Christmas is a magical time in which children’s hearts are aglow with time-honored traditions including singing Christmas carols, making Santa Claus wish lists, having snowball fights and decorating the Christmas tree.
For married couples, spending time with in-laws and planning family Christmas gatherings is an important part of the holiday. Things can get tense when managing different sets of expectations, especially when everyone tries to pitch in, offer a suggestion or voice an opinion.
It’s always helpful to stop and remember the true meaning of the season: Love — God’s powerful gift of love and hope to the world through the miraculous birth of His Son Jesus Christ. Through God’s grace, we extend His love to our families and our fellow man. Here are some suggestions for making Christmas with in-laws and the rest of the family a cherished and memorable experience.
Planning and Participating
Married couples gain both a spouse and a new family. Understanding dynamics on both sides takes time and effort for all parties (especially for newlyweds). Instead of worrying about stepping on each other’s toes in planning a family Christmas gathering, be proactive, patient and considerate.
If at all possible, plan the dinner or gathering in advance and don’t be afraid to speak up about what’s important to you for the occasion. Commit, also, to being a good listener and respecting what is important to your spouse, in-laws and / or kids.
If you and your in-laws both want to host, don’t make it a battle. Instead, strike a compromise. Alternate hosting years, swap between Christmas and Christmas Eve, and divide up responsibilities so that everyone participates — even the kids. For example, the host decorates, the kids set the table, someone brings side dishes and someone brings dessert; whatever makes sense for your family.
Ideally, it would be wonderful to have both sets of in-laws together for one big family celebration. However, if this isn’t feasible, then work out an arrangement that makes everyone comfortable. Bringing your spouse into your family and gaining in-laws is a blessing.
Unfortunately, clashing personalities, miscommunication and unsatisfied expectations may cause tension and strife. Leaning on God’s grace, praying for your time together, striving to stay upbeat and love-focused and being flexible can help diffuse many potentially awkward situations.
Sharing Stories and Counting Blessings
Life is often so busy for so many families; it feels like there is barely time to breathe. Therefore, finally sitting down together at Christmas dinner is a time to treasure. Using this time to compliment each other and count blessings is a great way to bond.
Taking turns around the table sharing stories about your favorite Christmas is always fun. Or take turns complimenting each other, either verbally, or by writing a message on a Christmas-themed note card. “The thing I like best about you is …” Each person can also count blessings by saying or writing, “I am really blessed by …” and sharing them.
Fostering an open forum of uplifting, loved-based communication can help build and strengthen family relationships and create an unforgettable Christmas. Encourage your in-laws to share memorable stories about your spouse, their childhood or their marriage. Most of all, thank them for their contribution to the gathering and their love, guidance and support in your life.
Making New Traditions
Your spouse and in-laws undoubtedly have their favorite family Christmas traditions. Whether it’s attending Christmas Eve church service, eating turkey, or roasting chestnuts, it’s important to honor and respect them.
It’s also fun and rewarding to create new ones. For example, alternate who leads prayer before dinner or have each person pray as they are led. Have one of the in-laws pick songs to sing as a family, a movie to watch, a Christmas story to read out loud, or a game to play. Pictionary, Charades and Taboo are fun, interactive group games. Customize the games with Christmas-related clues and word lists.
Finally, community outreach projects are a wonderful family holiday tradition to start and keep. Go caroling at a nursing home, take presents to sick kids in the hospital or serve food together at a local shelter or soup kitchen. These rewarding activities allow families to bond while spreading Christ’s Christmas message of love.