That title got your attention, didn’t it? Good, glad my attention-grabbing tactic worked! And to clarify, I don’t actually spend Christmas with the mafia; however, my husband used to! You see, his late grandfather was, in fact, in the mafia. He and his mom, my now mother-in-law, lived with my husband’s grandparents until he was about eight years old, so holidays, birthdays, first days of school were a bit different in his home.
To contrast my husband’s childhood, my grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher for 60+ years. When my husband and I began dating, we realized we have so, so many similarities, but our childhoods are not among these commonalities.
Our daughter, Brighten, is the first grandchild for both of our families. So, after a three-year-long adoption process, no one on either side wanted to miss her first Christmas last year. To make it simple, all of our family came to us to celebrate Christmas in Birmingham. And yes, they all came at the same time. And yes, we hosted Christmas with a three month old. It literally gave me the flu and I spent the entire day after Christmas in bed.
While last year’s holiday season is truly a bit of a blur, we are doing the same thing again this year. Having families who come from wildly different backgrounds is not the easiest, especially when they’re all going to sit around the dinner table together on a holiday. And I’m not going to say that I handle the pressure of Christmas for my new little family and 15 others with total grace and poise, but here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.
Tips for Hosting During the Holidays
1. Always have discussion topics or an inclusive game handy.
I consider myself to be a pretty good conversationalist, but when there are family members in the same room with vastly different views on basically everything, sometimes I get stumped. That’s why I always keep two boxes of Table Topics in my living room, usually on my coffee table (when my one year old isn’t trying to “make it snow” with them). When conversation lags or takes a weird turn, I invite everyone to pick a card and start answering the questions! Another tip is to put a few of these cards beside everyone’s place setting for meals. If there are folks who don’t know each other well, it helps prompt some easy conversation.
2. Set definitive house rules for holiday games.
Does your family play Dirty Santa or White Elephant? Do yourself a favor and create some house rules before the game begins (if you need a little help, I’ll be using this guide for our Christmas party this year). Make sure that you communicate the dollar amount ahead of time and if the gift should be a gag gift or a real gift. No one wants to be the one person who takes home the only gag gift.
Before the game begins, decide how many steals, if the first person will go last, etc. so that everyone is on the same page. You wouldn’t believe the baggage that some people carry with them throughout the year over Dirty Santa rules being broken! Make sure everyone has a great time and doesn’t walk away with anything other than a great gift by setting some guidelines for holiday games.
3. Set place cards at the dinner table.
I’ve learned that with a diverse group of people, taking the question out of where people will sit to eat can be really helpful, especially if anyone in your group has social anxiety. In addition to my parents, sisters, and in-laws, we also have my 95 and 96-year-old grandparents traveling up to Birmingham to spend Christmas with us. Place cards make things really easy for them because they don’t have to guess where they’re supposed to sit, or walk around the dining room looking for a spot. They also are hard of hearing (yes, they’re in their mid-90s!), so we can plan who will sit near them and make sure to tell them ahead of time to speak up when they talk.
This year, I’ll be using a template for holiday place cards that I found on Pinterest that seems super easy to print out on some card stock the night before. Sometimes when I host a dinner, I like to show how casual and laid back I am (everyone who knows me in real life is laughing right now) by telling everyone to sit wherever he or she wants. That’s great for having a single side of the family over or friends and co-workers, but I’ve found that assigned seats really do work best for people who don’t know each other as well or when you’re hosting a more formal dinner.
4. Implement new traditions and accommodations.
This is the hardest one for me because I love the way my side of the family does Christmas. Over the years, though, and especially now that we have a little one, we have tried more and more to include traditions from both sides of the family and to accommodate everyone’s needs. For instance, my middle sister is a nurse who has to work on Christmas Day this year, but my youngest sister got married in May and her husband is a pastor who has to work on Christmas Eve.
Thankfully, everyone has been really laid back and we’ve come up with a great plan for both days. It even incorporates my husband’s family traditions because he and his mom used to always open gifts on Christmas Eve and go to a movie on Christmas Day, which is really similar to our plan for this year. Thinking outside of my own traditions and preferences is never easy, but it’s also important to me that everyone feel valued in our home, so we are trying our hardest to make everyone feel welcome and appreciated.
5. Let everyone pitch in and help.
I’m pretty sure this comes with the territory of being a mom, but I’m truly of the mindset that things are just easier when I do them myself. I’m the first to say, “I’ve got it,” when I’m working in my kitchen and really push everyone back into the living room while I cook by myself. But I’m pretty positive that mindset is what put me in bed for 24 hours last year, so I’ve learned my lesson.
This year, I’m determined to receive help when it’s offered and put others to work. I’m making a list of all the food and sending it out via group text to my family asking for volunteers to either bring, bake, or buy stuff. This can also go along with incorporating traditions; for example, my mother-in-law is Italian (see title), so I’ll be asking her to make a family recipe as part of our Christmas dinner (thinking of true Italian food from scratch is literally making my mouth water right now). Also, I’ll be putting my husband in charge of recruiting my dad and brother-in-law to help him out with dish duty after our big holiday meal so that I can relax with everyone after a long day’s work. Truly, though, I believe everyone will enjoy the day more if they get to be part of making it special by helping out!
We’ll be celebrating Christmas in our new house this year, and I really am giddy thinking about everyone arriving and celebrating under one roof together.
My daughter has such a fun little personality and she loves her people so much, so I just know Christmas will be a magical time for everyone.
At the end of the day, what is most important is who we spend our special times with, and I hope that implementing some of these lessons I’ve learned will help make your holiday (and future holidays) a little bit easier and more joyful!
From our family to yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year!
NOTE: No revenge, either hot or cold, will be served at our Christmas dinner. In all seriousness, our family no longer has any ties to the mafia, however, we do enjoy the shock value that comes from the proclamation that my husband grew up in a mafia family. If you’re really confused right now, go watch The Godfather.