. We just do simple photo cards. We’ve had a significant decrease in the number of cards we’ve received the last few years. We used to get about 30 or so, this year it’s less than 10. Have other people experienced this or is it just our friends dropping us?

  3. We, too, seem to be getting fewer cards than in the past. We send out ~125 and we’ll get 75-100.

  4. We usually send a photo card, but I just didn’t get around to it this year. We don’t have any decent, recent family photos, which I prefer to just kid photos generally. And it’s a lot of work. I have less time off for Christmas break this year (1.5 weeks vs. 2), so I’m cutting a few things that I usually do. Cards & cutting back on baking mostly.

    IL’s are local. We will head over there for Xmas Eve. We spend Xmas at home, just the 3 of us (used to be just the 2 of us years ago, and might be again in 15 years!). We’ll visit my parents & brother after Xmas. That’s an overnight trip, but it’s not too far.

    @Fred – I think you have to drop all the kids at the same time to avoid hurt feelings. I’ve seen this play out badly when the oldest is dropped & not the younger kids. Or go to a photo of just the two of you or of something else (like a vacation, the dog, etc). One relative sends a card with all her grandkids, which is nice for later on.

    I haven’t heard of Google flights. Is it better/easier to use/more accurate than Kayak?

  5. I promised myself this would be the year we’d do Christmas cards. I even got as far as putting together a spreadsheet w/ names and addresses. Yet, no card. I figure people see enough of my adorable children on FB and Instagram.

    In terms of gifts – my 4 year old has asked for one thing: a “real” drum set. So, that’s what he’s getting. To be followed by lessons soon after. My little guy is getting a t-ball set and a trampoline. My kids are not so much into toys, but very into being loud and jumping around. My gift to self is an Instant Pot! DH and I are taking Thursday off and getting a massage together. I think this will become a pre-Christmas tradition. :)

  6. I was hoping that article was about more than air travel – like driving to places, ways to keep from killing your in-laws, how to make your in-laws understand that you are a different parent than they were and are a different parents from your SILs? ‘Cause those all add stress. I’m sure there are plenty of blogs, but I’m too lazy (and busy) to find them.

    We are leaving Friday morning to go to NJ. We’ll spend Xmas eve night with my Aunt, Xmas morning with her, then all day Xmas with DH’s family. DS has uber cute “Toby from Labyrinth” style PJs for the event, and his Xmas outfit all ready to go. We return to RI Tues afternoon, so we’ll hang out with people on the 23rd, 24th, or 26th.

    We send out picture cards or letters, depending on the year. Last year it was a picture, this year a letter. But we had a pretty exciting year so it was more fun to write the letter and include 5-6 small photos for each event. Between buying stationary, and stamps, it was an expensive endeavor. I think we’ve received ~20 cards in return and we’ve sent out ~80 letters. Basically we get far less bang for our buck, but hey, no one can say they weren’t informed on our lives. We also sent ours out early (before Dec. 5th) so we’ll see once the holidays are over what the final tally is. And no, I’m pretty sure my grammar was lax in the letter…

    DD – I think less people write holiday cards or send photos. It’s a dying art with 24/7 communication.

  7. I’ve always sent out cards, but this year is looking bad. I usually do traditional cards, often from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a photo of the kids as an insert. This year, I have the cards, but the kids refused to let me take a photo and I don’t have any time anyway. Ugh.

    I miss, though, the days when we got gazillions of cards, They have really dropped off. Some of those people who are no longer sending are old friends who don’t do Facebook so I feel like my last contact has been severed.

  8. I put together a card at the last minute on Shutterfly so the photos are just ok. I used one of the 3 of us, but I generally just have a couple of DD on the card. Some of my friends with college age and 20 something children have stopped sending cards.

    I don’t send a letter, but I do try to write a little something on each card.

    I have to go to a few stores tomorrow to pick up a couple of last minute gifts. I just want to be done with all of the prep. I’m not usually in this boat because Hanukkah generally starts before Christmas, but it is the same time this year.

    We are not going away because we’re seeing family a few times next week, and I love being in NY for the holidays.
    DD has a lot of plans with friends, but I’m hoping to take her into the city on the days that she isn’t busy. Her break isn’t long because she is in school until the 23rd.

  9. I don’t send cards. I do get a few. The good thing about Facebook is that I keep up with most of the people I care about.

    We’re going to Indianapolis for DH’s family. I put my foot down this year and I’m only staying three nights. DH is staying seven nights. Fine. In exchange I will try not to be a total colossal bitch for the days I’m there.

  10. I haven’t sent out cards in many years, and never did a photo card. But I do enjoy receiving them along with letters. Sadly I get very few.

    What I started doing last year was a tree ornament imprinted with an extended family group picture. Every year I take a group shot of our family Christmas dinner. This year I made extras to give to family members. I use Shutterfly, which had a big black Friday sale that I missed. Then they had a 40% off sale, which kept getting extended even though their online promos kept saying “last day” at this price. Then I think it went down to 50%. In any case, I’ve been happy with the photo ornaments.

