Updated 13 December 2013

Christmas with your in-laws

Do you undertake to spend every second Christmas with your in-laws, regardless of what they're like and how they choose to celebrate Christmas?


There is a sentence that should be added to the marriage vows that sounds something like this: do you undertake to spend every second Christmas with your in-laws, regardless of what they're like and how they choose to celebrate Christmas?

Last year you all spent Christmas with your family – now it's your in-laws' turn. And the mere thought of your burping brother-in-law lying on the couch is enough to make you have uncharitable thoughts with regards to the braai tongs.

Not to speak of your mum-in-law's cooking – if you can call it that – and your father-in-law's constant chirps regarding your choice of career, car, political affiliations.

Bully for those of you who have wonderful and caring in-laws – this article is not for you. You can go away and gloat somewhere.

Survival guide for Christmas with the in-laws

Accept the inevitable. If it is unavoidable, what's the point in stressing out over it for weeks beforehand? Don't let the prospect spoil your entire holiday, and don't fight with your spouse over it – remember, partners and friends we choose, family we just get.

Ask what you can bring. Apart from its being good manners to make a contribution, it is also difficult to be unpleasant to someone who arrives with armloads of food and drink.

Leave off sex, religion, politics. Christmas is not the day to discuss any of these things. If someone tries to draw you into a discussion on any of these topics, don't take the bait. Simply change the topic or smile nicely and say you think it's better if you agree to disagree. You're not going to change anyone's opinion on anything over a Christmas lunch.

Fly below the radar. If anyone says anything unpleasant to you, just let it go. People cannot antagonise you if you won't let yourself be antagonised. Also don't wear something outrageous or make any grand announcements on this day, such as that you're planning to emigrate or change jobs or that you've just landed a fantastically lucrative deal. Leave that for a less emotionally charged occasion.

Find something to compliment. Say something nice when you arrive, whether you remark on the new curtains, the new plant in the garden, the decorations, whatever. Everyone likes to be complimented, but be sincere – people can smell falseness a mile away.

Buy one-size-fits-all gifts. Don't buy the kind of presents you would actually want yourself. Your mother-in-law might not appreciate the same books as you do, and your sister's children might not like the same toys your children do. Give gift vouchers or presents that everyone would like, such as wine for the adults or computer games for the children.

Many hands make a nice meal. Cook something you really like and make enough for everyone. In this way there will be something you enjoy eating whatever the rest of the menu is like.

Don't criticise the food – or anything. This is the quickest way to get tempers running high. Even if you're vegetarian and they're doing a spit braai, say nothing. You don't have to eat anything you don't want to, but don't spoil it for everyone else.

Remember you're doing it for your spouse. Being as amiable as you can will go a long way to making your spouse happy. If the children are making a noise, or your in-laws are teetotalers, or vegans or whatever – remember it is just for three or four hours. One can survive anything for a short time. And the quickest way to pick a fight with anyone is to criticise their family. Leave that to them, but you can't really join in.

Do the washing up. If you help clean up the inevitable mess after a Christmas lunch, your shares in the family will definitely go up. And remember, the kitchen is also a handy place to escape to if the conversation becomes insufferable.

Have your own family Christmas. You can do this the day before. Here you can all exchange meaningful gifts, eat what you want, invite other friends or family and enjoy yourself. You might feel resentful if the in-law do is the only celebration you have in the year.

Take a tranquiliser. If the prospect of the day is utterly dreadful, see your doctor and get a tranquiliser. It might help you get through the day if there are family dramas in the offing, such as your sister-in-law's impending divorce or your teenage brother-in-law's recent announcement that he's gay – neither of which announcements thrilled your parents-in-law.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated November 2013)


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