The harvest is over, the pumpkins passed by and what lies ahead as prelude to the long, glittering run from Thanksgiving to Christmas is the Family Argument.
"Over the hills and through the woods to grandmother's house we go. ... " But whose grandmother's? Will it be mine or thine and if Thanksgiving is spent with thine, is it agreed that on Christmas Day we will settle in with mine? It is never agreed, not quite. It is reluctantly accepted and awkwardly arbitrated that, though one can relax with Easter, escape to the country on Memorial Day, insist on solitude for the patriotic pops of the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas are family days when all traditions must be accommodated.
Many a marriage has tumbled toward the holidays much the worse for wear simply because one couple cannot figure out how to divide themselves between two family dinners.
Those who marry orphans may be exempt, but all other couples -- and some singles as well -- quickly learn how difficult it is to bring about a change in holiday traditions. But, oh, how they yearn to.
It is difficult enough when the argument is simply the competing claims of parents, with the richer set not above bribing the newlyweds with free plane tickets. It becomes more difficult as babies arrive and what one really wants to do is stay at home.
Still, scattered as we have become, someone must go flying across the country to bring about the holiday reunions and too often it is the new little family, draped with diaper bags and totes full of toys, heading off to her parent's house while his parents stew.
This year those who are still slaves to the His or Hers debate, should make a determined effort to slide out from under by establishing a new family tradition.
First of all, accept the fact that no matter how much one mother pretends to like the other mother, there is a line at which liking stops and that is the one drawn around Christmas Day. Thanksgiving will be sacrificed, though rarely in good grace, but Christmas Day remains sacrosanct.
Accept also that unless both halves of the couple are only children and both sets of families can be merged at one house, there is no compromise that will make everyone happy. The usual solution of spending Thanksgiving with her family and Christmas with his this year, and reversing the order next year will simply mean that mothers will sulk on alternate years. Thanksgiving, nice as it is, is too far from the tinsel and presents to really count.
Thanksgiving, therefore, can belong to you. You can have one enormous family party, inviting everyone who cares to come, or you can share the meal with friends or you can stay at home with Turkey for Two and the football game.
To make the holidays a time of pleasure instead of a time of quarrels, you must invent an entirely new holiday, assigning one family the old, traditional Christmas, and the other family this brand new celebration. Arbor Day will not do. It must be a holiday that falls in December and takes advantage of the festive season. The new holiday must be the permanent possession of only one family. No switching back and forth because in order for it to work, the new day must come to seem as special as Christmas, even better, perhaps, as it is a secret holiday created and shared by only one family.
There are many festivities leading up to and trailing along after Christmas -- St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, St. Lucia Day on Dec. 13, the Mexican Posada on the 16th, New Year's Eve at the end of the month, and Twelfth Night on Jan. 6.
Whichever holiday you choose, it should be turned into a great celebration that can rival Christmas. It could be a festive dinner on St. Nicholas's Eve, with a retelling of the story of how legend credited him with leaving bags of gold for little girls who might otherwise have been sold into slavery. The children set out their shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas and during the night, the saint fills the shoes with gifts.
It could be a celebration of Santa Lucia Day, where the oldest girl in the family appears early in the morning, wearing a white robe tied with a red sash, her head aglow with a crown of candles, as she brings everyone coffee and saffron buns.
It could be a festive Mexican dinner to celebrate the Posada, which reenacts Mary's and Joseph's search for shelter, and which traditionally has a pinåata (filled with gifts) that children take turns trying to break.
It could be an annual New Year's Eve dinner celebrated by the family, with sentimental songs to dance to, formal dress for everyone, even the children, a crystal bowl filled with small presents wrapped in gold paper, and tied with silver cords stretching from the bowl to each of the dinner plates, and enough champagne to toast the new year in.
Now is the time to propose the alternate celebration, so that everyone who will take part can put their minds to creating a holiday with a whole new set of traditions.
If you propose it in a proper fashion and take the time to make it special, in a year or two it will be the family that has been allotted Christmas Day that will feel left out.