    I scaled down on decorating this year, consistent with my aspirational minimalist phase of life. When I see lush, abundant decorated homes and stores, I feel a combination of regretful admiration and aversion. :) I discovered fairy lights, which I used to decorate my house. They produce a cheery, understated ambiance. And the whole lot of them can be packed back into a box the size of my hand.

  11. Pertaining to yesterday’s discussion – I have always had very thick hair and then it started to thin. I asked my endocronologist if there was anything I needed to do and she suggested Biotin, I was almost ready to give up on it after 5 months but stuck with it and around the sixth month my hair started to thicken – my hair is now as thick and heavy as it used to be.

  12. Biotin — interesting. My D swears it makes her hair grow faster; maybe I’ll try it. I’ve been meaning to ask my dermatologist if she had any recommendation.

  13. I still send cards, no newsletter. Our cards are always funny and people tell me they look forward to them so I’m already stressing about next year’s card. We don’t get a lot but I like sending them. I will have the last landline and send the last printed holiday card in America, of that I am sure.

    We are going to see my family which is causing me no end of stress. Mostly because there are a lot of unspoken expectations by my elderly parents. Its like playing whack a mole blindfolded but with feelings on the line except no one will really talk about the feelings. Love them but really want it to be over.

    Kind of nice that the kids don’t really want anything this year but kind of sad the magic is gone.

  14. Well, I never did get the newsletter done last year, so I was determined to do it this year (and early, a/k/a “in the mail before Christmas”) and spent Sunday AM writing the thing. And now I can’t find my address book. Sigh.

    “Kind of nice that the kids don’t really want anything this year but kind of sad the magic is gone.”

    Yeah, that’s kind of where I am. Almost all shopping was accomplished Sunday AM on my laptop. Kids largely want cash/gift cards, and the adults in the family have decided to trade charitable donations this year, plus we are going to Taos, and I’m missing family Hanukkah. So it has been just about the quickest, easiest, least-hassle holiday season ever — but it just makes everything feel sort of flat. Probably doesn’t help that I am in a personal funk, too — need to see about some SSRI’s or something. But the sum total is that everything is perfect and easy and wonderful, and yet it all just feels meh. There is something to be said for making a fuss over something in the depths of winter.

  15. We are going to visit BIL and family up North. This year other BIL and his family will not be joining us. My nephew is taking an exam for independent schools (I am guessing it is to change schools as he is already in private school). Less people so hopefully less drama. MIL tries hard to be the matriarch but can’t pull it off. All she does is end up upsetting people.
    This is our dutiful one visit a year to connect. Our kids like each other but I predict that not meeting often means they will grow apart.
    Most families stopped sending photo cards of their kids when the first one got married or if they started working and moved out.
    My kids are getting big kid gifts but it is nice to see my nephews so excited to receive their toys.

  16. I have a few more cards to send out (just hunting down some additional addresses). I swear every year I will make an address spreadsheet but I end up being lazy and then relying on memory the next year. We are in the little kid stage still so we get a decent amount of cards (maybe 40?). I expect when kids grow up you have less incentive to send out the cards and I seem to know a lot of people that said they just didn’t get to it this year.

    My in-laws are coming on the 23rd which will be nice. Our kitchen won’t be totally done (a few little details will remain) but it will be usable so cheers to that. My neighbors are getting their house painted right now (exterior) and they were saying they were bummed they had no decorations outside when everyone else’s house is so pretty and I was saying I felt a little bit out of sorts because our inside is not decorated because of our renovation. Kids and I are going to make Christmas cookies tomorrow before the floor people come in the afternoon to do the final coat on the floors and I need to sneak out and buy some wrapping paper before Thursday. DH is crazy busy right now at work, which leaves Christmas prep entirely to me.

  17. Friends of ours now send photo cards of their grandkids… not their daughters or really any mention of them, but oodles of photos of their 3 grandsons. It’s kinda cute, actually.

  18. We’ve never gotten going on sending cards, and then when FB appeared I figured that served the same purpose. But this year I ended up going with the invitation version of Costco photo cards for our party, and then had a number of them that I was sticking in the mail, and realized that I had pretty much backed my way into doing photo cards. Maybe next year I’ll send them to people who aren’t even on island — sorry you won’t be able to join us, ha ha! Except I could see my cousin’s wife on the Big Island using it as an excuse to come visit and she can be kinda hard to take. Hmm. I’ll think about it.

    I’ve used Google flights but I forgot about that other one that Fred mentioned again just now. I can’t remember whether I ended up directly booking through Google flights, or going through the website of the airline I settled on. We’re not flying anywhere this year.

  19. Still need stocking stuffers, and one or two more family member gifts. I like buying gifts, and often buy many small ones, and then I forget what I have (speaking of getting old). However, I am sure that my brother will love his Back to The Future Flux Capacitor replica, which is actually goes into the cigarette lighter and has 2 USB ports on it. Charging in style.

    Tip (as kids got out last year’s Furbys to play with and I had to put in new batteries) – get a dollar store mini-screwdriver set as a stocking stuffer for someone. I think there is a regulation that all battery compartments on kids’ toys need to be opened with a screw driver. Our regular ones don’t always fit in the teeny-tiny toys.

