It’s Christmas Eve and your Aunt, Uncle and cousins just rolled into your driveway for a short visit, which means you’ll be sleeping on the couch. Your grandparents have been staying at your house all week and won’t be returning to their home in Florida until after the New Year. Your Uncle’s family will be coming over tomorrow from just a couple hours away and you’ll see your Aunt’s new family the day after Christmas because of her recent divorce.
Every year your parents insist on celebrating Christmas with their family, but after the visit, they’ll complain about it for a week. It’s such a miserable experience.
Why do we gather for Christmas?
There is something significant about families coming together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. God pulls people who live such different lives and have such parting views together by blood. That doesn’t guarantee peace and understanding, but it does offer an opportunity to respect and honor those that you love. Respect and honor are often ignored in our society, but they provide depth in relationships. It’s important to learn how to act in such a manner. The world is full of people you won’t get along with, but you can learn tremendous lessons about how to deal with these people in a kind and respectful way in a safe environment with your family.
Coming together to celebrate something bigger than yourself and doing so with people that God intentionally connected can be a unique offering. Though your extended family may seem miles apart while standing in the same room, the connection between everyone was done by God’s plan and orchestration. Your history and identity springs from these relations, and represents something much greater than just one single person.
Your family teaches you the difference between love and like. You may not like every individual, nor would you choose each of them to be your friend. But, in a strange way, you have an affection for them that sometimes you can’t quite understand. Even though you don’t always get along, you can still love these people. In fact, you can love them well.
How handle your extended family over the holidays well.
It’s hard to be pleasant around people you hardly know, which is why it’s so important to be intentional on how you treat your extended family.
- Be hospitable and humble.
It’s a short amount of time in the scheme of the year, so go out of the way to make sure everyone is feeling welcome and comfortable.
- Create an ambiance that is inviting.
Make sure everyone has the necessities they need to be comfortable. Even offering the basics (like water or a blanket) can go a long way. If you’re feeling thirsty, someone else might as well, so offer to grab a glass of water while you’re filling one for yourself. Are you feeling cold, ask if anyone else is and turn up the heat, or grab an extra blanket. Need a snack, then grab a bowl for the whole crowd to share.
- Have little, extra treats.
Does your uncle always devour the same batch of cookies every year? Then make a batch just for him. Does your aunt love the smell of a certain candle, lotion or soap? Then have that available for her in her guest bathroom. Do your cousins enjoy a certain game? Have it readily available to play! You don’t have to add a mint on everyone’s pillow, but adding little touches creates a lot of tenderness.
- Communicate well.
It’s a common joke to refrain from talking about religion or politics at the holiday table, but Jesus is the most important topic this time of year, even if your family disagrees. And politics, well how are you going to learn and grow if you shield yourself from other views and perspectives? Your family doesn’t need to have a heated argument, you can communicate out of respect. Ask a lot of questions and listen. Having an open heart doesn’t mean your mind and view of things will be altered. It means you’re open to hearing what someone else has to say so you can honor and respect them as an individual. Learning what someone thinks and more importantly why, will actually help you understand them a lot more.
Also be prepared to talk about what’s going on in your life. You don’t need to be the center of attention, but you need to be able to hold a conversation. Be ready to talk about your latest interests, hobbies, projects, friends and activities. Share the things that make you happy.
- Provide entertainment.
Even if your family brings their own entertainment, make a plan to provide something extra. Have a movie room, game room or craft area for the kids. Plan on cookie decorating, Christmas carol karaoke, a flash gift wrapping session or a huge snowball fight to make sure things keep moving.
How to survive the chaos.
In order to host well, you have to take care of yourself. Set some time aside for yourself and for your family.
Take a moment (or several) every day where you pull yourself away from the crowd and the chaos. Spend time with God, read a book, listen to music, watch some carefree videos, catch up with friends, take a nap. It’s important to have little moments where you can revive your energy.
It’s also important to set aside some time to meet up with some friends. You can invite them over, head to their house or hang out at the mall or coffee shop. The important thing is to spend time with people who choose to love you, share the same interests and understand you. Don’t spend too much time with your friends, you get to see them everyday at school, but use your time with them as an opportunity to refresh your spirit.
Naturally, get a good amount of sleep, eat healthy foods in the midst of all the holiday extras and try to get in a little workout.
For Your family
It’s important for your immediate family to have some time to focus on developing your relationships during this special time of year. In the chaos of the season, it’s easy to overlook the love you have for one another.
Make sure your immediate family holds on to a personal tradition that you cherish. For example, perhaps you don’t want to open your presents from one another in front of everyone. If this is the case, schedule a family Christmas a week before visitors arrive. Create a special meal (it doesn’t have to be fancy, just special) and take an hour to share gifts. Or, create a sweet tradition that happens in the midst of family visitors. For example, set aside a time where everyone writes a special note to each family member. The sentiment of what is written will be carried with you throughout the New Year.
The Essence of Christmas
Whether it’s the holidays or not, it’s important to maintain a relationship with your extended family. The same concepts exist throughout the year. No, you don’t need to give your family little treats when you’re dealing with them on a daily basis, but you do need to communicate well, be humble and always offer honor and respect. Perhaps you have a great relationship with your extended family, praise God! Family should never get in the way of the essence and beauty of Christmas, and Christ’s love for us.
No matter how you feel about your family, it’s important to pray for them. Even non-believers will typically accept a prayer. So as you say goodbye to your cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents, let them know you’re grateful for their visit and that you will be praying for them. Who knows how God might change their heart (or your own) during the upcoming year in preparation for next year’s family gathering.