It should go without saying that I’ve survived some hot-mess holiday gatherings in my day. From my own family’s eccentric take on Christmas (nothing says “Happy Holidays” like drunken debates over who has a cooler biker tat — gotta love the Midwest), to one Easter spent avoiding the pill-popping, undwear flashing mom of a serious ex, I’ve seen it all and lived to tell about it.
But if this is your first time celebrating the season with your sweetie and their family, you need to prepare for the worst, bite your tongue and always, always, ALWAYS have a well thought out exit strategy.
Let’s take a look at some basic primers for the holidays that I’ve based around where you are in your relationship:
1-3 Months: You’re totally in serious like/lust, can’t get enough of each other, and the very thought of being separated even for just a few days freaks both of you out. Ignore this and DO NOT SPEND THE HOLIDAYS TOGETHER! It’s too early in the game and it’s going to cause undue stress on both of you considering you still haven’t nailed down the nuances of your relationship. If you ARE tempted, keep it brief, don’t let yourself be seperated from your honey and whatever you do, DON’T ENGAGE HIS FAMILY/FRIENDS ALONE. They’re going to say things and ask questions that you don’t have the answers to that will sadly lead to a boozy holiday fight with your new boo. (“Why does your mom still have a picture of you and your ex in the living room?!? What? They still talk and go to lunch together?!? You never told me about that!) Ugh, been there/done that.
4-8 Months: OK, you’ve made it official, you’re totally a couple and (hopefully) you know all the highs and lows that happened before you two hooked up. It’s fine to stop by his fam’s house to say “hi,” but keep it short and sweet. Also, don’t make a major blunder and assume that bringing food or wine is a no-brainer. For all you know, his sister has a seafood or nut allery (there goes your mom’s famous peanut crab puffs) and Aunt Margaret is a total alkie who can’t resist the siren song of your cheap drugstore pinot.
9 Months to 1 Year: Gifts. They’re inevitable. Each of your families are now invested in you as couple, so it’s important to have a simple gift like a nice candle or coffee/tea basket at the ready you can hand off if caught unawares. Also, murmurs of “engagement” and “when is he going to put a ring on it already?” will follow you from family party to family party, so have a pat statement prepared. In these trying economic times, you can pretty much shut anybody down with a simple, “We’re paying down our bills first so we don’t have any debt hanging over our heads” and know it will be met with approving nods.
1 Year or More: There’s no escaping the marriage and baby questions at this point. Just roll with it and expect you’ll most likely be cornered by various aunts, uncles and cousins on both sides for the duration of the holiday. BTW, you’re now an “official” member of the family, so it’s a given you’ll be asked to help set the table, do dishes, burp babies, entertain the nieces and nephews, and various other tasks that will put your new holiday outfit at risk. Also, don’t drink too much and say something you might regret. Yes, you’re feeling pretty comfortable with your new status, but it’s still not going to sit well if you rag on Bill O’Reilly in a roomful of Republicans or snap when somebody makes a racist joke. My advice? Feign a migraine, hit the road, and head back home to your own, comfortable familial dysfunction.