Meeting the Family for the Holidays, Part I

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Joining my wacky family for the holidays is a tough proposition for any outsider

. We have traditions, sibling rivalries, and many strange activities to worry about each year. The best way for a newcomer to handle our family around the holidays is to remain fluid and let the rough surf take you where it may.

This year, my little sister's boyfriend Jake joined us for a few days. I must say he did a good job handling the challenges. Here are some highlights:

The Awkward Gift Moment

On Christmas day, I realized I might have been required to buy Jake a gift. My policy is: once you're in the family you get a gift from me. I yelled across the room while opening gifts on Christmas morning:

"Jake, please tell me you didn't get me a gift."

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My sister fessed up for him: "well, it's not that big a gift." Awkward. I jokingly told Jake I "didn't know we were doing gifts this year."

The Ravens Hat & The Grinch Boxers

The true sign that Jake was welcome in my family was the ravens winter cap my mom gave him. In many cults you're officially in after strange rituals or tests. But in my family, you're officially in when you get Ravens paraphernelia (my brother in law got a full on Ravens jersey this year, but he's been involved longer).

Jake is from Iowa, so he doesn't have a football team close to home. My mom sees another opportunity to indoctrinate this poor guy — like any citizen ripe for the picking he's a little lost and vulnerable when it comes to NFL allegiance.

When Jake put the hat on after opening it, I tried to stand up for him: "If some girl's mom gave me NFL stuff for a team other than the Ravens, I'd laugh and resist."

My mom looked at me and said: "but honey, he's from Iowa." Jake sat smiling in his Ravens cap...ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

Another gift that the guys got was a pair of novelty boxers with a character on them. I got a pair with Papa Smurf exclaiming: "Just Call Me Daddy." Jake, unfortunately, was the first to open his novelty boxers: an obnoxious pair of green Grinch boxers that glowed like radioactive matter with "Merry Grinchmas" written across the back.

Jake had to react correctly in the face of our family. Later he said he wasn't sure if it was a joke aimed just at him — a hazing tactic, or what. Luckily all us guys got hazed. Brutal.

The Foosball Tournament

Part of our Christmas night tradition is the Foosball tournament designed by my uncle at their Christmas party. My uncle's sister's family joins the party for desert and takes part in the tournament. After the draw (yes there's an "official" draw), Jake was placed on the most random team ever: him and my uncle's sister Marty.

Usually Marty's 17-year old daughter (who I'm convinced is sneaking in to bars to hone her skills) or my older sister's husband who is a dominant barthlete (proficient in darts, foosball, Big Buck Hunter and other bar games) win the tournament, with some loser like me riding their coattails.

But, Jake and Marty won, taking down all the favorites along the way. Overcome by emotion, Jake grabbed Marty and swirled her around in the air. Who would have ever thought that Jake would be swinging my uncle's sister around in exaltation before this night? A Christmas miracle!

We discussed prizes after the tournament and it was decided that all past winners would have their names engraved each year on a trophy. How symbolic for Jake to have his name etched in our family's lore forever?

For more of Jake's triumphs, and what Jake taught me, see part II of Meeting the Family For The Holidays...

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