Christmas is not only a celebration of peace and joy; it is also a beautiful opportunity to welcome the stranger. The Savior, after all, entered the world as a stranger Himself—a vulnerable, little baby swaddled in rags and born in an innkeeper’s stable.
This year, my family and I will be having a special guest over for Christmas: my sister’s new boyfriend, Evan.
For the past couple of weeks, I—the (un)official party planner—have been wracking my brain, desperately searching for ways to make Evan feel relaxed and included when he spends Christmas with us for the very first time. He’s only visited us once before (fairly recently, on Thanksgiving), and while it went extremely well for a first-time get-together, I want Christmas to be even better.
So, how can I make Evan feel at home? How can I help make his first Christmas with my sister and our family enjoyable, memorable, and stress-free? Here are five ideas I’ve come up with to make Evan feel welcome—ideas I am sure you will find helpful if you are likewise entertaining a new face this holiday season:
1. Season’s Greetings!
Extending a warm welcome to your guest is as important as the celebration itself. Greet your guest at the door with a big smile and a hearty “Merry Christmas!” Make sure to establish eye contact, throw in a hug, handshake, or fist pump (whatever you feel is appropriate!), and offer to take his/her coat. You will notice that your guest will reciprocate with a warm greeting of his/her own and feel more at ease in your presence.
2. Deck the Halls!
To help your guest feel at home, you need to make Christmas feel like Christmas. Hang a bedecked wreath above your fireplace (mine is full of gorgeous artificial poinsettias!) and a festive garland over the entryway. Put up a tree, artificial or natural, and decorate it with shiny ornaments and twinkling lights. Keep a soft throw blanket on the couch to help foster a comfy atmosphere. Light a pine-scented candle. Make some eggnog and let the warm aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg fill the air. Watch as your guest’s eyes light up the moment he/she enters your cozy winter wonderland.
(Side note: I worked a little DIY magic and added some inexpensive but beautiful crafts to my Christmas décor, like bedazzled pinecones and berries. Feel free to do the same, adding your own personal touches to your living area to help make it as comfortable and festive as possible.)
3. Pump Up the (Christmas) Music!
Awkward silence is bad—and even worse at a party. Grab a speaker or a smart device and switch on some Christmas music to fill gaps in conversation—you can find tons of awesome playlists on YouTube. If you prefer, you can even customize your own playlist, mixing classic Christmas songs with some newer ones. Soon enough, you’ll find your guest bobbing his/her head along to that revamped Christmas hymn you’ve been dying to share. Here are a few songs that I think will be a hit at my celebration:
“This is Jesus” by We Are Messengers: Set to the melody of the well-known hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” this contemporary Christmas song shines a poignant light on the Savior’s birth. The lyrics are powerful and beautiful, and highlight what—or better yet, Who—the Christmas season is all about.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” by Shane and Shane: I’ve had this song on repeat since the beginning of December. Penned by the prolific eighteenth-century hymn writer Charles Wesley, the lyrics evoke Israel’s centuries-long hope for the Savior. Shane and Shane bring the age-old hymn to life with their very powerful and emotional performance.
“Face of God” by Phil Wickham: Christian artist Phil Wickham introduces a new Christmas classic with this touching song—a song that highlights the glorious wonder of baby Jesus. “The Savior of the world is in her arms,” sings Phil, referring to Mary. “She’s staring at the face of God!”
“Come all Ye Faithful” by Passion, featuring Melodie Malone: To tell you the truth, I was a bit skeptical about this one. I love Nat King Cole’s classic version and was afraid a contemporary rendering would ruin the song. But, the more I listened to it, the more I fell in love with Melodie’s voice and the original outro included at the end: “His name shall be Wonderful, Counselor/His name shall be Everlasting Father/His name shall be Prince of Peace, Mighty God/His name shall be Immanuel.” I think the band ultimately lives up to its name, delivering a truly passionate performance.
4. Food is FUNdamental.
A party isn’t a party without food! On a deeper level, eating around a table or some other communal space/area is a powerful, universal act that brings people together. In the words of Spanish chef José Andrés Puerta, “I realized very early the power of food to evoke memory, to bring people together, to transport you to other places, and I wanted to be a part of that.” So, even before lunch or dinner is ready, lay out some Christmas-centric snacks on your coffee table in the living room or the island in your kitchen and munch on them with your guest. You will quickly discover that eating with him/her will help your guest loosen up a bit and become more talkative and comfortable with you.
(Side note: I’ve recently gotten obsessed with peppermint bark and think it’ll be a hit at my family’s Christmas celebration. Homemade gingerbread cookies, warm apple pie, chocolate-covered pretzels, and an assortment of dried fruits and nuts are some other yummy, fun-to-make options that’ll keep a smile on your guest’s face and his/her stomach full as everyone awaits the main course.
5. Board Games, Board Games, and More Board Games!
Everyone likes a good board game. Not only do board games help people of all ages come together and have a bit of light-hearted fun, but they also allow newcomers to get involved and feel included without any pressure. When I learned from my sister that Evan loves trivia, I was elated. I, too, am a trivia aficionado and know tons of trivia board games I am confident Evan will enjoy. Some friendly competition will be a great way to soften the mood, break the ice, and maybe even invite some side-splitting laughter. Now is the chance for you to dust off your old board games (like Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and Sorry!) and watch as you and your guest learn more about—and get closer to—each other.
My final piece of advice to you (and myself!) is this: Don’t be nervous! Christmas is not only a celebration of peace and joy; it is also a beautiful opportunity to welcome the stranger. The Savior, after all, entered the world as a stranger Himself—a vulnerable, little baby swaddled in rags and born in an innkeeper’s stable. Let this Christmas be a chance for you to give a new face a seat around the table, sharing the love, generosity, and kindness of our Lord and Savior. Said Washington Irving, the nineteenth-century American writer: “Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/SeventyFour
Roma Maitlall fancies herself a bit of a logophile (from the Greek, meaning “lover of words”). Her lifelong passion for writing—combined with her love of Jesus—inspired her to study English and theology at St. John’s—a university located in Queens, New York, her hometown, where she always dreamed of becoming a writer. Now a full-time writer, Roma enjoys spending time with her wonderful sisters and family, learning everything there is to know about history, literature, art, and Christianity, and using her words to give glory to Jesus.