The holidays are the go-to time for caroling, buying gifts, and sneaking in some face time with the relatives you only get to see every so often. And if you have a partner you're sharing the holidays with, there's a whole other group of people you get to spend time with: their parents and entire extended family. If this is your first time around the block with your special someone's gaggle of aunts, uncles, and cousins (or if you've met them already and just want things to run as smoothly as possible!), this list of tips, tricks, and discussion topics to all-out avoid will ensure you leave the dinner table stress-free.
1. Make your plans clear to both parties ahead of time. The best way to avoid any confusion (or impending sighs from your mom when it comes time to leave and head over to your partner's house) is to tell them beforehand exactly when you plan on coming and going. Are you sleeping over and doing presents Christmas morning? Great, pack your favorite pair of matching pjs and call fives on the bed you want a few days beforehand. The bottom line: stick to a schedule that first and foremost makes you the least stressed out. You're the ones traveling, after all. Stick to your plan regardless of any grumbling.
2. Ask what (if any) holiday activities your family's doing beforehand. If you're traveling far for the holiday season, make sure you touch base with your host about what the itinerary looks like. No one likes a family ski day or full-day shopping trip to the outlets sprung on them last minute. If the whole squad is hanging around the house for a day or two, great, but if your in-laws are known to be spontaneous, try to get ahead of the surprises before packing your suitcase. It'll save you time and money in the long run.
3. Be as flexible as possible with your travel plans. The holiday season is the busiest time of year when it comes to transportation across the board. Whether you're going via plane, train, or automobile, you can bet on delays, crowds, and inevitable surcharges. The best way to battle travel-induced headaches? Give yourself as much time as humanly possible to get from point A to point B. Yes, everyone in your office is going to be grappling for that extra day off right before Christmas, but taking even an extra half a day of PTO will pay off in spades if you and your partner's schedules allow for it. No one wants to be late to family dinner thanks to a delayed connection or massive hail storm, so don't cut it too close.
4. Get a handle on the present situation ASAP. Doing the gift-giving dance with your in-laws is one of the most complex art forms. Without question, the best bet is for the adults to do secret Santa (or white elephant) as a group, and then dole out a few small gifts to the kids. Unsure how your spouse's family tackles the whole gift-giving thing? Have your partner talk it out with their parents and siblings so you don't show up empty-handed. If your spouse's siblings have kids, a good rule of thumb is to always get them something (even if it's small!) unless they're one of six kids or you're told otherwise.
5. Find an appropriate hostess gift. If you have a few years of marriage under your belt, picking out the perfect hostess gift might be a walk in the park. But if you're newly married (or have an MIL who has everything) go mainstream with a holiday-themed flower arrangement, thoughtful ornament, or a festive serving tray. Seriously, who doesn't love tiny cheese knives or a Santa-themed pie plate? No one. You can also opt for a moderately priced bottle of wine, unless there's a vino snob in the house — then by all means stick with something non-alcoholic.
6. Avoid talking about any polarizing topics at the dinner table. Yes, in every single family there's bound to be a crazy Uncle Marvin whose ideologies don't exactly line up with yours, and that's perfectly fine. Just be cognizant of the comments you make under your breath and don't engage in any heated debates unless you're OK with a full-blown argument breaking out. Pro tip: few topics are truly worth the trouble. Steer clear from anything related to politics (for the love of all things holy), bad-mouthing any of your partner's family members, or anything to do with finances. If there's a family member who gives you a particularly hard time, just be as polite as possible and sit far, far away from them at the table.
7. Show up to each destination with all your gifts organized and wrapped. This will 100 percent save you from a dreadful headache. Wrap, label, and organize every gift before you load up the car for that seven-hour road trip even if you're going a week before. It's one less thing to worry about and the odds your partner's mom is going to rent out her gift-wrapping room to you without making it a big deal is slim to none.
8. Don't feel bad about taking a little time for yourself. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spending a little alone time as a couple, even if you're traveling or staying with family. Sneak out to go for a walk one afternoon or show your better half the best place to score an awesome slice of pizza one night. It will keep you on the same page and inject a little romance into an often cramped, or at the very least, hectic, holiday experience.