The Joy of “Usmas”: Real Couples Share Stories of a Holiday Just for Two

published Dec 19, 2016
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(Image credit: Reagen Taylor)

With all the hustle and bustle of the season, it can be hard to actually enjoy the holidays. Between traveling, seeing family, gift shopping, hosting and attending dinners and parties and more, there’s so much potential for stress to bog you down. It can be especially difficult when you’re part of a couple, because that usually means doubling everything—double the travel and family visits, double the dinners and parties to attend, and of course, more gifts to buy.

All that holiday stress can put a strain on your relationship, so it’s important to take some time to really celebrate together. We asked couples what their traditions are, and how they spend quality time with each other during the holidays. If you don’t already have a cute tradition to look forward to every year, these stories will definitely inspire you—and melt away any winter-y frustration you’re already feeling!

We plan for post-holiday time alone (and no, penguins don’t count as “people”):

“We each have a large family in a different state. For the last several years we’ve visited both at the holidays, flying on Christmas morning and hoping to make it north in time for turkey. But after a double dose of holiday cheer, we need time to recover. Hence, we created Usmas: a holiday for just us. Sometimes we travel someplace secluded, sometimes we go for a hike and cook something fancy.

One year we just went to the aquarium and looked at penguins. (It’s okay to celebrate with penguins. Penguins aren’t people.) This year, we moved across the country, so we’re heading back to visit our old neighborhood… oh yeah, and we have Hamilton tickets! How we celebrate changes depending on how much energy we have left. The key thing is that there’s no one else around. We’re usually ready for human interaction again in time to host a New Year’s Eve-Eve party on the 30th, where absolutely no counting down to anything is permitted.”

— Victoria and Kevin in Seattle, WA

We decorate the tree together and watch a classic movie:

“While being around family during the holidays is lovely, my new husband and I love to get as much Christmas celebrating as we can with just the two of us. A tradition we’ve created is to watch White Christmas while decorating our tree. Living in Los Angeles where there is no snow or winter look can make it tough to feel Christmasy, but a classic Christmas movie and a decorated tree can remedy that.”

— Leslie and Tim in Los Angeles, CA

(Image credit: Elissa Crowe)

We have a special celebration on Christmas Eve-eve:

“It’s nothing revolutionary or complex, but it’s our favorite moment of the year: Every December 23rd, before the hustle and bustle of family obligations set in, my husband and I exchange gifts—and then slow dance alone, in the living room, to Vince Guaraldi’s ‘Christmastime is Here.'”

— Danielle and Jeremy in Philadelphia, PA

We use ornaments to reminisce about our relationship:

“For the past four years, my boyfriend and I developed a holiday tradition around our Christmas tree. We live in California but both grew up on the East Coast. We go back East separately to spend the holidays with our respective families since it’s one of the few times during the year we get to see them. Because we spend most of December back East, we didn’t want to get a large Christmas tree.

Instead, we head to Whole Foods and buy a small tree about 3 feet high, already in its stand and easy to clean up when the season is over. Then each year we’ve been together, we purchase 1 or 2 ornaments each to decorate our little tree. We only choose ornaments that represent us in some way. For example, I have a Philadelphia Eagles ornament, since I’m a big football fan. My boyfriend has a guitar ornament since he plays the instrument. Now, when it’s that time of year, we get excited to pull our ornaments out of storage and decorate our special little tree. It’s a cool little memento of our committed relationship, and we established the tradition before we moved in together.”

— Michelle and Vu in San Francisco, CA

We spend a day checking out champion gingerbread houses:

“Since we met in college in Asheville and began dating, we made it a tradition to go walk around the Grove Park Inn every December to see the National Gingerbread House Competition Display. They decorate the Inn with dozens of beautiful christmas trees and the gingerbread houses are displayed throughout the entire place. We always get a yummy holiday themed drink at the bar and walk around to see them all, then lounge in the rocking chairs by the massive fires on either end of the great room. It is the sweetest (literally) way to get into the holiday spirit every year with each other in the city that we fell in love.”

— Erin and Christian in Asheville, NC

(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

We take tacky decorations and cheesy pop songs seriously:

“Caitlin is very serious about her Christmas tree decorating, and I am very serious about my Christmas pop songs (a la Mariah Carey, ‘N Sync, etc.) We love everything tacky and flamboyant about Christmas, so we decorate the tree together with lots of dollar store tinsel and glitter and lights, and sing along to those songs.

Caitlin and I also take a separate day to celebrate just the two of us. It’s hard for us to keep secrets and since both of our birthdays are only two weeks away from Christmas (mine is two weeks before, and hers is two weeks after) it makes it even harder but way more fun! Last year we spoiled all of our Christmas surprises early, due in part because we figured out that we had BOTH bought each other two tickets to see Beyonce at Citi Field! After that, we decided to get each other gifts that totaled no more than $10 to open closer to Christmas. It forced us to get creative and we had a lot of fun doing it. That may have to become a tradition if we keep spoiling the surprises!”

— Angela and Caitlin in Harlem, NY

We celebrate the year with a special ornament:

“Christmas has always been my absolute favorite time of the year (so much so that my husband and I were married on December 20th) so when it comes to traditions, we have many. This is my favorite: Every year my husband and I buy an ornament that commemorates that specific year. Sometimes there are more than one—if we’ve traveled multiple places, we’ll buy an ornament from each place—and other times it’s just something big that’s happened, like the hand blown glass ornament for our first “married” Christmas, the ski chair for when we moved to Colorado, the bronze key for when we bought our first house, etc.

With each ornament we hang on our Christmas tree, we’re reminded of the amazing adventures we’ve had together and normally end up spending the rest of the evening swapping “do you remember that time when…” stories. I look forward to it every year!”

— Courtney and Jordan in Atlanta, GA

(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

We set aside Christmas night for gratitude:

“My husband and I have one small, special tradition for the holidays. We celebrate Christmas and do the regular things like have a tree. We see family and friends on Christmas eve. We go to church on Christmas morning. Christmas night is our time together. We have a book of Christmas stories—we each read one story to the other, then we write checks to charities rather than exchanging presents. We each get to pick a charity or two and do the online donations. Then we watch It’s A Wonderful Life and remember the past year and all that we are grateful for.”

— Kerry and Aaron in Littleton, CO

We make a tradition of helping others:

“Each year my husband and I seek out a family in need to support during the holidays. We buy gifts for each family member and groceries for a week. We enjoy picking out gifts for the family and knowing we can help in this small way. In the past this has helped reduce holiday stress between us as a couple because it puts the reason we celebrate the holidays back into perspective. This is actually the tradition I look forward to most at the holidays. I hope to involve our children in this tradition eventually too!”

— Rachel and Cory in Celina, OH

We make a pit stop back home in the middle of our travels:

“Both of our sets of parents live three hours away in separate directions. So mine are in Chicago, and his are in southern Indiana. We usually start Christmas celebrations in Chicago, drive back home to Indianapolis for Christmas Day, and then go to southern Indiana. On Christmas Day, we spend the day with just each other and eat Chinese food. That’s ended up being our tradition since we got married. We also buy each other an ornament for our tree every year. Last year, I bought him a BB-8 ornament because Star Wars came out, and he bought me Snoopy as Sherlock Holmes, which are two of my favorite things in one ornament.”

— Tracy and Andrew in Indianapolis, IN

Now it’s your turn! Do you have any holiday traditions—just for you two? Share your stories in the comments.