With the holiday season in full swing, millions of people will soon be heading home to spend time with their families. Unfortunately not everyone has the luxury to jet set away, and plenty of folks may be spending the holidays alone. There’s a chance your roommate is one of those people, whether it’s because they don’t have time off to celebrate Hanukkah, or the plane tickets are just too steep. So rather than having them sit in the apartment alone, why not invite them to spend the week with your family? If this is the first time you’ve entered this territory with your roommate, you might be wondering what’s appropriate. Sure, inviting your roommate home for the first time can feel weird — but don’t worry! Here’s how to make the experience for everyone the least awkward and most welcoming possible.
Make a Point to Ask Questions
There’s no point beating around the bush. While you might feel uncomfortable digging into your roommate’s background, being attentive will create a more welcoming, warm environment for them. Maybe your family partakes in a gift exchange every Christmas, but your roommate might not celebrate the holiday at all. Knowing information like this beforehand will prevent an awkward situation for everyone come Christmas morning if your roommate doesn’t have a gift to offer or if their religion prevents them from accepting gifts altogether.
“We never push our traditions or religious beliefs on anyone,” says San Diego-based etiquette expert Maryanne Parker of her own experiences hosting guests of different cultural backgrounds.
“Everything should be based on mutual respect. I always explain how we celebrate [our holiday] and the meaning of the traditions. You should also learn about your roommate’s religion if they practice one. In in most cases, if it’s explained well, it will make sense.”
On the other hand, if your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas but your roommate does, be upfront about your family’s traditions (or lack thereof) and ask about what traditions your roommate celebrates. Having an open discussion about their culture will not only be a great learning experience for you, but it’ll also help them feel comforted knowing that you took the time to listen. And who knows how much you may actually have in common!
“Always look for similarities,” Parker says. “You’ll be surprised how many positive ideas other seemingly different religions share with your own. The differences will be always there, but this makes life more enjoyable.”
Be Mindful of Dietary Restrictions
When welcoming someone into your home, embracing their dietary restrictions and choices is a hugely important gesture. Food is a central part of any celebration, and the last thing you want to do is serve meat, alcohol or even caffeine to someone whose religious beliefs restrict them.
“One of my best friends was observing Ramadan over the holidays once, so out of respect, I refrained from eating or drinking around her or her family during the observation of their holy month,” says Parker. “And when she visits for Christmas, she can share some of the food we have while still following the rules of her religion. Because she doesn’t eat pork, we’ll serve turkey.”
Want to make your roommate really feel at home? Whip up an easy dish he or she would normally eat at home. Even if it’s nothing fancy, the gesture will go a long way. Texas-based etiquette expert Diane Gottsman did just this when hosting her son’s friend, going out of her way to make him feel more comfortable with a homey meal.
“I asked for his favorite dish, which happened to be candied yams,” Gottsman says. “It was so easy! At the table, my entire family included him in conversation and asked about his family traditions.
“He lit up sharing stories. He was appreciative, and before he left, he gave me a huge bear hug. His outward sign of appreciation made his visit even more special.”
Combine Your Traditions
From the food to the decorations, no two families have the exact same traditions, even if they do celebrate the same holidays. For Olivia Cavalieri, an American student studying at Institut Supérieur International du Parfum de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire in France, celebrating the holidays with her live-in boyfriend’s family took some getting used to after her own family’s way of doing things.
“In France you celebrate more on Christmas Eve, which is a huge contrast to my family’s traditions where we usually just made a nice meal, ate as a family and put cookies out for Santa,” Cavalieri says. “Here, Christmas Eve is an all-night affair. I had no idea that there was going to be seven courses and stuffed myself on the appetizers and champagne.”
Rather than a typical Christmas ham and gingerbread cookies, Cavalieri describes how different holiday food is in France, noting that seafood is central to the menu, as well as other classic French dishes.
“The buche de Noel doesn’t look like our Yule logs decorated like actual logs, but instead are amazing cakes layered with chocolate mousse and raspberry filling,” Cavalieri says.
“Most people don’t decorate their houses with lights because electricity is expensive. Instead the community puts up a lot of lights, lit banners that cross the streets, and beautiful designs on the light posts.”
Yet while Cavalieri has learned to adjust to these new customs, she says it has made a huge difference knowing her boyfriend welcomes her traditions as well.
“He fell in love with the idea of stockings when he was in America. And since I helped write everyone’s name in glitter on stockings, we do them here in France with his family.”
Open Your Home to Them
While you may already live together, staying in your family’s home can be intimidating for your roommate. Be a pal and give them the heads up on what’s socially acceptable with your family and the normal routine at your house. Have an uncle who gets a little too loud and political? Is your grandma likely to ask about your roommate’s lack thereof love life? Yeah…you should offer a fair warning. Also don’t forget that this isn’t the home you share together. Your roommate isn’t going to know their way around and might not feel comfortable asking, so give them the rundown to avoid any awkwardness.
“Give clear directions so your guest doesn’t feel uncomfortable. Remember to do simple things like give them the WiFi password,” Gottsman says. “Show him or her where extra towels, toilet paper, and toiletries are kept.”
Having your roommate home for the holidays can be a lot of fun. And who knows what hilarious memories you’ll create together to share next year?