Sunday, November 11, 2012

How to Survive Your First Holiday With the In-Laws

It's the middle of November, and the holiday season is just around the corner. Department stores have had their Christmas inventory out since August, Thanksgiving plans are already set in stone, and those of us who are in college are beginning to experience pre-mature graying due to the stress of our upcoming final exams.

And for you newlyweds (or those of you with a new fiance/significant other/etc), you also may be preparing to celebrate a holiday with your darling spouse's family for the first time.

Last year, Justin and I spent Thanksgiving with his family, and Christmas with mine, so thankfully, we've already got that milestone under our belt! So I thought, with some help from a few wise friends (thank you, ladies!), I'd put together a few tips and tricks to surviving that first slightly awkward holiday with the "other side" of the family.

If you'll be a guest...

This may be the first time you'll be with his family while they're all together, and it's probably safe to say that there's going to be at least a few relatives you haven't met yet in attendance. And on top of all that, you don't have the comfort of experiencing it on your own turf. It's okay to be a little bit terrified. Just take a deep breath, and some of this advice, to heart:

"I think a big thing is just forcing yourself to keep calm. After all, it takes two people for an un-enjoyable moment or conversation to be a big fight." -Nikki, Pennsylvania

Keep calm. Easier said than done, but good advice, none-the-less. Thanksgiving last year was terrifying for me. I suffer from pretty severe social anxiety (due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder...but that's for another post), and my husband has a big family. Mine may be twice as loud, but they're mine, and there's half as many. Being in a completely new environment with completely new people was very trying for me.

Look to your spouse if you start to feel overwhelmed. You may feel all alone in the crowd, but your spouse is your link to everyone else in the room. Just make sure that if you're feeling shy, that your spouse is going to take initiative by making introductions, etc.

And when it comes to those touchy topics that always seem to pop up during family dinners: STAY OUT OF THEM. You may have a great, insightful opinion about politics, or the Westboro Baptist Church, or global warming, but this is not the time to shine the spotlight on your platform. If you end up being incredibly insulted, let it go for the time being, address it with your spouse later, and move forward from there. Even if you end up dealing with some ridiculous irrationality, at least you know that you came out as the bigger person in the end.

"Never show up empty-handed." -Your Grandma

Bring a small dish of a holiday favorite of yours, or a bouquet of seasonal flowers. This small gesture not only makes you look super sweet, but shows the host (and your spouse's family) that this is important to you. Showing genuine interest and enthusiasm towards the festivities is a great way to keep yourself under a flattering light. I can't tell you how many times a simple floral arrangement or a batch of cookies have helped cool down the ice for me or a friend in awkward family holiday situations.

"Don't ignore the kids!" -Ellie, California (yes this is me :p)

It may seem silly and frivolous, but this one is perhaps one of the easiest ways to ensure the celebration goes smoothly!

You can bet that at Thanksgiving, I was on the floor playing Tic-Tac-Toe with Justin's five-year-old cousin, Derek. Because of how uncomfortable I was meeting so many new people at once, I had something to do with myself between random bursts of small talk while waiting for dinner to start.

At Christmas, my nephew Zach, and my niece Allison, instantly took to their (at the time) future Uncle Justin.

Justin was incredible with those two little barnacles. Even though they hung all over him the entire day, he was extremely good natured about it. He entertained them, kept them out of the kitchen, and even helped them sing Christmas carols to all of the parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents at dinner. You can bet he earned major points with my sister and the rest of my family for that!

If you'll be hosting... 

You've got the home field, so use it to your advantage!

"Don't over-dramatize the little stuff...make it a fun, loving holiday." -Lillian, Iowa

Another one that's easier said than done, but if you want to keep your sanity, don't write this one off as a "Yeah, I know".

The centerpieces, the place settings, the presentation are all extremely important (and if I didn't acknowledge that, my mother, the Queen of Hostesses, would be on a plane to California to set me straight faster than you can say "napkin rings"), but as a hostess, what's most important is making sure that everyone is enjoying themselves. If you've got snacks (or a grazing table, as my family calls it) and a good conversation area, you're already off to a good start. So give the roots of your hair have a break from all the pulling!

"Remember to incorporate your own traditions!" -Lauren, Massachusetts

Whether or not family from "your side" will be present, don't feel like you can't celebrate your own traditions that make the holiday just a little more special to you. And if you decide to use any family traditions your in-laws aren't familiar with, you'll end up with your own personal unique and original factor without even trying!

That being said...

"I will have family from both sides coming. I decided to get recipes from both sides. I will make some from each side, and also make one or two that are unique to our house." -Laura, New Mexico

Try to come up with a way to let everyone who wants to be involved, be involved. Be it by sharing recipes, incorporating multiple traditions from both you and your spouse's sides, or being willing to delegate tasks to those willing and able when you're starting to feel a bit worn out.

And if all else fails...

Plenty of ladies suggested staying home together as a couple. For us personally, this isn't the first choice, but in some situations, it may be the right move for you!

If you've got too many family members from one too many corners of the world wanting you for more holidays then there are to go around, sometimes staying home for a year and starting your own traditions together is the way to go!


So whether you travel halfway across the world, or across the house to your own kitchen, I hope these tips can help make that first holiday go just a little more smoothly!

Have a great start to your holiday season!

What suggestions do you have for surviving the holidays with family, new and old?

Much love,

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