11.28.2016

Love for Christmas: how to navigate the festive season as a new couple

When you have an established pattern for celebrating an occasion like Christmas, it can feel jarring to change any of the little familiar details that make the day feel special. But what happens when you start dating someone whose festive routines are different to your to own? How can you both have a happy Christmas?

Falling in love for Christmas often involves compromise – so we conducted a survey and looked at expert advice to discover the best ways to navigate Christmas as a new couple.

Men want love for Christmas

From turkey to tinsel, there can be many sources of festive friction. But, a recent EliteSingles survey uncovered one that you may not have thought of: the mood of the day itself. Specifically, the survey of 1500 American singles revealed that men want romance and love for Christmas, while women's minds are elsewhere.

The survey asked respondents to name the day of the year when they least wanted to be single. For American women, it’s simple: Valentine’s Day (over 50% felt this way). For American men, however, the worst day of the year to be single is Christmas Day.

Making time for your partner

Men are also more likely to pick their partner as their ideal Christmas companion. While the majority of women (42%) would like to spend Christmas with a small group of family members, men seemed almost as smitten with the idea of celebrating as a couple. In fact, 43% would prefer to spend Christmas with a romantic partner. For women, it’s just 32%.

Furthermore, men are also more likely than women to think of the holidays as the perfect occasion for a new partner to meet one’s family, with a huge 72% agreeing that everyone being in one place makes it easy. Women were more divided: 58% agree with the men and 42% believe that there’s too much pressure at Christmas.

So, men and women seem to take a different approach to the romance of the holidays and that's worth bearing in mind if you want to create feelings of love for Christmas. Happily, it's easy to be thoughtful: if you're dating a man, make sure to take a little time out from the family fun to let him know that he is special to you, while, if you're dating a woman, be aware that she will have a lot to juggle, so see what you can do to help her take it easy.

Navigating different beliefs

Of course, not all potential Christmas conflict is so easily solved.  It can be tricky to please everyone, especially when two people’s festive routines are in direct opposition with each other (e.g. wanting to eat turkey with the family vs. wanting to get Chinese food and a movie). 

Sometimes this can have its roots in cultural differences: for instance when one partner is Christian and wants to celebrate Christmas, and the other is Jewish, or Muslim, and feels strongly that this is not a part of their culture. So what can a couple do when this the case?  It may sound like a slightly hand-waving answer, but the solution is that there really is no one right answer: couples instead have to talk through their opposing views respectfully and find a solution that works for them both.

For some couples this will involve fully celebrating one partner’s Christmas on the 25th and also fully observing the other partner’s important days when they come around. Others might choose to emphasize the religious aspect of one partner’s celebrations in particular, while still others might opt to mix and match the secular aspects both parties enjoy. There are even couples who choose to both keep to their own traditions and to celebrate their days separately (In fact, 5% of people in the survey chose this as their preferred conflict solution!) 

The most important thing is to talk about it and don’t just assume you know what your partner wants to do. Instead, listen to what they want, let them know your preferences, and work together to find a mutually satisfying solution. As marriage therapist Tom Kersting told CNN ‘’neither party should 'win.' What couples must avoid is trying to force their partner to their way of thinking. It never works and never will. Acceptance is the key term here - accepting that your partner's family and traditions are different than yours, and that this is OK."1

America’s most beloved Christmas traditions

Of course, not all festive friction has to involve religion. Indeed, some conflicts can be over simple little details – you might, for instance, both celebrate Christmas but have different ideas about how the house should look, what you should eat, and who you should see.  

This is a balancing act for any couple but especially for those newly in love; for Christmas routines are deeply personal and, if you’ve never seen your partner’s before it can be hard to know what they deem important. Happily, our survey gave us some insights into the fun Christmas traditions Americans hold dear and would find hard to give up, even for love.   

Chief among these is the Christmas tree. Nearly one-in-three Americans (27%) pick the tree as the one fun festive thing they’d find hardest to give up. For others, attending religious services is the hardest to compromise on, according to 24% of singles.

For others, the bird is the word at Christmas: 20% would find it hardest to forgo turkey. The third-hardest thing to change is the Christmas schedule – 12% would hate to change the time of day they open gifts. 

Why traditions are important

So, with all these sources of Christmas conflict, is there any way to keep the peace? The first step is to understand why we hold traditions so dear. Michele L. Brennan Psy.D. sums it up nicely in Psychology Today when she says ‘’holiday traditions are an important part to building a strong bond between family, and our community. They give us a sense of belonging and a way to express what is important to us.’’2 In other words, although a tradition might seem small and even a little silly, it’s the sentiment behind it that counts, as it is that sentiment which symbiotically anchors our traditions to our sense of identity.

Once we understand that tradition and identity can be tied up in one another it can easier to understand why people can be so rigid when it comes to changing their festive routines – and why, if you want love for Christmas, finding a way to compromise is so important.

Solving Christmas conflicts

Happily, this is a lesson understood by our American members. The survey asked respondents what they would do if faced with a disagreement over how to spend the holidays. As it turns out, Americans are all about compromise – 40% would choose to compromise on the day itself, with each person picking a few must-have traditions (and letting go of the rest). A further 32% would choose to divvy the holidays up, with one half of the couple making plans for Christmas Day and the other planning Boxing Day or New Year’s Eve.

Paul Bisacre, an expert on remarriage, explains to SheKnows that perfecting this compromise means being prepared to be less rigid about certain aspects of the day: "Concentrate on how the holiday celebration will end up, and let the little things slide. If we don't open gifts after a Christmas Eve dinner taking place on December 24, it will be all right. If December 26 is when everyone can get together, the world will not fall apart. Pay attention to creating a good memory, and not the perfect memory."3

For, in the end it’s these good, shared memories that matter.  So, if you’re newly in love for Christmas, know that the name of the game is compromise. This might require changing up some of your routines and adopting new ones, and yes, this may mean that your identity as a single person might be changing – but it also means your new identity as one part of a loved up couple is just waiting to be written.

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