Holiday Dinners With Your Family

It's a pretty eventful step in a relationship with you introduce your significant other to your parents. That step gets compounding by a factor of roughly a thousand when you're introducing her to your entire family for a holiday meal. Instead of just making nice at an intimate dinner for four, now you have to worry about invasive aunts, outrageous cousins, and the inherent racism of the elderly. It's a gauntlet that usually ends in pain and misery for all those involved. With Passover and Easter coming up this weekend, it got me thinking about when it's okay to expose the love of your life to your family and vice versa. In my family, it's historically a pretty awful experience.

Some families gladly welcome all outsiders, especially on religious occasions where acceptance is a virtue. Others make it clear that you've got to earn your way in to the group, like some sort of mafia or street gang. My extended family falls in the latter camp, although we got rid of our biker vests years ago. The older generation of Kesslers are notorious for being less than hospitable to outsiders (and by outsiders, I mean girlfriends that haven't yet made the jump to fiancées) and the women that marry into my family have all experienced that attitude first-hand. To get an insiders account, I talked to my aunts about their first time at a Kessler Family Event and they were more than happy to share their stories.

My Aunt Dina's first Kessler function was Passover 1989. My uncle had to get special approval to bring her because he had yet to propose and the family policy at the time was "no ring-y, no bring-y," as in "if you like her, then you better put a ring on it and if she don't have a ring on it, she don't get no seat at the table." We were really into double negatives back then. Anyway, she was finally allowed to come to the Seder, but the timing could not have been worse because a cousin and his girlfriend had just gotten engaged right before Passover. That meant that Dina was now invited, but was relegated to second-class citizen status. Unfortunately, that exclusion took a tangible form. My cousin's fiancée got a very official "Welcome To The Family!" note on her plate and Dina got nothing. Talk about passed over...

"I was allowed to come," she said. "But I wasn't welcomed with open arms." Eventually, when she got engaged, she was given her very own welcome note, but the slight still seems to sting a little when she talks about her first holiday meal with the whole family.

My other aunts had similarly unpleasant experiences. Aunt Susie had to face off with a kosher turkey so dry that it was named (in a very appropriate Passover tie-in) The Desert Bird. Both Aunt Cherie and my own mother had to contend with my great-grandmother questioning the fact that they were even Jewish and, thus, worthy of being at her holiday dinner table.

So when is it okay to bring someone home for a holiday meal? That depends totally on your family. I think the best answer is to just make sure it feels right. Don't force it too early and don't wait to long. If my family is any indication, the resentment will linger for years to come. When I decide it's time to bring a girlfriend to Passover dinner, I think I'll just have to invest in a fake engagement ring. Cubic zirconia doesn't cost that much, right?