Making a plan for holiday family gatherings

Written by Jay Holland
Published on December 09, 2022

We’re entering the season filled with awe, wonder, gratitude, and dread. It’s that time of year where we get to spend time with the family we love. Sometimes, we get to spend time with family who are easier to love at a distance. 

Let’s be honest, just because we grew up together doesn’t mean we now have the same worldview, parenting styles, standards, goals, or aspirations. Other times we love every member of our family and are mostly on the same page as them, but it’s just overwhelming when they all get together at once. 

I’m reminded of Proverbs 14:4: “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but increase comes by the strength of an ox” (NKJV). If you want a rich family life, you’re going to have to accept a certain amount of mess and chaos. But too many of us spend our holidays sliding from “messy” to “miserable.” 

10 ways to approach family

There are over 100 people in my blended and extended family, and there’s at least one holiday gathering with each of them. I want to share with you steps that we’ve seen work over the years. 

If you can incorporate just a few of these, you will experience less stress, more fun, and perhaps even eternally significant extended family gatherings this Christmas 

1. Release yourself 

Release yourself from the guilt of thinking you’re going to please everybody. It’s not going to happen, and you’ll end up exhausted and bitter.

2. Stop sabotaging the peace 

Stop sabotaging the peace of all of the days leading up to your family gathering. Jesus said “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). If you’re only going to be with the difficult members for a few hours or days, don’t let them control your emotions for all of the days leading up to the event!

3. Make a plan 

Make a plan. Aim to stick with your plan. Walk in grace when you cannot stick to your plan. Proverbs 27:12 says, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” 

Many of the heartaches of your holiday gatherings could be avoided if you think through the following questions: “How am I going to calendar these next few weeks with enough margin to not run ragged?” “How am I going to coach my children for some of the unsavory experiences they might encounter with our extended family?” “Knowing that I do not trust this particular person in my family, how am I going to make sure that my children are not left in vulnerable situations with them?” “How am I going to redirect conversations with grace when they go down gossipy or destructive pathways?” “How am I going to lovingly hold my boundaries when this particular family member tries to guilt or manipulate me?” “How am I going to love and support my spouse as they navigate the different people in their family?”

4. Personal worship

Intentionally instill a time of personal worship and gratitude, for you and your immediate family. This season is crazy busy. If you’re not intentional with this time, it’s not going to happen by accident!

5. Teaching and training opportunities

Don’t miss the teaching and training opportunities in your own family. Have honest conversations (without gossip) with some of the struggles you’ve had in your family before. Teach them how you’ve tried to love and also live in boundaries. Affirm their feelings if they don’t like some of their cousins. Coach them on how to show love to hard people.

6. Go in grace

Don’t go to your gatherings to “just get through them”— go seeking to be an instrument of grace. In Romans 12:20-21, Paul says “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

If this is God’s standard for how we should treat our enemies, how much more should we go seeking to be God’s instrument of blessing to our family! Besides, you never know when your act of grace will be the very thing God uses to transform your family member.

7. Bring others in

Bring your other family members in as best as you can on the plan. If it’s dreadful for you, likely it’s dreadful for other family members. Since you have some time, start talking about how you might intentionally make the time more meaningful as you’re together. 

Maybe each family can put together a little photo video project of what happened over the last year. Maybe you can plan a service project together. Maybe as a family you can adopt a family in need and work together to provide for them.

8. Think of others first

Think of ways you can be “others first” without feeling resentful and manipulated. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).

9. Don’t guilt your spouse

Don’t add to your spouse’s stress by guilting them over their family. You’re their teammate, not their courtside heckler.

10. Pray for your family! 

Remember, no family is perfect. Every family needs grace.

Consider a few extra resources:

Why our family celebrates Advent

A Christmas to Remember

O Come Let Us Adore Him

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Jay Holland

Jay Holland is a follower of Jesus, a husband to Emily, and the biological and adoptive father of four children. For more than two decades Jay has served as a pastor in family and student ministries, and has walked through multiple special needs challenges within his own family.

Jay’s personal and pastoral experiences led him to launch the weekly Let’s Parent on Purpose podcast to equip and empower moms and dads to build thriving families. He serves at Covenant Fellowship Baptist Church in Stuart, Florida and is also on the board of Hopegivers, a ministry that cares for children and churches in India.

Read more about Jay

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