  20. I ordered our holiday cards before Thanksgiving this year – our family pics were really great (new photographer) and so it was easy to do. I get the expensive trifold ones with the 10 pictures and paragraph/page of text since I love getting cards and I know people like to see pictures of the kids. :) But we send about 100 cards and only get 25 or so.

    Fred, my parents and their friends don’t drop the kids off the cards. In our 20s we were all home at either Thanksgiving or Christmas and so they would take the family picture then. Now we (and the grandchildren) are always together for a few days/weekend in the summer, so the family picture is taken then. For my parents’ friends whose kids aren’t home at the same time, they do multiple pictures of the family in different combinations so everyone is included.

    We traveled for Thanksgiving but always stay put for Christmas now – I think the last time we traveled was when #1 was 3 and #2 was 1. I really liked having Christmas at home when I was a kid and wanted to keep that for our kids.

    I got some new decorations for the house this year (since this house is so big!) and it was not enough, particularly for the lights. Plus one box of decorations went missing somehow in the move, so I am going to hit up Home Depot on the 26th to get a s***ton more lights, and I might order candles for the windows for next year if they go on sale. I also want to get some of those hanging orbs to hang from our front trees next year, but they are super expensive, like $30 each. (Particularly since DH said they would look nice – ordinarily he is a grinch about decorations)

    My parents are coming for Xmas and we have the Polish wigilia on Xmas eve (soup and bread), so I have to figure out what soups to make and go shopping for those on Friday. Also figure out whether Whole Foods or Costco is cheaper for the fancy giant beef that I get for Christmas dinner.

  21. Ada — go to Barnes & Noble or local equivalent and get a bunch of odd magazines suited to the recipients’ interests, the kind of thing they wouldn’t subscribe to but would enjoy reading an issue of. You know, Cat Fancy, photography hobby mags, The Year in WWII History, that sort of thing. For older kids, Mad’s year-end issue, for younger kids, comic books.

  22. We’re finishing up the baking and decorating of the cookies today and then I am sneaking out tonight to buy the last few presents. Wrapping tomorrow and packing on Thursday. Leaving Friday for a week. Road trip with husband, 3 kids, 1 dog and 3 stops in the Midwest. Pray for us and that we don’t slide in to one of the Great Lakes.

  23. I’ve done more family plane ticket shopping in the last couple years than I would have preferred, and Google is my overall favorite. ITAsoftware will find 5 tickets on the same flight even if they are at 2 different price codes and Google flights only shows 5 tickets at the more expensive price code, but you can’t book from the ITAsoftware website- there is some other awkward website that you have to paste your whole web page into and then it parses it and lets you book. Neither website shows Southwest flights. I like Google alerts better than Kayak alerts because you can set alerts for specific flights, and Kayak only lets you set alerts for a trip, AFAIK. This means that if I don’t want to take the $197 Spirit Airlines red eye and that continues to be the cheapest Kayak option, I can’t get alerts on other flights from Kayak.

    I like sending Christmas letters but Mr WCE has recently taken over that job, thank goodness. He returned from his last pre-Christmas trip on December 3, so I haven’t been flying solo. I was up past 1 AM last night organizing/wrapping gifts and tonight will be another late night. Safeway has Crest Pro Health kid toothpaste in Star Wars, which will be something new for the boys’ stockings. We’re going to MIL’s for the first time since kids, which could be awkward because of different Christmas traditions. Since none of the cousins have married parents, they’re pretty used to going with the flow at holidays so hopefully the different tradition thing is OK.

  24. This year, I’m the only person giving my kid what he wants: gift cards. Seems weird to me, but after he returned nearly all the birthday presents I got him (except for a blankey & pillow & a beanie with built-in speakers/headphones), I decided to listen to him. I have assorted small things for his stocking, and because he’s grown half a foot since last year, he had to get all new clothes for the trip to Ohio (where there is actually snow this year), so that’s it. He did ask for a VR headset for -$600, but I’ve already told him that isn’t happening.

    Closest to an “it” gift I’ve figured out is the air couch I’m getting for a niece. A nephew is getting the inexpensive version of GR goggles; the -$35 kind you use with your phone.

    Facebook recently reminded me of a Christmas a couple years back when we went glice skating and on a party cruise (with the aquarium, so it was very kid-oriented), his school had a market and we baked cookies. This year, the only thing we’ve done is cookies with my dad and I put up a couple decorations, but nowhere near all of them, and only a tiny tree.

    Fred, I saw a series of family photos in Chuck & Di’s Christmas cards. They stopped sending out joint cards at their divorce, of course, but Harry and William stayed on their dad’s until about five years ago. This year (or last–not sure) was Harry’s first official card. For us commoners, maybe you could include a family photo of everyone (including spouses and grandkids eventually), and individuals of whoever is still at home/in college.

  25. I have sent out cards in the past, but not last year. I had planned to send a few this year, so maybe will get to it today. We moved 3 years ago, and I never sent out change of address cards, so I think that contributes to the decline in the number of cards we receive.

