Let me just start off by saying that overall, the holidays are quite magical.. Good food, friends, family, and wonderful memories being made. At the same time, they can also be a hot-zone of unmet expectations, competing priorities, and emotional tenderness, messy and difficult to navigate.
(For the sake of brevity I'll use "Christmas" as the big day, but of course this is all relevant to your holiday of practice.)
Here are some ways to see your way through.
1. Get really clear about what you want.
Sit down, close your eyes, and - keeping in mind all of the options in front of you - decide what YOUR perfect day would look like. If you've got a partner, make this is a joint discussion. What would look like JOY? What would look like LOVE?
If there are competing desires (i.e. I want to be in both LA and NY for Christmas!), write out everything you want and remember that every YES (I will be in NY!) has a corresponding NO (I won't be in LA). Which options are most aligned with your values and priorities this year?
Do you prefer things quiet and calm? Do you simply want to sit, sip cider, and enjoy the tree for the day? If you have kids, is staying in one place important to how you want their day to flow?
Or do you like things more dynamic? Does it make you happy to bop from house to house, laden with joy and energy and excited to connect with every member of your extended family?
A plan WILL exist -- so be conscious and deliberate about creating one that you're excited about.
2. Banish expectations by creating agreements.
Expectations are killers. They're silent and have only one of two possible outcomes: a. your expectations are MET, in which case you feel pretty neutral because it's what you were expecting; or b. they're not met, leaving you disappointed.
Neutral or disappointed - sounds pretty "meh" to me.
One acute challenge is that around the holidays, a lot of people around us have a LOT of expectations. Change is hard, and when we're aching to switch things up but our Aunt isn't ready for that, tempers can get hot, especially if the change happens without any conversation or discussion.
The solution? Create new agreements. Armed now with confidence in how you want your day to play out, reach out to the relevant parties and have a discussion about your plans. Bring them in. Be honest. Calmly lay out your new plan and ask them if together you can agree about how the holiday is going to look.
3. Oh but what if they push back and are just so horrible about it?
Whelp, this is where the old but true adage comes into play: you can't make everyone happy.
If your mission on Christmas is to make everyone happy ---- good luck with that. You will try, you will grind yourself to the bone with plans and schedules and attempts --- and find at the end of that day that while you might have lived up to others' expectations (leaving them only neutral, remember), you're now full of resentment and exhaustion.
The holidays are about joy and celebration -- so let that start with you. What kind of day would bring YOU joy? Create that for yourself and invite others to be a part of it. If they choose to think that your day is NOT what Christmas should look like, simply let them think that.
Easier said than done, I know, but people's opinions are only painful when we choose to BELIEVE them. Let people think what they choose to think - it is truly not your business.
When I think of holiday changes I'm reminded of my parents. For years they would go to my grandparent's (my dad's folks) house on Christmas. Then my older brother was born, and when he was three or four they realized that they wanted to spend Christmas at their own home with their son and his gifts.
I have to imagine that it was hard for my grandparents that first year when they realized that things were changing. (I know it was hard for MY parents the first year we weren't all together for Christmas).
But I also know that they were wise and loving, that bigger than their disappointment was a love for their children and a respect for and understanding of the ever-evolving nature of life.
Trust that yours have that same understanding.