Here's How To Celebrate Holidays With Your Partner's Family When You're Not Religious & They Are
'Tis the season for many winter wonders, including family stress. Along with gifts to grab and flights to catch, one concern may be spending the holidays with your partner's family when they're religious and you aren't. Whether you've just aced cuffing season tryouts or have been with your partner for a while, the religious differences may seem like a daunting seasonal challenge.
Navigating differences in gender identity, race, sexuality, or ability in relationships has always been tough. But varying religious backgrounds might affect millennial couples in a distinct way. Data from Pew Research Center shows that millennials are the least religious generation. For example, only 28 percent of millennials go to church and 39 percent pray daily— whereas 34 percent and 56 percent of the Gen Xers and attend church and pray, respectively. For Baby Boomers, it's 38 percent and 61 percent.
Either way, it's possible that you won't share religious beliefs with the person or people who raised your partner. Even if you're confident in your relationship, it's a fear of judgment that can weigh heavy on your heart.
So, what to do? Well, I talked to two etiquette experts and came up with five things you can do to skate through religious family functions with ease.
Do your research.
Don't be afraid to hop on YouTube or History.com to learn more about your partner's specific denomination and what celebrations this time of year look like. You can also go straight to the source and gently ask your significant other for deets about their family's specific traditions.
Remember that R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a must.
Sometimes, it's as simple as treating others the way you'd like to be treated. When it comes to religion and family functions, this can look like bowing your head quietly during prayer or joining hands at grace. You might not believe all the bullet points of XYZ religion, but respect is something everyone can get behind.
As Poised for Success author and etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore points out, these traditions have often been in place for years. "If you’re going to be a part of that person’s family and that person’s life, be open-minded," Whitmore says.
Even if you feel like you have more to prove — as the person who's being brought home — all parties want a peaceful, fun holiday. The hope is that festivities will be even more enjoyable now that you're in the mix.
Bring a gift.
Along with doing your homework, Gottsman suggests picking up a little something for your partner's parents or guardians.
“Some people feel like, ‘Oh gosh, does it have to be religious?’ Because they’re Muslim, they’re Catholic, they’re Lutheran. You just arrive with something nice," Gottsman says. "It’s not about being an expert on their religion. It’s about thanking them for their extension of the invitation.”
This is where chatting with your partner about what to expect will come in handy. You'll know what to do, what to say, and what gift will be appropriate — as well as make the best impression!
Try not to start a fight.
Of course, differences should be celebrated. And if you and your partner have had frank discussions about religious differences, maybe you and your partner's family will, too. But both Gottsman and Whitmore agree: the holidays are not the time for that talk!
“You’re not there at a holiday celebration to get into a debate about their beliefs," Gottsman says. "If it’s something that you feel strongly about, you should probably skip that occasion."
Echoing Gottsman, Whitmore adds, "If they have an issue the significant other’s family’s values or religion, then they should decline to go."
Both experts said that bringing up religious differences during a holiday celebration would be "disruptive." If bringing a gift is a ticket to an excellent first impression, starting a fight about religion is the quickest way to not get invited back for the holidays.
See the opportunity as a learning experience.
The best cure for these pre-holiday jitters is to redirect your thinking. Instead of seeing the family function as a test to pass or fail, see it as a learning experience.
Gottsman emphasizes that the holiday season is the best time for that kind of growth. "It’s an education in a different culture or custom," Gottsman says. "So look at it like that!"
As Whitmore reminds us, too, "That what makes the world interesting: our differences."
In between pine-flavored lattes, sugarplum Netflix specials and small talk with your partner's family, who knows? The holidays could actually bring you all closer together. With these tips, you'll be well prepped to turn up with your partner's family, stress-free and without religious differences on the table.