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TherapistMarryAnn, Therapist
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This year I have agreed to celebrate Christmas with my own

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This year I have agreed to celebrate Christmas with my own children, my fiance and his extended family at my house. They have all said yes and I am looking forward to it. I really like them all.

My children (in 20s and still studying) are especially looking forward to celebrating according to our own traditions. We live abroad and my children are bicultural, so we celebrate a Danish Christmas Eve (i.e. church, roast duck afterwards--but no presents) then an American Christmas Day (with early morning stockings and presents). In particular one son is looking forward both to the traditions and particularly the timing (i.e. Christmas on the 25 not the 29th or something), because it will be the first Christmas in 3 or 4 years that does not require (for them) major concessions.

However, it may fall apart :-(. There is an upcoming negotiation to try to save it and I would like advice on appropriate responses.

The problem is that my fiancés two nephews (also late 20’s) wish to celebrate Christmas Eve their way. This means to them the same Danish Christmas eve meal, but no church, present opening Christmas Eve and then staying up all night playing computer games, drinking beer, and generally enjoying themselves.

This is a big thing to ask. It means that we cannot really have an American Christmas at all. The presents will have been opened, but their is more to it than that. We will not be able to sleep the night before Christmas, the house will be a big mess with no real point in having stockings and no real way to make brunch without cleaning up all over again plus nobody will want it as they will only have gone to bed at dawn. Then the presents will have been opened.

I had hoped that they would regard themselves as guests at an anthropologically interesting event in a "foreign culture". That is what my children did last year. Last year I and my children celebrated with his family at his house according to their traditions. It was very nice, except that present opening was unexpectedly painful. My fiance's nephews got so many presents from their own parents, that my children had to sit for two hours and watch, and in fact had been forgotten by them. But the point I wish to make is that my children were gracious and so was I. Our view was that a) this is their Christmas and we are invited to experience how THEY do it. b) when we are guests we pass over painful experiences graciously--because other people's feelings and experiences matter and complaining is negative.

The botXXXXX XXXXXne is that their parents (my fiancés sister and BIL) would like to negotiate some compromise but they imagine this to be that their boys (in early 30s) open their presents Christmas eve. Otherwise they say the boys won't come. And if they boys do not come, their parents, my fiancés sister and BIL, will not come. At that point, my fiancé has indicated that he may not want to come.

I want to be dignified and gracious, but I feel shocked hurt and trampled on. What is an appropriate way to tackle this? I feel it is my house and they have no right even to ask, never mind make demands. I also feel that I do not want to compromise really, because of the cascade of effects.

I am prepared in theory to brainstorm so we both can be happy but I see problems. Could the boys and their parents not go to church? I had hoped they would share because it is a romantic tiny country church—very film—like-- and their parents agreed. But they could open their presents then while the rest go. The main thing for me though is then the living room will be littered with paper and they will want to proceed to enjoying them and partying, etc. while we others are at the night before anticipation stage. Could the boys instead stay at a bed and breakfast and retire there to party all night?? but I doubt noise all night would be accepted there, assuming a B&B is even open??

Should I say you are warmly welcome, but if you cannot come I will understand? Or should I graciously compromise and risk my son’s wrath and disappointment? What are some appropriate principles to use?

Thank you for your help.

Little Mermaid in Denmark

Hi, I'd like to help you with your question.


It sounds like your fiance's family want to do things their way. And if it doesn't go their way, they get upset and refuse to compromise. This is very self centered behavior and it is very natural that you would feel shocked and upset by it. Most people are willing to compromise, especially if they are invited to someone else's home.


When you invite people to you home, you are only expected to be a gracious hostess. By that I mean you make them comfortable, offer them a place to sleep and meals if needed, and you treat them with respect. But your invitation does not require you to give up your home and allow them to overrun your holiday traditions. This is your home, not theirs.


Unfortunately, their point of view seems to be that it's their way or the highway, at their home and yours. This puts you in a bad position. They are being inflexible and not offering to make this easy at all.


A good way to approach this would be to have your fiance deal with his family. He should talk to them, explain that you are happy to have them in your home and that you will be following your family's Christmas traditions. If they refuse to come, then he should let it go.


However you indicated that your fiance is siding with his family. This makes it very difficult for you. Although he should take your side in this situation, he has not so you will have to make the choice of what you want to do. Offering to compromise on some things is a good idea, but not on your family's traditions. Let them know you are sticking to your family's holiday traditions. Let them know you will assist with any compromises they need to make (sleeping elsewhere for instance) but you will not be changing your plans. Then let them decide if they want to come over or not. It is up to them to decide if they can handle being good guests. Giving up your family's traditions will only allow them to feel they can bully you anytime. Then it will set a precedent for years. Stand your ground now and let them see you deserve respect as well.


I hope this has helped you,

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