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Caroline Rules: Holiday Planning

Tips for Surviving Seasonal Stress

Caroline Manzo puts the real in The Real Housewives of New Jersey, and her fans relate to the reality star's no-nonsense attitude, focus on family and, above all, abundant common sense. Check back at Glo every Monday as Caroline helps solve your most pressing dilemmas.

The Dilemma: Sure, the holiday season won't officially start for another month, but as the wreaths and tinsel make their yearly debut in stores, it's hard not to start thinking about our winter plans. And, no doubt, many of our families are asking the same big question: Where will you be spending Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, etc. this year? Which makes us wonder: How can one be "fair" during the holidays to her own and her spouse's family? It is necessary to spend equal time with both sides every year? Is it ever appropriate to skip the whole family gathering for a smaller, just-the-two-of-us celebration? Or should you try to get both sides of the family to do one huge get-together? It seems like someone will always be disappointed, no matter what, so how do you break the news of your plans without hurting anyone's feelings?

Caroline's Ruling: Oh, the holidays … fun, food, laughter, family and stress. Am I the only one who sits and wonders what happened to the simplicity of it all? When did the holidays become so stressful? Wait a minute, I think I know … it started happening right about the time I got married and had kids!

Remember when Halloween was fun? The biggest worry we had was whether we should use the plastic pumpkin or go all out and bust out the biggest pillowcase we could find to fill to the rim with candy. I remember dressing the kids in their costumes for school and praying that they'd be in one piece when I picked them up to make the rounds. The rounds included stopping at every relative's and friend's house within a 20-mile radius! God forbid Aunt Tillie didn't see them in costume! It was torture! Guess what? I look at old photos now, and they make me smile. I have pictures of my kids with all the people who meant so much to me in my life that have since passed on. Priceless.

When Al and I were first married we used to split the day. Dinner at one house, dessert at another. It wasn't so bad as our families lived within a reasonable distance. The key word is reasonable. To spend most of the day traveling from one home to another makes absolutely no sense. It only adds pressure to what should be a relaxing time. So how do you deal with it? First of all, look at your individual situation. How far do you need to travel? What expenses, if any? If you have children, how much of a strain will traveling be on them and with them? Bottom line, on a scale of 1 to 10, how big of an issue is it? You decide what number tips the scale.

Another concept is having one big celebration! Come one, come all! I like those the best; who doesn't love a party house? I am a firm believer in an open-door policy on the holidays. What's the big deal? You set another place at the table and peel a few more potatoes … so what?

In life things change: We grow up and have children of our own. The worries change, responsibilities shift. It's a cycle. Our parents get older and we take over where they left off. Get your apron out and start cooking!

There's nothing like waking up on a holiday and smelling moms cooking. To this very day there are certain smells that bring me right back to that moment in time. It means so much to me to give my children that same experience. Tradition, people, let's keep it alive!

The bottom line is this: There will be times when it just isn't possible to visit everyone. Use your head, basic common sense. You can't please them all, but why hurt someone's feelings unnecessarily. If you have to drive 20 minutes out of your way to see Grandma, make the trip. That visit will mean more to her than you could ever imagine. Also, whether or not you like your in-laws should have absolutely no bearing on where you spend the holiday. Suck it up. Remember, your significant other loves them and is loved in return by them. No one ever wins in the game of spite.

Last but certainly not least, holidays are meant to be spent with people you love. I've said it many, many times before: In my family we love big, we laugh big, we fight big, and we always make up. It all usually happens around the holiday table. I wouldn't change it for the world.

And don't forget to take lots of pictures and video! They will be one of your greatest treasures some day.

  • From marriage dilemmas to family issues, Caroline's got the answers!

    Photo by Michael T. Greco
Caroline Rules: Holiday Planning
Tips for Surviving Seasonal Stress
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