My answer: my ex and I have a fairly fluid arrangement, because we can be civil. My husband and his ex have an arrangement written into the separation agreement in teeny detail because she can't be civil. (Though that is improving hugely in recent years. I attribute this to the fact that she now has (thank GOD) a boyfriend...)
Our holiday usually goes like this:
4 days with just my kids; 4 days with all 8 of our blended kids; 4 days with just his, and then, because he takes his lot to visit grandparents, I very often got a few precious, precious days on my own. Now my kids are with me full-time over Christmas, I guess that means those days will be just me and my two youngest. (The oldest will have gone back to her own city by then.)
After all that, what I REALLY want is a week off to myself, but what I really get is to GO BACK TO WORK. Woo[expletive deleted]hoo..
But I do love Christmas. Somehow, I really, really do.
We do an early Christmas with my family the week before, then our big kids come up the day after Christmas, and stay with us through their winter holidays (usually about 2 weeks). Sometimes, my in-laws come up and spend the holiday with us as well, but this year they have guests in town, so it's just us and our kids. On Christmas itself, we open one present each with the little kids (that's their one present from Santa), and we save the rest to open when their big siblings get here. This will be the first year that neither my husband nor I have to work on Christmas Day -- yay for seniority! -- so we'll be having dinner with my little brother, who is hosting his in-laws for the first time ever...
My son was already 18 by the time the first post-divorce holiday season came around, so anything written into an agreement wouldn't have mattered by then anyway. While he was in university, he went to his dad's for Thanksgiving - it was closer, just across the state - and came to California for Christmas with me, through New Year's. Now that he's graduated, moved, and has a girlfriend, his dad didn't get Thanksgiving this year - they went to his girlfriend's family - but I'll still get Christmas! For now, anyway. Since his life's evolving and we live across the country from each other, I'm taking it one year at a time with him.
My husband and his ex have an annual rotation of the major holidays. What makes it a little crazy is that they trade off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. This year, the Eve is with their mom, until 8:30 AM Christmas Day, at which time their dad picks them up to bring them to our house. We won't open any gifts until after they arrive. Then we have them with us till 8:30 the following morning, when their dad will drop them off on his way to work.
On the years that the kids are with us for the Eve, we have to get up really early to finish opening gifts before they have to be back at their mom's house (8:30 AM) for the Day.
The last couple of years, we've all gone down to my husband's mother's house on Christmas Day, so the kids have seen both parents that day regardless of whose day it "officially" was. This year, though, mother-in-law is coming to us, since my husband and I both have to work on the 26th, and I didn't want us to have to drive down to her house (2+ hours) and back on the same day, and I don't think the kids' mother will be joining us.
My stepkids' mom's office closes down from Christmas through New Year's, so she has daytime detail during that week of school break, and my husband and I take vacation days the first week of January to cover the second week.
Listen to us! As if holidays are complicated enough... But I can never feel too sincere in any complaints: I had more time to myself after the divorce, with regularly scheduled kid-free weekends than I ever had while married.
For quite a few years, Florinda, we also did the switchover on Christmas morning, though it was always from my house to their dad's, never the other way around. We'd have our Christmas Eve traditional dinner of delivery Chinese food, and then breakfast, stockings, then gifts. By the time their dad came for them at ten, to take them to their grandparents for the second half of the vacation, they were ready to go.
It worked well. My two younger are with me full-time now, however, and I've no regrets about that!
My husband always feels gyped (sp?) during the holidays. We either have his two boys until 9pm on Christmas Eve or until 10am on Christmas morning (it rotates from year to year). We never have them for all of Christmas while his ex gets them for all Christmas every other year (the result of lawyers). So our thing is Christmas Eve. We have a party and open presents then. Santa still comes on Christmas morning to fill stockings, but every other year they have to wait until New Year's Day to find out what they got in their stockings.
Liz: I can understand your husband's feelings. My husband is only allowed Christmas day with his kids one year in four, and that only with quite a bit of notice. (I forget exactly how much.) Thankfully for us, we're not sentimental about the exact date on the calendar, and we are happy to have our Christmas on the day or two before. But even so, to be told you may not have Christmas with your own child is galling.
The kids, however, have a totally different perspective. I know my stepkids quite like the extended Christmas. First at their mom's, then with us, then a trip to grandparents. It's like three Christmases instead of one, and they've always seen it as one of the perks of the divorce!
Christmas is mostly just a pain in the butt in my opinion. This Christmas was particularly bad and we'll definitely have better planning for next year! Previous Christmases (2005 & 2006) we had my step-daughter on Christmas Eve and that seemed to work out much better. This was our first year having her on Christmas Day and it didn't quite flow right. We're not sure yet what the new plan will be, but it will definitely either disappoint my family or my husband's family. The other thing that was a problem is that my step-daughter's mom said she'd meet my husband at the normal switch-off location at 6:30pm, but then didn't show up until almost 7:30pm! So for an hour on Christmas Eve my husband was sitting in from of a gas station. Oh, and just poor planning on the part of grandparents and poor communication between my husband and me also added to the stress. Seeing as I didn't know we were supposed to go visit his parents on Christmas Day until Christmas Eve!
Communication gaps are a pain, and they're really obvious in a blended family, when they can be so emotionally loaded. An hour in the car on Christmas Eve is no fun. As for the gaps between you and your husband, maybe a family calendar, where all holiday obligations are written down? It works (pretty much) for our family.