The anticipation of Christmas is accompanied by exciting preparations: you’re buying gifts, planning fun winter dates, and looking forward to a new year.
But this year, you might be getting ready for another key event: spending your first Christmas with your boyfriend’s family.
Because Christmas is one of the most family-oriented holidays, the invitation to celebrate it together can whip up a double batch of nervous excitement. You’re excited to join an intimate family gathering (it’s one of those signs you’re serious, right?), and you’re nervous to meet new relatives.
Well, never fear. You can rock your first family Christmas.
There are three different strategies to choose from when you’re aiming for a smooth induction into the family — two that you should avoid, and one that you should pursue wholeheartedly.
Strategy 1: Make A Good Impression
Naturally, you want your boyfriend’s relatives to like you. Hopefully, he wants them to like you, too.
So, in an effort to fit in with the family, you might anxiously opt for Strategy One: make a good first (or second) impression. Donning a smile suited for a Christmas pageant, you aim for the killer combination of friendly, helpful, and interesting.
But the problem is that putting on your best behavior is rarely authentic. Your “good impression” may be an honest view of who you want to be — a projection of a more sanctified you — but it’s not who you are today.
Focusing on making a good impression can actually do just the opposite. People are good at spotting insincerity, and this is especially true at your first family Christmas. Everyone knows you want to be liked, so they’re going to be skeptical of anything that sounds like an attempt to flatter or impress.
Practically, it’s also not a sustainable strategy. Let’s say they believe your false impression — well, then you’re stuck trying to maintain it for the rest of your life. When my husband and I started dating, I underestimated how much time I would spend with my in-laws after getting engaged and married. Believe me when I tell you that you won’t be able to keep up even the slightest facade forever.
So, rid yourself of the anxiety of people-pleasing. “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9) and remember that “A flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28).
Strategy 2: Just Be Yourself
At the other end of the family Christmas spectrum, you can “just be yourself” and not worry at all about what his family thinks.
Strategy Two shows the real you, and it’s easy (unless, like me, you have a sinful tendency for people-pleasing inscribed in your DNA).
The trouble is that loving people who are different from you is not easy, and it often requires sacrificing your preferred ways of doing things. Our natural, sinful selves do not naturally love other people well.
Adopting a non-conformist attitude at Christmas time — or anytime — can lead you to disregard the thoughts, feelings, and traditions of your boyfriend’s family in an unloving way. It forces other people to change for you without being willing to change for them.
The danger of this attitude is most apparent in areas where your families differ greatly. As an example, at my family’s home, a good guest assists with clearing the table and washing dishes. But at my husband’s home, helping with clean-up is almost an insult.
I don’t understand why his family functions this way, and I feel uneasy and ungrateful when I don’t help at his house. But if I insist on “being myself” and scrubbing the dishes, I’m not loving his mother because I’m denying her the joy of serving me.
On the other hand, my husband has learned that if he wants to show love to my mother, he should clear the dishes. It took a bit of conflict for us to realize these differences and adapt our behavior accordingly, but our family gatherings are much better because of it.
Authenticity is awesome, but becoming a part of your boyfriend’s family will change you over time. You don’t need to change superficially like a Strategy One girlfriend, but you should know that God will use these sometimes-broken, sometimes-beautiful experiences with family to help you love people more deeply.
This is the secret behind Strategy Three.
Strategy 3: Forget Yourself
A family Christmas is first and foremost about Christ. At Christmas, we rejoice that God became human to reconcile humans to God.
A family Christmas is also about family. We celebrate Christ’s birth in community with the people we love.
But the one thing a family Christmas is never about is you. Christmas cannot be self-serving if we’re celebrating what we claim to be, for “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
As I reflect on my first Christmas with my boyfriend’s family, I’m convicted that I adopted the wrong approach. Jumping between Strategies One and Two during different parts of the day, my focus centered on doing what was best for me, not serving God by doing what was best for others.
I’m convinced now that the best way to rock a family Christmas is to humbly forget yourself. Ironically, this is the only way to make a lasting good impression while remaining true to your identity.
But what does a humble person look like? How do you know if you are truly forgetting yourself? C.S. Lewis explains:
“Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.
Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.
If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity
That last sentence sums up the great freedom of living with your identity in Christ. Knowing you are not defined or limited by the opinions of your boyfriend’s family enables you to serve them wholeheartedly. You don’t need to hide a secret desire to please, and you don’t expect others to change instead of you. You simply want to love people like God loves them.
A Strategy Three girlfriend “will not be thinking about humility: (she) will not be thinking of (herself) at all.” She will not only be the most wonderful person to be around, she will be the most wonderful person to be.
Prepare To Love His Family
As we’ve seen, the key to rocking your first family Christmas is to prioritize loving your boyfriend, his family, and Jesus. When you focus on serving his family, you will learn to love them as if they’re your own.
With this aim, a little bit of preparation can show his family you care as well as save you from some awkward moments. Read the Family Christmas Survival Guide for Dating Couples next to learn what types of questions you can ask your boyfriend in preparation for Christmas.