Take her out into the wilderness. Find a real tree. A real nice one. And chop it down with an axe. Thank her for helping you pick the perfect tree, even if it’s not really perfect. She’ll know it’s more about going together to get the tree than a comment on the value of the timber and needles. Show her you can tether it to the roof with adequate knots, even if you’ve never been a sailor or a boy scout. (You need neither of these—you simple need to use Google and/or YouTube for instruction before you head into the woods.) Trim the tree together. Give it a little bit of love.
Some night when it snows, sprawl out on the ground to make snow angels together. As you lie on the ground together, talk about how the falling snow coming toward you makes you feel like a passenger on the Millenium Falcon.
Shop together for your relatives. Make a big show of separating for a while so you can find her a gift—even if you don’t find something amazing or “totes her” or whatever, it will show her you’re putting effort into the process. These days, sad as it is, you may get some credit for putting on clothing and leaving your apartment to get her a holiday gift. Acquire something nice wrapped in a box that makes it impossible to determine what’s inside. Let her shake it if she wants. Make something to go with it—a mix tape, a card, a napkin holder, a necklace made of macaroni, a plastic model of a French horn you paint blue and hang on her wall, etc. If it comes from your hands, she will appreciate it. This was true in grade school when we were buying things for our mothers, and it is true now.
Watch Christmas movies together. Say things like, “[Girlfriend], you’re such a disease,” or ask if Rusty is still in the navy, depending on the classic film you select. Maybe steal the postcard move the dude from Walking Dead employs at the end of Love Actually.
Celebrate once with her family. Hug her mom. Shake hands firmly with her dad. Bring wine or liquor, but not both. You don’t want to look like an alcoholic. And anyway, it’s more about the gesture than the quantity or quality—unless your girlfriend’s parents are waspy douches. Wear a tie, because it won’t kill you. Make sure you can maintain eye contact, especially with her dad, even if he looks like he might want to shoot you. Go to church with them if they want you to, even if your celebrations of the holidays (and life) are anything but theistic. You don’t necessarily have to participate, and can just sit/stand there. Many people go to church only on or around the holidays anyway. It’s a thing. Mouth the words to the songs. No one will know the difference, except Jesus.
Celebrate once with your family if you’re both comfortable with her coming home to mom and dad. Make her feel welcome, and thank her for being the reason your grandfather no longer starts every single one of your telephone conversations with “Meet any live ones yet?” Apologize to her for her inquiries into her entire life story. If you can, convey this with a look while they’re conversing. This may not be possible, however, because we are not all Ryan Atwood (Never forget Chrismukkah!) or Gosling. Seriously, f-you guys named Ryan. Words work just fine, too. If your family is old-fashioned, set her up in your bedroom while you hit the couch. Tuck her into your bed and point out some of the stuff from your childhood, if your mom hasn’t already turned your former digs into a “craft room.” If a stuffed animal is part of your gift arsenal, this is a great time to present it to her. She can snuggle it as she falls asleep, while you quietly rub one out on the couch. Just be sure to do it quietly, otherwise, if your little cousins are in the house, they might think you’re Santa, and before you know it, you’ve ruined Christmas, and you’ve got jingle blue-bells.
Listen to Bright Eyes’s or Elvis’s version of “Blue Christmas” one time and one time only. Realize you do not need to listen to depressing holiday music this year. Freak out in a good way.
Just before you go to sleep —whether it is alone or with her—feel the happiness that comes with having a significant other at this time of year. Hope holiday season after holiday season ends up being similar to this one. Know that even if they aren’t, you will still always have this memory.