No matter how you slice the traditional pie, the holidays can be a stressful time of year. There’s the traffic, which on Long Island is always bad, but is somehow amped up once the Christmas lights go up. Then there’s the human traffic in places like the mall or supermarket, where a trip to either at the wrong time can reduce you to a quivering puddle of anxious nerves.
Perhaps nowhere is holiday stress more profoundly felt than on the hyper-local level—at home, surrounded by an at-times overbearing family. Yet, year after year, you muddle through somehow, taking each comment with a grain of salt and a splash of rum-spiked eggnog. The main reason you’re able to get through the holidays with your family is because it’s familiar ground. You know what to expect and precisely what you need to do in order to navigate the holidays as peacefully as possible, while actually having a heart-warming and merry-old time.
That all changes when you’re in a full-time, committed relationship. When you’re a newly engaged or newlywed couple spending the holidays together for the first time, you might have to begin splitting time between your family and theirs during the holiday season. This means venturing into uncharted territory with vastly diverse traditions, unexpected hot-button topics, and distinctly different familial foibles—all of which could lead to some awkward silences with their family and under-the-table nudging from your partner.
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid any unfortunate incidents and survive your first Christmas with your in-laws—all it takes is some thoughtfulness, preparedness, and a good-natured willingness to roll with the punches. Here are some dos and don’ts to remember when you spend your first holiday with your partner’s family.
Do: Plan Ahead
First things first, make a plan with your partner about how exactly you want to spend the holiday. It’s important that the two of you are on the same page regarding where you would like to be during your first holiday as a married couple. Decide if you want to spend Christmas Eve with your family and Christmas Day with theirs or vice versa. You can also alternate holiday celebration locations by year. Working together to come up with a clear plan that makes sense and feels fair to both of you will lay the foundation for happy holidays—and a happy marriage!
Don’t: Get Greedy
Remember that marriage is a partnership and both you and your spouse deserve a say in all major decisions, including where you spend your holidays. You might feel as though there’s no way you can miss out on family time during Christmas, but your partner might feel the same about Christmastime at their home. Conversely, your partner might not want to spend any time with their family at all! You should always take your partner’s feelings into account no matter what time of year it is, but especially the holidays as it can be a particularly touchy topic for some people.
Do: Pitch In
Once the decision is made to spend the holiday at your in-laws, it’s time to get down to business. Offer to help with every aspect of preparation, whether its cooking, food shopping, decorating or cleaning up when all is said and done. In fact, assisting with any random task that pops up could endear you to the entire family and be a great way for you to forge a bond with your spouse’s family and demonstrate that you’re willing to assume the role as an active member of their family, rather than just another houseguest.
Don’t: Be Overbearing
It’s one thing to lend a helping hand, but it’s quite another to step on everyone’s toes and take over entirely. Chances are your partner’s family has its own way of doing things—and it’s likely that their holiday process comes from years of tried and true traditions. Maybe your family stuffs its holiday bird, but your partner’s family might prefer to prepare the stuffing in a separate dish. This is one of many examples of how your two families might diverge from each other’s traditions. The point is, it’s important to remember that just because you’re used to one way of doing things, it doesn’t mean you should force that belief on anyone—especially your in-laws! Which brings us to the next “do”....
Do: Embrace Their Traditions
You’ve gotten married and now you’re officially part of the family, so it’s time to enthusiastically get on board with any holiday traditions they may celebrate—no matter how silly, odd, sappy, or even mundane they may seem. Whether that means playing charades with the extended family in the living room or assisting your mother-in-law in the construction of a gingerbread house or holding court over the youngster at the kids’ table, participating in your spouse’s family traditions shows that you’re ready to be part of their family.
Don’t: Compare Your Traditions To Theirs
As stated earlier, every family has its own way of celebrating the holidays—the absolute last thing you want to do is turn the holiday season into a “who celebrates better” contest. When you’re sitting at the dinner table, you definitely don’t want to begin espousing on how much better your family’s linens are or how your family uses only the finest crystal glassware. If you find those thoughts dancing through your head, do yourself and your spouse a favor and keep it to yourself! Belittling how your in-laws celebrate or blurting out how much your family spends on Christmas dinner is rude and will only serve to strain your relationship with your spouse and their family.
Do: Be Easygoing and Have Fun
As the newest member of the family, there’s a good chance you’re going to have to endure some good-natured ribbing by your in-laws. Try not to be overly sensitive—instead roll with the jokes and even give a little back. If you show a willingness to tease back (within reason), your in-laws will probably like that much more! However, if you begin to feel uncomfortable, pull your spouse aside and tell them. It will be much easier for them to defuse any unfortunate situations in relative privacy than in an out-in-the-open blow out. Just remember, the holidays should be a cheerful and merry time, so keep the good times rolling! Just don’t go too far….
Don’t: Drink Too Much
Enjoying a few alcoholic beverages are a great way to ease the tension and break the ice when you find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings. But be careful—overdoing it with booze can have disastrous results! The lowered inhibitions due to alcohol—which can be beneficial to a point—could make for very uncomfortable moments when you’re surrounded by people with diverse and varying beliefs. The last thing you want to do is start an alcohol-fueled argument with your in-laws! And if you go way over the line and become a sloppy, drunken mess, it’s a humiliation you might never recover from in your in-laws’ eyes! So, tread lightly!
Be Merry And Bright!
When you’re a part of a newlywed couple, there are certain adjustments that are inevitable. And one of those is changing the way you celebrate holidays. Always be respectful and accommodating to your partner and their family, but also remember that the holidays are a time for having a good time. Strike the right balance and the time you spend at your in-laws can become a pleasant tradition on its own!