However, once you're married separating for the holidays means imminent divorce and custody battles so that wasn't an option. Last year was our first year spending the holidays together (even though we weren't yet married) and we (meaning I) spent hours coming up with a equitable holiday schedule that would allow everyone equal time.
My parents live almost 7 hours away from us and his parents are about 3 hours away. By virtue of distance we see his parents way more than we see my mine. DH also has tons of mandatory small town or family functions that require us to spend a weekend in his hometown. He also misses the farming life so he tries to go home as much as possible in order to soak up a dose of cow manure and tractor driving before returning to his boring semi-rural suburbia existence.
Both of us are lucky in that we get 2 weeks off at Christmas, me because I'm a teacher and we get tons of time off which delays the progression of our insanity and inevitable commitment to a mental institution. Usually engineers don't get a full two weeks off since employers already know how insane they are and figure no amount of time away from work will fix it, but DH manages to save his vacation days each year to get an extended break.
The schedule that we worked out gave Thanksgiving to one family (which rotated each year). We split Christmas break into three sections. The first section includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the family that didn't have us for Thanksgiving gets that one. We leave on the 26th for the next destination (whoever we saw at Thanksgiving) and then we head to our home on the 31st which allows us to spend New Years together. We got engaged on New Years so it is our special day together. By coming home then we have at least a few days before I have to go back to work which lets us get the house back in order and catch up on chores before getting back to work.
Of course the schedule isn't perfect and this year it got all messed up. Last year was the first Christmas I spent away from my family and I was miserable. This year was my year and I was super excited! However, DH's hometown Christmas pageant fell on the 19th and heaven forbid we miss that (one of those mandatory small town things) so the schedule ended up getting shuffled around. We spent the 19th-24th at his parent's house and on the 24th we made the 9.5 hour drive from his parents to mine. We're spending the 24th-31st at my parent's house which means they get to see us more this year (talk about hurt feelings!). So much for keeping it equitable.
Essentially instead of getting to relax and spend time together over the holidays DH and I spend two weeks traipsing around the country spending a few hundred dollars in gas in order to please everyone. We live out of my SUV which, by the time we head home, is filled to the roofline with stuff we picked up along the way (our luggage, xmas gifts, stuff from sales and the collection of old junk both sets of parents insist on gifting us with every time we come). Our relaxing New Years is spent unloading the car, unpacking, settling ourselves and one exhausted dog back into the routine of home and gulping down dinner from the gas station before falling asleep in front of the tv. Last year we managed to stay up until 10:30! Big partiers we aren't! Forget going to a fun New Years party, after two weeks of living out of a suitcase I'm excited to stay home and never leave the house again.
I'm thankful that we get to see everyone and that both sets of parents work with us without too much guilt (honestly most of the guilt I feel is self-imposed), but it does make for a stressful trip. Life would be so much easier if we all lived closer to each other. It would be a dream come true to get both sides together for a holiday (even one of the smaller ones-like Fourth of July) or to spend part of the day at each before returning to our own home at night. It would also be awesome to maybe host our own small holiday party (not sure I'm ready for the responsibility of the big show yet). If we saw our parents year round for nightly suppers or church on Sunday's it might make for less pressure during the holiday season to cram in as much time as possible with both sides. We do the best we can with the time we have, but it's not a perfect solution.