    For the first time in the 20 years we’ve lived here, we will not see any family this holiday. After Thanksgiving, my parents said that with everything they have going on, they would like to spend the holiday at home with just the two of them.My husband’s family has dwindled to just his brother, who will be juggling time between his kids, so we are not going to drive there for just a two-hour visit with him. It feels very weird to not be planning for company or planning to travel. I’m a little sad, because when we travel, I get a lot of time with my kids. At home, with no obligations that come with guests, they will be more likely to run off with friends or retreat their rooms/online activities. I’ve already extracted promises for a family movie night and a games night. On the gift front, both just want cash, so even the gift-opening will take just a moment. I guess on the plus side, I’m ridiculously relaxed. I’ve been off since last Friday, have all my decorating and shopping done, as well as all the birthday shopping for one one of my kids who has a birthday this week. I have the time and desire to do some baking, but am really trying to limit our sugar, so it takes the fun out of it.

    I do have time to read, and to binge watch TV, so I am hoping to watch a few shows that you all talk about here (The Americans is at the top of my list, but I welcome other suggestions.) I would like to see Manchester by the Sea, but have heard such icky things about Casey Affleck that I’m not sure I will. I have the new book Michael Lewis book, and Hillbilly Elegy on my list, and welcome any other suggestions there. If anyone has read the new Liane Moriarty book, is it worth hardback book price?

  26. S&M, my kids set up wish lists on Amazon – you can add things from other stores besides Amazon, or even just add notes describing the kinds of things you want. That way, they get things they want and still have a box to unwrap on Christmas day

  27. We traveled for Thanksgiving but always stay put for Christmas now

    We’re the same way. When DS was 1, we went to Florida to see the in-laws and DW agreed that it sucked. They always went to Florida for Christmas when she was growing up and she wanted to recapture that, but it didn’t feel like Christmas at all.

    On the cards, are we the only ones who don’t take a special picture and just use ones from throughout the year?

  28. S&M, my kids set up wish lists on Amazon

    We all do that as well. Yes, it takes the surprise out of it, but everyone (especially me) is so much happier to get exactly what they want.

  29. Plus, all year you get the entertainment value of Amazon offering you truly weird recommendations pulled from all those wish lists. “Get yourself a little something . . . mossy zinc, $400 graphics card, book, mermaid tail, 8 person tent”

  30. Denver – I also like to use regular family pictures for the card, but this year I was in no pictures (I take all of them) and the kids were making faces, so I was glad that the woman who took our picture this fall magically made them make nice faces.

  31. I’ve completely fallen down on sending out cards in the past few years. I feel a small pang of guilt about it and likely will feel it each year at this time, but it’s not enough to make me mend my terrible ways on this issue.

  32. DD – our picture has always been a fall picture taken at Halloween outdoors. Sometimes there are pumpkins and fall decorations in the background. I find it easier to do the picture in the fall. Kids are cleaned up but not as formally dressed. They are used to this one picture so will work with me when I take it.

  33. My favorite discovery this season hardly rates as a gift item.

    I gave my eldest child a newly made German design watch, everyone else got cash at more than gift levels this year. DH got his first smartphone, the entry level Samsung Galaxy – currently on easy mode. He also will get a new wallet on his birthday.

  34. Referring to yesterday’s thread

    Old Mom – I have used Biotin topically on my brows with great results. Do you take it in pill form or use it topically on your head?

    I really felt old today – I found out a long time acquaintance/friend, with whom I had recently had lunch in part to discuss husbands with health limitations, just lost him unexpectedly this weekend. They had been together for 48 years, so he was only 2 years older than I am. I didn’t sleep well, didn’t think I could make the wake this afternoon because it would take me a hour and a half each way to drive or take the T, and I don’t like to drive after dark anyway, resolved to take the T, then locked my keys in the car doing errands this morning and had to cab home and back for the spares, etc.

    And I didn’t mean to post the watch photo with a price above – I thought I had linked to the photo alone. It is a really neat looking watch – modeled after a 1930s Maybach dashboard gauge.

  35. “On the cards, are we the only ones who don’t take a special picture and just use ones from throughout the year?”

    Oh, heck no — I made up a template letter that has spots for photos, and I just swap out the photos every year based on what I see scrolling through all our imports. Which is also why it takes me for-freaking-ever to do, as I routinely forget the trick to adding photos in a way that prints ok.

    @Meme, *love* that watch.

  36. Meme,
    I take a pill every day.

    Sorry about your friend. It sucks to see our friends and family start to fail and die. My husband had a couple of rough weeks that made me realize that we are aging and not going to live forever. Fortunately, my husband’s tests all came back clean.

  37. MBT, I bet you can still find last-minute deals to take a little family trip on Expedia or TravelZoo. That would be special and give you time with the kids. If nothing else, you could drive out to the Hill Country & look at Lady Bird’s flowers.

    MM, if my kid wanted anything, he’d let me know. He has repeatedly said he wants to get rid of stuff, including (shudder) BOOKS.

