In a perfect world, we would all be Peter McCallister from “Home Alone.” We would all have grand, picturesque homes where we could celebrate the holidays with family members across the tree. Everyone, well, most everyone, would commune in perfect harmony, no one would berate each other with their politics, and the turkey would be – without a single dry sliver – decadently moist every time.
But in our version, of course, no one would leave Kevin home alone.
Unfortunately, we’re not all Kevin’s dad. Not only can most of us not afford to take our entire families to Paris, not all of us have the privilege of sharing one single holiday celebration with everyone we love, together. In fact, most of us don’t.
Regardless of your situation, whether it’s the result of divorce or marriage or something in between, racing from place to place during the holidays isn’t easy, and it’s not always fun. Take it from someone who falls on both ends of the spectrum – my parents have been divorced most of my life and, you guessed it, I’m engaged.
I thought about asking him if we could take a surprise vacation to escape the imminent ring gapes by presumptuous distant relatives, but then I remembered travelling this time of year is just as treacherous, which means both of our families will all be expecting us. Thankfully, this isn’t my first rodeo, and until human cloning is safely secured, I’ve accumulated some pretty solid best practices for holiday house hopping.
First of all, realise that you can’t — and you won’t — please everyone.
Had I realised this sooner, I may have added a few years to my life. I’ve always spent entirely too much time worrying about pleasing or disappointing others. If you go into this month of chaos knowing you can do your best, and only that, you’ll save yourself some stress, guaranteed.
It might mean that Aunt Jane doesn’t get a Facebook selfie with you this year, but you have to constantly remind yourself that you can’t be in two or more places at once. It’s not possible. I promise.
Do your best to plan ahead.
Although you shouldn’t try to please everyone, you have to be prepared for this time of year. If you all live within driving distance, try asking your respective parties to announce a meeting time as far in advance as possible, so if necessary, you can negotiate without disrupting the event. I’ve found that it works for me to align gatherings with mealtimes, rotating groups at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
There are only three meals in a day, though, so don’t get too attached to a certain date. The calendar doesn’t have to read a certain number for you to be permitted to celebrate with loved ones. Get the most out of the holiday season and spread out your time with others among a week or a few days if you can.
If your folks are more scattered geographically, that’s where you have to get creative. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to establish alternating years for visiting different places. It feels calculated, but in the end, it’s fair. The same can go for significant others and their families if you end up double booked.
But also, remain flexible.
As precise and punctual as your plan may be, pies will be burnt, GPS navigation will fail, and someone will inevitably forget something.
Remember to breathe, and to be as flexible as your parameters will allow. Sometimes, your flexibility may have to extend beyond them, because life happens. In the end, it’s just a holiday dinner, not a royal coronation.
Keep an open line of communication.
It’s a good idea to get in touch with your various hosts prior to the big day. Nothing’s worse than showing up gift-less for a gift exchange or being blindsided by cousin John’s reunion with his questionable ex-girlfriend. Unfortunately, not everyone delivers where notification is due, so it’s your job to make sure you know what to expect.
Don’t be afraid to take a personal year.
My fiance and I have already decided that in the next few years, we will be locking our doors and spending an entire Christmas day together, just the two of us. For an entire day, we won’t step out of our festive pajamas and we’ll hardly leave the couch, where we’ll watch reruns of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and shove our faces with homemade cookies.
That’s just our idea of a holiday season recharge – it may be something different for you. For you it could be planning a trip or spending the day with friends. Remember that you don’t have to allow conventional expectations to run your personal schedule.
In the end, it’s not that bad.
Although there are times I feel like a real live Roadrunner, I try to step back and consider the big picture. I’m thankful to have friends and family that I get to stretch my time for, and for the most part, I enjoy the time I spend as the bouncing hot potato.
But there’s no way I could ever recover fully without a little post-celebration R&R, so pro tip: if you have the ability to, clear your schedule for the day following your all-inclusive holiday extravaganza. You’ll thank yourself later. I know I will.
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