The holidays are coming. And so are my relatives. It’s time to test that great annual sociology thesis: “Is it possible to compress numbers of humans who are related by blood or marriage into a confined space for several hours, fill them with carbohydrates, tryptophan, and alcohol, and not have them tear into one another over any number of disputed points of view?” Generally, no.
At least that’s been my experience. No matter what the intentions for a peaceful dinner are, no matter what pre-victual agreements have been signed, festive family get-togethers usually devolve into raised voices, hurt feelings, and shouts of, “Susan, grab the kids. We’re leaving right now!”
Here’s the problem. Chances are we’re going to continue having holidays to celebrate. Moreover, and probably against good common sense, we’ll more than likely have family over to share the chaos joy of the season. Unless Prohibition should miraculously come back, alcohol will be served. And that folks, is the tinder and kindling for a family feud. That’s why I’ve developed a guide to help diffuse what I call “Holiday Hot Spots.”
I’ve found that flare-ups usually occur when one of the following topics is brought up:
- Politics – this one is usually a “given.” I mean, there’s a reason why they say never to discuss politics in polite company. That’s because it makes people want to throttle each other. This year I’ve put “Politics” at the top of the list because of what’s going on in Washington, D.C. If I’m in the kitchen and I hear people shouting, “Drain the Swamp,” “Lock him up,” “But what about Crooked Hilary,” “El Cheeto Grande,”or “Covfefe,” I know that I have to run into the living room screaming, “Oh my god, somebody knocked over Jimmy’s terrarium full of black widow spiders! Check your legs! CHECK YOUR LEGS!” I find that this stops the arguing, dead in its tracks. As an added plus, everyone gets a little pre-dinner work-out.
- The Media – rather than bursting into flames right from the start, these arguments usually simmer until they finally reach a flash point. If I hear the words Hannity, Fake News, Rachel Maddow, Bill O’Reilly, Lamestream Media, or Kellyanne Conway, I know that I have to spring into action, like immediately, in order to waylay any punches that might be thrown overly heated debate that might occur. I’ve found that by saying something to attract everyone’s attention while confusing them at the same time works very well, and makes them forget what was causing the argument in the first place. I’m good at this. Just this past Thanksgiving, I casually walked into the family room and cheerfully said, “I decided to change things up a little this year. Turkey sounded sooooo boring. I hope you all like muskrat. It was free, just lying there on the side of the road. How could I resist? They say it tastes like badger.” It got their attention, yet no-one knew how to respond. And there, with their collective mouths agape, the bickering ended.
- The Outcast – most families have one. It’s the family member who is currently “on the outs” with the rest of the family. Their crime could be imagined, “I hear that he dates loose women.” Or, it could be real, “I’m glad she’s not here to get drunk and set the Christmas tree on fire again.” Whatever the reason…a prior engagement or perhaps a moment of mental clarity…they “weren’t able to come this year.” Not being there to defend himself or herself, they suffer (albeit, in absentia) the majority of the verbal abuse from the family who is gathered. I mean, right? This entertainment usually keeps everyone occupied for quite a while, and all is right with the world. That is until someone decides (usually with vindictive glee) that enough is enough and points out a peccadillo of someone who is actually present and within earshot or brings up a decades old story that is best left untold. Then it’s true confessions time, and not in a good “truth or dare” kind of way. Friends tell me that I should just do the “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” speech when this happens. However, I find that I can quickly diffuse things by setting the Christmas tree on fire. Again.