    I much prefer (semi-) candids to posed pix

  38. One thing I’m thinking about is where we will live when we retire. GIven that it is a 2.5 hour flight and then a 2 hour drive to see my parents makes it a real hassle such that it basically takes a whole day to get there really limits how frequently we see them. I really hate having to go there at Christmas and struggle because the kids like to be at home but my parents are so old that I’m aware of the limited number of Christmases left with them but we have a limited number of Christmases with the kids at home too so…. it just makes everything stressful and not very pleasant for me. So DH and I think we must live somewhere near a major airport that is easy to get to. We will see – they could move someplace that would make all this planning moot.

  39. I absolutely love getting Christmas cards. We send out a photo card with a family pic and usually an “outtake” kind of picture on the back. We have moved a lot and aren’t on facebook, so we add a short update (like 3 lines) on where the kids are now. Our friends just keep adding people to their photos rather than dropping their young adult kids. Once someone is engaged, their intended shows up in the Christmas picture and then spouses and grandchildren show up as the years go by. I honestly haven’t received one from our friends that didn’t include one of their adult kids. Well, except one family, but that son is currently in jail, and unavailable for the thanksgiving photo.

  40. I love getting a cards too. That’s the main reason that I go through the hassle and expense to send one out each year. I had a really bad day, and everything went wrong. It was nice to walk in, and see some old friends on the counter.

    We just cycle through the pictures on our phones and cameras to find a few decent photos.

    I’m going through an enormous photo organization project due to the bat mitzvah. Most of the kids around here will have a montage during the party. This will include photos of DD from birth until now. I have to try to get as many friends and relatives included in the photos as possible so they see themselves at least once in montage. I wish, wish, wish that I was an organized person that created a folder in Dropbox or Shutterfly 12 years ago for the best photos. I am not that person do now I’m scrambling to get every photo from multiple computers, phones and memory cards into Dropbox. The process is painful, but revisiting so many moments from the last 12 years is fun.

  41. HM, I’ve yet to hear of a more interesting Amazon recommendation than the ski mask to go along with the knife sharpener I bought.

  42. We used to do our photo cards right after T-day, but over the years evolved a new tradition of sending out New Years cards that we assemble and mail after Christmas. This facilitates the use of photos taken during Christmas break trip.

    Like DD and many of our friends, we pick photos from the previous year and have someplace like Costco or snapfish print them for us.

  43. Random things…
    I have yet to wear the nice earrings my SIL gave me two Christmases ago. They are pretty, I thought I’d wear them but somehow they are not my style. Hope they will be to DD’s taste. DD has the skill to tinker with objects and transform them to her taste.

    I spent time this evening, composing a reply to friends on the West Coast who expressed concern in their Christmas wishes that we must find things tremendously difficult given the State we live in….had to reassure them that we truly are doing fine and this is as good a place as any to live.

  44. Louise, it’s interesting here on the West Coast. Sometimes I’m tempted to wear my sister’s agricultural chemicals promotion shirt to the organic food co-op, just for fun.

  45. This one just came up in my music shuffle and it’s appropriate to both yesterday’s and today’s topics:

  46. Louise and WCE – Very clever (or Ha and Double Ha as we used to say)!

    I have given up on cards – I used to search for a decent photo of my kids, but I haven’t sent any out the last few years. I get very few from people my age nowadays, more from younger relatives with small children. I just received one in the mail with a bunch of pictures, but they were all so tiny you couldn’t really see them. I don’t know if my friend thought they would come out bigger when the cards were printed?

  47. We’re doing our usual Christmas routine at our house with DW’s parents coming for a few days. But this time we’ll also have DW’s brother and SIL, who are in the process of moving back East. We’ll add my parents and DW’s aunt and uncle for Christmas dinner (Honey Baked ham). And we’re planning to visit Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town on Monday.

    We still do Shutterfly Christmas cards, but we’ve become much less particular about the photos we use. And for the past couple years, my in-laws have started sending photo cards and make an effort at least once during the year to get a picture of them with kids and their spouses, and their grandchildren.

    Moxie – My maternal grandparents used to always spend Christmas with us. Originally, they drove. When they got too old for that, they switched to Amtrak. And when they got too old for that, either my brother or I would take Amtrak to their house, spend the night, and then load all their suitcases in their car and drive them to us. Although it wasn’t as far as the Midwest, I enjoyed the independence and responsibility as a 16 or 17-year-old, and I always like a road trip.

  48. I spent time this evening, composing a reply to friends on the West Coast who expressed concern in their Christmas wishes that we must find things tremendously difficult given the State we live in

    Louise, I think I’ve mentioned that when I was moving to North Carolina for school, my California friends were horrified. “Haven’t you seen Deliverance?” they asked. On the West Coast people still think the South is just a big swamp full of partially-evolved humanoids.

  49. COC’s reference to her daughter’s quinceañera reminded me of a question I’d like to ask the group: our 3 sons have been to tons of elaborate bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras and sweet sixteens. I feel like we are getting away with murder because we have never had to host a big thing for them, other than the occasional modest birthday celebration. Our eldest may be getting close to proposing and I’m wondering what the current idea is with regards to parents paying for weddings? Will we offend the bride’s parents if we want to pay? I’m guessing we follow the kids’ lead and just let my son know we are open to paying for it?

  50. On kid celebrations, both my kids love a party. If we lived in a community where others were having bar/bat mitvahs, quinceneras, I am sure they would demand some made up celebration. Confirmations just aren’t celebrated the same way.

