New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are my personal favorite holidays. There’s so much promise on the first day of the year and, most of the time, you can spend it recovering from New Year’s Eve. Perhaps the best part is that the New Year is celebrated with friends and strangers, not family. Don’t get me wrong, my family has some of my favorite people in the world, but there’s so much less negotiating involved in December 31st plans compared to December 25th plans.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to find love in the past year, the holiday season is often when things get serious. If you just started dating in the fall, you likely won’t have to worry about introducing your new sweetheart to your family and your traditions or getting involved in theirs. If your relationship has been around for a few seasons though, this question has likely already reared its head: “What are we doing for the holidays?”
Do either of you actually celebrate an end-of-year holiday?
It’s possible all of this is irrelevant. If you don’t celebrate on any of the myriad of holidays in December (Hanukkah, Rohatsu/Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice and Yule, HumanLight, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Zartosht No-Diso are all in the same 4 week period, and that list is not exhaustive), it’s okay to skip them all!
If you have spare days off work, consider doing something important to the two of you. It might be volunteering, enjoying nature, or watching all three “Lord of the Rings” movies. You can have a special day bonding with your partner without anything on the calendar.
A few years ago, our Christmas Day plans got ruined by a blizzard, and we ended up watching “Die Hard” in our pajamas. It was an awesome Christmas.
When you celebrate different holidays
If your partner celebrates a holiday that you don’t, get to know what it means to them. How do they celebrate? Holiday traditions can be as chill as doing additional meditation on Bodhi Day or as extra as a days-long Christmas bash — it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into if you’re invited. Your partner might feel passionate about you attending with them, in which case, you should put in the effort.
Keep in mind, you shouldn’t attend a celebration you’re uncomfortable with. If Solstice is an all-night outdoor vigil, and you know your body can’t handle that, bow out. If you find you’re opposed to a holiday or ritual for a moral reason of any kind, investigate what makes you uncomfortable and whether this is a dealbreaker going forward.
Keep an open dialogue with your partner — you may need to do some of your own reading and investigating. If you’re all in for whatever celebration is planned, make sure to ask about rules and customs. You might need to be dressed conservatively for Midnight Mass or show proper respect for elders.
If you have a holiday tradition that your partner doesn’t celebrate, consider whether having them with you is important. If you’re early-on in a relationship and your celebration is especially intimate or sacred, will they feel uncomfortable? Will you (or your family) feel intruded-upon? If someone else is hosting the celebration, be sure to consult them on whether your guest would be welcome.
A good in-between option is to plan a small version of the celebration for the two of you to introduce them to the customs and exchange gifts, if that’s part of your tradition. Then, they’ll be prepared for next year!
Be sure to think of anything they may need to bring, wear, or do. For example, if you do a science book exchange for HumanLight, make sure your partner knows if they need to bring one. Don’t let them show up empty-handed! Better yet, buy books for both of you to give, so they don’t have to worry about it.
If you have overlapping traditions
For me, a Scandinavian holiday called Lille Julaften December 23rd-24th are now non-negotiable. When I was married, I hated being away from my family on those days, even though I got along really well with my in-laws. I’m still a little salty years later about the holidays I missed with my extended family. Celebrating holidays together as a married couple was deeply important to me — so much so that I’d missed those Christmases with my family to be with him.
When my (now ex) husband chose to celebrate Thanksgiving several states away with a “new friend” instead of me, I knew I needed a divorce. I moved out before Christmas and spending it with my family without any negotiating or compromise was just what I needed to start my new life.
Now, a little older and wiser (and yes, long divorced), my partner and his kiddos come with me to those celebrations, or I go by myself. Sometimes this means I miss some of my partner’s Christmas celebration with his family. For us and our relationship, that’s okay. He doesn’t feel anywhere near as intense about being with his family on the day as I do. While I love him and my step-kids deeply, I don’t feel as rigid about having them with me.
It’s possible that you and your partner are fine with switching off on Christmas Morning celebrations with even and odd years! Maybe you do a few nights of Hanukkah with one family and a few with the other. Finding out what works (or doesn’t work) in your relationship through honest and upfront conversation might feel awkward, but it’s absolutely worth it. Do you have to commit to spending every other Kwanzaa with your partner’s family if you’ve only been dating four months? Of course not. But talking it through and discussing the importance of those celebrations will go a long way in building your relationship.