12/11/2012 03:44 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2013

Gift Etiquette: First Holiday With the Parents

There's that very special moment in a romantic partnership where you cross over from just dating to being in a relationship. You've already gone through the nerve-wracking ritual that is meeting the parents, but now it's time to spend your first holiday with them. While it's exciting on some level because you know it means you're moving forward in your relationship, it inevitably comes with a host of worries: Will you manage to do and say all the right things? Will you make a dish they can't eat or buy them a gift they don't like? To ensure that these fears stay only in your head, I've put together a list of dos and don'ts that will help you have a merry, worry-free holiday with the potential future in-laws.

  • Your research! Although you have probably discussed his/her parents and heard quite a bit about them, you should ask some questions to make sure that you are giving the right gift when you visit them for the first time. Ask what their house is like, how they like to celebrate this occasion and if they have any traditions that you could get in on, like sharing cookie cutters or wearing a Christmas sweater.
  • Bring something that shows you would like to come back again, but don't be too practical. For example, give an ornament that you hope to see on the tree each year.
  • Plan for a centerpiece, arrangement or plant to be delivered that can help set the tone for the holiday. It's easy to set up and it means that your presence will be felt even after you're gone.
  • Try to be too out of the box. They may not be hip to you and your significant other's tastes and interests, so don't assume that they are.
  • Give anything political. Parents won't always have the same views as you, so steer your conversations and your gifts clear of controversy on your first visit.
  • Give a gag gift that they might not "get." It's OK to want them to laugh, but don't scare them with something gross, mean, X-rated or terrifying. If you have to ask if it's appropriate, the answer is probably "no."

Spending your first holiday with the parents is almost comparable to a job interview or a first date because first impressions count and last. Make this landmark holiday memorable in a good way by following the foolproof advice above. And remember to enjoy your special day with the family. Hopefully you will be sharing these memories for years to come!