    Mafalda, it would be good to talk to your son and his fiancée early in the process before things have been decided and set in stone. Also state the amount you are willing to pay so that they know what the budget is. Some couples may choose to use it for the wedding, others may want to use it for the honeymoon or down payment on a house.

  51. Mafalda, yes, I’d let the kids take the lead. Your son might suggest something like, “My parents would be happy to pay for catering/venue/flowers/whatever” and see how that goes over.

  52. Mafalda,

    Given your circumstances, I think a cash gift would be most appropriate. If they want to spend it on the wedding, honeymoon, house down-payment, new kitchen, etc. you can leave that up to them.

  53. Last night I realized that I am horrible with photos of my son and his Godparents. The last ones are at his Christening! He sees his Godparents at least 4 times a year. (Side note – my goodness that boy has change in 1.5 years… little baby face is all gone plus no headgear, so there is that too). So I printed out a couple of pics for the godfather’s frame and I will make it a priority to take a pic of the godparents with DS this weekend.

    Mafalda – when I got married, DH’s parents paid for the reception, DH and I paid for nearly everything else. My mom couldn’t afford to pay much and my dad refused to help. So, my recommendation is to let your son know that you have a check book with X limit and no strings. I’d also give him the option using those funds for a down payment on a house, new car, honeymoon, etc. If you are close to the bride’s parents, you can talk with them, but if you aren’t, don’t open a can of worms. They may not have a lot of money for the wedding (like mine) and it could be quite difficult for them to admit it.

  54. “My parents would be happy to pay for catering/venue/flowers/whatever”

    That would, in my mind, tend to result in the over-consumption of wedding industry goods and services. A no strings attached cash gift would be better. You could give them $56k without any gift tax issues.

  55. Mafalda – A lot depends on the bride, her deference to her family and her family background. It might be a matter of pride or local custom that a working class patriarch hires out the VFW hall with a DJ and rubber chicken buffet for the wedding reception. A well off but New England tight fisted WASP might expect that it should be a minimally catered daytime wedding in a large tent or the old barn on their vacation property in Maine, where the flights are tough and the nearest hotel for all your guests is a hour away. Or there could be ethnic or religious requirements from her side. And the bride’s family usually gets to choose unless the kids are older and are in charge.

    Assuming that the groom and his family have a say in the matter, if there is a large difference in money in your favor I concur with the idea that you give the couple a large cash budget (or even a no strings cash gift to your son – if the wedding is next year you might want to do the possible gift splitting before and after Dec 31), and let them figure it out with her parents. If there is a great disparity in wealth and it is comfortable for everyone that you pay for 80-90% – you could reverse the traditional split and the bride’s family pays for the liquor and the rehearsal dinner, and you pay for everything else, that is obviously simplest.

    When my son was married, my ex husband’s extended family trod all over the bride’s family’s arrangements, to the extent that someone decided she was entitled to sit at the head table and had an extra place set. I was of course horrified, but completely used to their behavior (these are the people who insist on no turkey at Txgiving because they don’t like it).

  56. One friend of mine canceled our dinner plan because he hadn’t realized that it fell around the time when his daughter expected word from her top Ivy League choice. He and his wife couldn’t leave her home alone in such a tremulous state, at such a terrifying juncture.

    Typical in every NYT way:
    1) not actually a ‘plague’ or applicable beyond a sliver of affluent families
    2) always has to pivot to “but what about the poor???”
    WORLD ENDS: Women and Minorities Hardest Hit

  57. 1) not actually a ‘plague’ or applicable beyond a sliver of affluent families

    Finn might argue with you on that.

  58. Speaking of that, there is a sub-plot in Billions where the widow of one of Bobby Axelrod’s former partners wrote a memoir that contained unflattering depictions of Axe. He put his wife in charge of dealing with her and it included having her kid denied admission to Stanford. Once she pulled the chapter from her memoir, Stanford called and apologized for their mistake.

    You might say that kind of thing doesn’t happen in real life. Well, a few jobs ago one of the regulars at the hotel was in the development office of an Ivy Leauge school and one of his chief responsibilities was managing the outrageous requests for big time donors. Based on his stories, I have no doubt this actually occurs.

  59. Rhett – in places other than the coasts, private school parents would be the ones most likely to be concerned with elite college admissions. For the rest of the parents, it would depend on whether their kid had a shot. Most people I have talked to know that their kid will get into some four year college and that their obligation to child rearing is done.

  60. In the first season of House of Cards, Frank Underwood ingratiates himself to the President’s chief of staff by working a contact from Stanford to get her son’s application rejection overturned.

  61. Traditionally, the groom’s parents pay for the rehearsal dinner. I very much agree with previous posters that it’s far better to give them $$$ with no strings attached.

  62. Rhett – That stuff definitely occurs and I can’t even imagine how bad it is in the upper echelon of universities.

    Dh’s parents paid for a lot of stuff for our wedding but that money also came with strings attached – i.e. they wanted to make some of the decisions which led to a lot of tears (from me). I ended up having a Scottish piper at my wedding reception and neither DH or I are Scottish (his stepfather is).

