Your first Christmas with your partner’s family is quite the milestone. It suggests some commitment from both of you.
This post might be helpful for those who will be meeting the parents for the first time. I shall write a separate post on that theme.
But mainly, this was written for individuals who have previously met the parents and are having their first Christmas with them. I have divided this post into three: before, during and after the event.
1. Get some background information
Are they a family of early risers or will it be opening presents in pyjamas?
Are there any topics of conversation best avoided? It is a faux pas to talk about your choice of horses at the Grand National when Uncle Benny turns out to have a gambling problem.
Know the house rules, and be prepared.
2. Take a present
Failing to take a host(ess) gift is an oversight and a missed opportunity for brownie points. A potted poinsettia, champagne or a box of nice chocolates would suffice.
The family will more than likely give you a Christmas gift. So, it is best if you give them what I call a little “generic present”. These are classic and not too novel; perfect for an almost stranger.
Remember to enclose the gift receipt. As you get to know the family more, your gifts will evolve to reflect your growing acquaintance.
Good generic gifts: this year’s Man Booker prize winner, a hamper of edible goodies, or if you excel at it, something homemade.
Bad generic gifts: toiletries, watches, mirrors, clothing (this includes socks and scarves), vouchers, anything they might be obliged to wear or display.
It’s also acceptable to give one big gift ‘for the house’ or ‘for the whole family’.
If you have not been going out for long, it is perfectly alright to just sign both your names in the cards and give the gifts from both of you.
B. The main event:
1. Presenting yourself
It is best to dress on the conservative side. Be a fine lady or gentleman and captivate them with elegant presentation. Take one smart outfit with you to cover all eventualities.
Turn the formality up slightly, at least at the beginning. What may be normal for your partner, such as swearing or walking around in a dressing gown is not for you.
Well-informed conversation with a bite of opinion is the key here. This is not the time to discuss one’s political views, the economy, global warming or religion. Avoid controversy, but debate with reason.
If you run out things to say, just remember the things you read in the Travel and Culture section of The Guardian. For instance, ‘I read that Budapest is this year’s trending winter destination.’ is a good conversation filler.
Show a united front; never gang up on your partner to get on other family members’ side.
Remember that gushing compliments often sound insincere.
3. Join in
Offer a little help with the cooking during the big day. Do not be offended if it is politely refused. They have been doing this for years, and you might just get in the way.
Take initiative in doing the household chores. So don’t offer to wash up, just do it.
4. Boudoir boundaries
If you are sharing a bedroom, be super discreet. If you are in separate rooms, let your boyfriend or girlfriend do the bed-hopping. If anyone is caught in flagrante in the hallway, it should not be you.
C. On departure:
1. Thank you letter
Send your hosts a thank you note within the first week of the new year. Read my previous post on how to write a thank you letter. Traditionally, one only writes to the lady of the house, but augment as you see fit.
Inevitably, you will be discussing how the visit went. Resist the urge to criticise any member of the family. Only your partner may do so.
Don’t be overly nervous; you are bound to have fun. Be yourself, but just a tiny bit polished. Take this as your opportunity to do secret reconnaissance of the family you may be part of in the future.
All the best,