I see a lot of questions in the forums and in discussion groups about dating around holiday time. When is it the right time to bring a date to holiday functions? What is an appropriate gift for someone you’re dating? How do you deal with traditions that are different from your own? How much should you include each other in holiday preparations? And, most of all, whose family do you spend time with, and when?
These are good questions to ask, but the answers are highly subjective. You wouldn’t think about exchanging gifts if it was very casual. The more serious it is, the more likely each will include the other in family functions. But if you haven’t been clear with each other, how can you know when it’s time to clarify? If assumptions are made, no good will come of it; best to air questions and get some clarity.
First, you should by all means avoid “The New Year Fix.” It’s just immoral and crass. I should hope that as good Catholics, this is a given. But that aside, first assess the level of seriousness. If you’re not sure where things are going, do not bring up spending Christmas together unless your date does. If it’s an exceptional relationship wherein you’ve grown very close in a short period of time, then discuss it.
There are a few reasons for this. One, it adds pressure and may push the relationship, or your date, into new territory prematurely. Nothing can lead to the destruction of a new relationship quicker than a pushy partner. If one person is prone to take it slow and the other wants things to develop quickly, this should be addressed. If it’s a difference of temperament, that isn’t so bad. If it’s a difference of core beliefs, that’s more difficult to rectify. Either way, your families do not need to be exposed to all this palaver. Best to keep families uninvolved at holiday time.
The second reason is connected to the gifts that come with the territory. This has high potential for angst. What if one of you spends prudently and the other “drops bank”? What if one of you loves handmade crafts and the other likes high-tech gadgets? Surely this is a matter that requires addressing, albeit unromantic.
Asking about spending limits can be uncomfortable because someone may end up looking cheap and the other extravagant. But beyond that, it signifies a hint as to someone’s lifestyle, spending habits, generosity and thoughtfulness.
So what to do? How should one clear this up? Perhaps the best way to open the topic up is to ask what your date will be buying for family. You could then ask, “what about friends? What do you normally do?” and then just slip in, “and what about us? What would you like us to do?” Another way is to bring it up by describing what you normally do with your family and friends. Mention if you give yourself a budget, or have a policy of only handmade gifts. Asking these questions does not indicate that you’re overly concerned with who gets what and who spends how much, but that you want to get to know your date better. Nothing wrong with that!
Once that is out of the way, it’s time to discuss family involvement. I have a policy that before six months is too soon; it’s too precarious and sends the wrong message. If your family is anything like mine, they eventually gave up all hope when I brought a date home, because it inevitably ended at some point after that. But if the relationship is on solid ground and has potential for longevity, by all means get involved in family functions. The best option is to spend time with both families, but make sure to find out what their traditions are.
In my family, being very Southern Italian, Christmas Eve is far more important than Christmas day. My beau’s family is from the north of Italy, so they have no tradition with the seven fishes and midnight mass.The solution for us is to spend the evening before with my family and then the day with his.
As for gifts for the family, I say, never show up empty handed, even if it’s a bouquet of flowers. If there are young children present, some small trinkets are a good idea. Alcohol is only OK if the family members are drinkers. One thing I’ve done in the past is brought over some red wine and mulling spices to make hot mulled wine. It charms the pants off them every time! If not wine, mulled cider is delicious.
Dates and holidays can be awkward and weird if communication is limited, so I say open the topics up and explore! But no matter what the situation is between you, I wish you all the best this Christmas. Have a blessed holiday season!