  63. Mafalda – I am in the opposite shoes as you are: my dd is getting married next year. His parents were very kind and offered to help out beyond the rehearsal dinner. I think we prefer to handle the costs along traditional lines, mainly because we can control things. Not that I think they would have weird ideas like Atlanta’s piper, but just so we don’t have to worry about questions about spending x amount of this or that. We will also have a ton of relatives and out of town guests, so the the rehearsal dinner will be big.

  64. I think the cash gift from you to be spent however your son and his future bride choose is a great idea.

  65. OK, so the newsletter may be stick-a-fork-in-her done. I got an email from CVS today advertising 30% off photo cards and same-day delivery. I spent literally 20 minutes choosing a template, scrolling through my phone for decent pictures, and uploading everything. They will be done by 1:30 today at the CVS three blocks from my house, and all at a cost of $22-23 for 40 cards. Huzzah and hallelujah.

    Meanwhile, I spent an hour Sunday writing out a newsletter, and I was dreading trying to add in the pictures, which always seems to take forever and gets screwed up (it’s a word document, and you have to copy them, save them as a smaller file, crop them, etc, and I always forget how). Now I’m just annoyed about the hour I wasted. :-)

  66. Whoops, I think I was mixing metaphors! The shoe is on the other foot, or I am on the opposite side as you are!

  67. Finn, Our card this year is
    Front – Family photo taken last year in front of the Christmas tree in the lobby of HHV
    Inside – individual shots of each kid doing something over the past year
    Back – (two pics) DS1 & 3 at and event; DS2 & 3 at a different event

  68. LfB – You are far better at the picture thing than me – I just find representative ones and slap them in there. No cropping/editing. And I use the “insert image” function so decreases the size a bit for you.

    Our letter has 7 photos – 1 of DS on his first Bday, 4 from each of the 3 National Parks and 1 National Monument we visited, 1 of our dog (he passed this year) and 1 family photo taken in Acadia National Park. I always make the family one a bit bigger and at the end so people can cut it out if they want. The hardest part is formatting for the stationary we buy.

  69. @Rhode — I’m sure there are easier/faster ways to do it, if only I knew what I was doing. . . . Luckily, there are now online services that cater to people like me, who would rather drop $20 to be able to drag and drop vs. actually learning how to do it the right way. :-)

  70. LfB, Mr WCE noted that Word 2016 is way more “picture-add” friendly than previous versions of Word. Don’t ask me how, because Christmas letter was not part of my assigned tasks this year.

  71. Louise, I think I’ve mentioned that when I was moving to North Carolina for school, my California friends were horrified. “Haven’t you seen Deliverance?” they asked. On the West Coast people still think the South is just a big swamp full of partially-evolved humanoids.

    I assumed Louise’s friends’ concern was about the Republican shenanigans.

  72. I assumed Louise’s friends’ concern was about the Republican shenanigans.

    Same diff.

  73. Not at all. The political antics could occur in any state and aren’t a result of being in the “backwater South”.

  74. Sorry to get back so late to the group- you’ve given me a lot to think about. Beyond the money is it the consensus that the groom’s parents should have no say in the wedding? We would love a wedding big enough where the invitation list could fit all aunts, uncles, first cousins and grandparents. It would be bad form to express that and say we would pay for it?

  75. “We would love a wedding big enough where the invitation list could fit all aunts, uncles, first cousins and grandparents.”

    The bride or groom may not want that, and may feel pressured to cave in to the parents’ vision. Without the clear-cut rules of yesterday, it seems today’s wedding planning can be more of a minefield of possible hurt feelings.

    Here’s a collegeconfidential thread that shows various opinions.

  76. @Mafalda — FWIW, I think that is something you should feel free to talk about with your son. Whether there is resentment will likely depend on how it’s brought up — I had planned a maybe 60-80 person wedding, and then was “informed” that my in-laws had a list of 25 mandatory invites to cover the “old boys from the neighborhood” (a/k/a the entire Brooklyn crew that went around to all of the kids’ weddings — it would have been a very big deal to exclude them now that it was my in-laws’ “turn”). I wasn’t particularly happy to have that much of my guest list co-opted (and with no offer of financial support to boot — we paid for most of it ourselves), but I wanted to get off on the right foot with my future family, so I said ok. I do think a “softer” ask, coupled with expressing your desire not to want to take over their affair or be a financial burden/offer, would probably help smooth the way.

    Of course, I also didn’t know that that particular contingent believed in giving cash as a wedding gift, so we definitely ended up in the black on that one. :-)

  77. @ Mafalda – when we were married, we wanted a relatively small wedding, and drew the line at people we didn’t really know. My in-laws were fine with that, but then a month after our honeymoon they threw us a separate reception in my husband’s hometown where they were able to invite all their friends, work colleagues, etc. That was a great solution.

