How to Handle Your First Holiday Season as Newlyweds

A young newlywed couple standing in the snow and holding Christmas presents.

The holiday season is right around the corner, and that means many of us are about to become very busy. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and a host of other festivities, the final months of the year are always a flurry of family visits and get-togethers.

While seeing our relatives, giving gifts, and eating tons of delicious food can be fun, the holidays can get very complicated for newlywed couples. After all, you’ve been seeing the same family members every holiday season for your entire life—what do you do when your spouse wants to see their family instead?

Don’t panic; it is possible to celebrate the holidays with your spouse and spend plenty of time with both of your families. Here are a few tips to help you navigate your first holiday season as a married couple.

Make a Plan (and Stick to It!)

A young woman cutting the turkey on Thanksgiving with her mother-in-law and the family waiting in the background.

As soon as family members start floating around holiday plans, you and your spouse need to start strategizing. You’re both part of two families now—and if you want to celebrate the holidays with everyone, you are definitely going to need a plan of attack.

Are your respective families separated by hundreds and hundreds of miles? You may have to agree to split the holidays (Thanksgiving with one family, Christmas with the other, you get the picture). If your families are local to one another, you might be able to spend a little time at each family gathering, shuttling from one to the other on the big night.

However, if you do decide to see both families on the same evening, there’s one more challenge that awaits: sticking to the schedule! It’s so easy to linger at one party, especially when everyone’s having a good time and your grandmother offers you another slice of pie. But if you ignore your timetable, you might end up making the second family you visit feel slighted, and that’s not the season’s greetings you want to give.

Be Practical and Fair

Look, I know that you want to spend every holiday ever with your own parents. You love them dearly, and time with them is how you’re used to spending your holidays. It can be very easy to advocate for a holiday with your side of the family every year—but if you aren’t willing to compromise, you and your spouse might have some real conflict.

When you start filling in your holiday social calendar, make sure that you and your spouse have equal say in the plans. Keep things fair between the two of you, whether that means splitting time between both families or making sure you see your spouse’s high school buddies while you’re back in town. If you both feel heard, you’re more likely to make fair, sensible compromises that satisfy everyone.

Communication Is Key

Family gatherings during the holidays can be warm, loving, and a lot of fun. They can also be incredibly uncomfortable and stressful! You never really know what’s going to happen when you walk into a room with your family—but it’s important that you and your spouse are on the same page at all times.

If anyone says or does something that makes you uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to let your partner know right away. If family members (be they your blood relatives or your in-laws) are rude, pushy, or otherwise inappropriate, take your spouse aside for a moment and talk to them about how you’re feeling. Then, you both can decide how to proceed so you both feel comfortable again.

Similarly, if your husband or wife comes to you and says someone in your family made them uncomfortable, it’s your job to listen and give your spouse the support they need. Remember, you two are your own family now, and you need to be each other’s top priority.

Share Your Old Traditions with Your New Family

A family sharing a meal at Christmastime holding sparklers.

Let’s say that you and your spouse decide to split the holidays. You’ll do one gathering with your spouse’s family, and the next one will be with your crew. This arrangement might be the most practical for you, but it can be a huge bummer. After all, part of what makes the holidays great is the time with your loved ones. Is it even Christmas without your family around?

Even if you aren’t spending the holidays with your family, you can still make the gathering feel like holidays past. Is there a special dish your family makes every Christmas Eve? Bring it to your in-law’s party! Does your family have a traditional game you all play or holiday song you all sing? Teach your new family members! Sharing your own family’s traditions with your new family is a great way to connect with everyone—and you just might inspire a new tradition among your spouse’s loved ones.

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