  78. Re: weddings – I think it is best if everyone speaks directly to their child/parent and not the future inlaws. Much easier to talk about money and/or to tell your blood relative to stand down. I would have had zero problem with my inlaws inviting as many guests as they wished so long as they fit in the venue and the budget (and had they paid for them, invite the whole town if you wish). What I didn’t appreciate were the surprises the day of the wedding – things like surprise guests that weren’t included in the final numbers/seating arrangements and the singer at the ceremony that we didn’t know we were going to have. My parents gave us $x for whatever (which we put towards the reception), we paid for the rest. Inlaws covered the rehearsal dinner and next day brunch. Plus their surprises.

  79. I think this is a “know your kid” kind of thing. From the get-go, we offered to help pay for the wedding, but the bride’s parents are very well-off, so it wasn’t an issue. The kids asked us directly how many people we wanted to invite, and we sort of sat around and chatted and mulled it over, and DSS raised his eyebrows when we started speculating about cousins he hadn’t seen since he was a small child, and we just worked it all out in conversation. The kids were trying to accommodate us, and we were trying not to impose on the kids, so it worked out. The bride had a certain amount of conflict with her father, but we stayed well out of that.

  80. We did pay for the rehearsal dinner, and we picked a very nice place. I personally was startled to learn that tons of people are nowadays invited to rehearsal dinners. I thought it was just the wedding party, but no, it was all their friends and bunches of relatives. Oh well, it’s all over with now and we’re still solvent.

  81. Rocky – my parents, having no daughters, went all out on rehearsal dinners. Basically, bridal party and their spouses/guests, family, anyone traveling from out of town, and any close friends in the area. It’s a small fraction of people who were invited to the wedding but not the RD, which was a seated dinner at a yacht club overlooking the harbor, open bar, and live music and dancing.

    My in-laws did something similar for BIL’s RD.

    We got two Christmas letters-proper in today’s mail, I think our only ones thus far, and both from the older generation. Both celebrate retirement and both dedicated a couple paragraphs to the ordeals of recovering from surgery — one hip replacement and one ankle replacement.

  82. Kate and Atlanta, holy crap! That sounds like they were trying to piss you off so you wouldn’t stick around and they could have the Vitamix.

    Lark, that’s a brilliant idea. It could easily be couched as “we wouldn’t want to make everyone travel; let’s do a smaller thing close to them later on”.

    I recall wanting to skip the whole registry thing and possibly the big reception too, until a friend said “your parents have been paying into this system for years. You can’t just ignore that”. I still wasn’t enthusiastic, but it made sense.

    Another money-spending possibility that no one has mentioned yet is the morning-after brunch for out of town guests. I think that’s a somewhat recent development (although we did a small one in the early 90s). I like it because it just makes sense, unless you’re in a place with lots of things to do.

    Mafalda, how often do you see your son? I think a lot of this could be discussed better in little bits of conversation where everybody has a chance to chew on the last bite before continuing, rather than all in one piece on a weekend visit.

  83. Well I’m seriously jumping the gun here- because there is no engagement yet! But it occurred to me that I had been picturing all the next generation weddings as these awesome parties where we’d get to see everyone – we all live in far flung places- one of my nephews just got married and it was so fun to see everyone and have all the generations dancing together, etc. And then I realized that my own kids would probably do whatever the bride wants. I also want her to have her way, but I want them to know that if they are keeping it small due to money, well- we’d gladly pay up.

  84. Mafalda, I’m half-way between being a bride and a MIL and I think communicating your preferences early (before the venue and date are set, etc.) is appropriate. Our wedding was deferred awaiting my FIL’s recovery from chemo/radiation. I explained to my extended family why the proposed date was uncertain and told them we’d make a final decision ~7 weeks ahead of time, when the oncologist would have better insight about the situation.

    I hope I’m not unique as a bride in trying to balance competing family priorities and hoping that people with less urgent issues will understand. (Our save-the-date was in January, so most of my Midwestern relatives had no urgent plans, given the typical weather.)

  85. “the morning-after brunch for out of town guests”

    We did that. In a conference room at the hotel where we had the reception. We had plenty of time since we were leaving for our honeymoon later that afternoon so it gave us a few hours to mingle with our friends (the older generation(s) were invited but only our parents came and those were cameo appearances) in a more relaxed setting. It spanned enough time to allow those who needed to to sleep off the prior night’s fun.

  86. I’m just back from our staycation and catching up.

    WRT Bruni’s NYT article on EA/ED, it seems to me like a rant.

    He glosses over some key points. E.g., most schools with EA are not SCEA (single choice Early Action, not allowing EA applicants to apply early elsewhere), and most SCEA schools aren’t really SC, they’re private schools that are only SC WRT other private schools. They also allow early applications to other private schools with early deadlines for financial aid.

    So his point is really only against true ED schools.

    EA/ED can really lower the stress levels for kids, and help reduce the escalating madness of kids applying to so many schools because acceptance rates are low. E.g., DS was looking at as many as 12-14 applicataions, but the EA admittance obviated the need to apply to any more safeties, and he’s back to probably 6 apps, 2 of which are mainly for aid possibilities, and 1 was to placate his parents. Similarly, I’ve read many other accounts of kids who are able to trim their app lists a lot once they have at least one acceptance in hand.

    What Bruni doesn’t mention is that many connected with college admissions attribute the prominence of EA/ED in large part to the US News and World Report college ratings and the weight they put on admissions rates.

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