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.
Christmas is just a day away and the journey through hell to visit beloved family is upon many an innocent soul. This yearly event brings together a mish-mash of individuals from extended family to close personal friends, long-time family friends, to who the hell are these people. Every holiday gathering has them. Those people who you don’t know, those people you don’t like, and those people you would never hang out with if they weren’t related to you. For your convenience, I have listed the personality types you will find at nearly any get-together this season in one easy go-to guide. Keep this with you at all times; your survival may depend on early identification of The Personalities of Christmas.
- Aunt Edna: Aunt Edna isn’t really anyone’s aunt. She is just included in holiday gatherings and drinks egg nog while pinching the cheeks of children (anyone under the age of say 30) and clucking annoyingly. No one knows exactly where Aunt Edna came from, she just showed up one year and kept coming back. It’s all good though; Aunt Edna makes the best cookies. Just avoid a full-frontal approach if you prefer your cheeks unpinched.
- The Gift Giving Overachiever: This is usually a female. No matter what you give, she one-ups you. But not in a good way. I know, sounds weird, right? Buy her a thoughtful gift card to her favorite store? She will give you a hand knitted king-sized comforter she has been working on since last Christmas, knitted with her own hair that she collected from her hairbrush and shower drain. By the way, here is a matching pillow sham. Start early after the gift-giving ends the year before in a quest to find the weak link aka the newbie to the family who has no idea about psycho overachiever so you can be sure and talk them into trading her should you draw her name again in Secret Santa. Hey, Cousin Joe did it to you when you married into the family so it’s only fair the torch get passed onto the next sucker new member of the family.
- The Gift Giving Underachiever: Sorry, guys, but this is usually male. He is so stressed at the idea of choosing gifts, facing crowds in stores, and Christmas music piped over loudspeakers that he shuts down. Finally, on Christmas Eve after the stores are closed, he heads out. His lucky wife will receive a 7-11 coffee mug (with free refills!), a lotto scratch off ticket, and a Valentine’s Day card with “Be My Valentine scratched off” and “Merry Christmas” handwritten across the top. The gift will be wrapped in a grocery store plastic bag and duct tape.
- The Pampered Pets: There are many pet personalities, and everyone loves to bring them all together during the holidays. Fluffy the cat will be stuck halfway up the tree, and Rocky the dog will be tangled in the Christmas lights (because he chased Fluffy the cat up the tree). Great, someone, we’re not sure who…but the Ne’er-do-well is looking particularly frizzy and singed…just chewed through the cord to the Christmas tree light and blew a fuse. Tiny little yappers become irresistible to the larger dogs who will chase them with thoughts of
sugar plums cannibalism dancing in their little doggy heads. One especially bad at his job scent hound will shred half the wrapping on each present searching for that elusive squeaker toy or treat that’s sure to be under the tree but getting only that flannel shirt for Grandpa or slippers for Mom, and his owner will frantically try to avoid re-wrapping them by using Band-Aids, staples and Gorilla Glue to fold the paper back around the gifts. It’s okay, though; the Gift Giving Underachiever still has plenty of duct tape to go around.
- The Kid Who Still Believes in Santa: You have to buy different types of wrapping paper to wrap the gifts that “Santa” brought and secretly resent giving Santa the credit for the PlayStation under the tree because Santa’s not the one that worked overtime for months to get the money to pay for that thing, dealing with people you already hate and not sleeping just to work double shifts and…and oh nevermind, it’s the thought that counts, right? You will invest in letters from Santa, and brave the frigid night to go out and place reindeer footprints on the roof and lawn. You may be really dedicated and invest in reindeer poop to throw in your yard. You’ll stay up late at night or else set the alarm for reaaallly early just so you can shake that damned set of sleigh bells ever so slightly to create a buzz of excitement throughout the sleepy house. You threaten vile, murderous acts against the older child and any other family member who feels the truth should be set free for the younger child (and really – how would that look to Santa after all??). And in the end, it’s worth it to see this kid’s face in the morning. After all, you’d do anything to keep him at this innocent age. But, sadly, he will become:
- The Kid Who Finally Realized That Santa Doesn’t Exist: You saw this coming last year when she began to question the logic of a man in a sled pulled by magical flying reindeer breaking into people’s houses to leave gifts in every house across the globe. Your explanations were getting more and more bizarre as you tried to keep the dream alive by making up stories of Santa having to hire helpers to hang out in malls, using time machines to navigate time zones, and being a millionaire to pay the wages of all the hard-working, unionized elves. Trying to keep this one away from the Kid Who Still Believes in Santa is a logistical nightmare. Hence the threats of vile, heinous acts against your very own offspring (who, ironically, is doted on the other 11 months of the year). One of these days, you just know Krampus is going to show up on your humble doorstep if not for your lies, then certainly for your threats against a child who simply wants to spill the beans tell the truth.
- The Tipsy Sipper: I can identify with this one, just a little bit. I find that a nice glass, or box, of wine helps holiday parties run a little smoother. I start my holiday sipping on Labor Day, and usually stop around Valentine’s Day. Nothing wrong with seeing your friends and family through wine-colored glasses. The Tipsy Sipper is a lot different from:
- Uncle Albert: You already know he snuck a flask into the party, spiked the punch bowl, and is currently telling deep, dark family secrets to the mailman and anyone else who will listen. You will eventually find him in the shrubbery out front, sprawled out in his Santa boxer shorts and tangled in Christmas lights that used to hang ever so brightly and prettily on the gutters, yelling incoherently at the sky about something that happened to cause Cousin Jack and Cousin Harold to stop talking back in 1956 while the neighbors live stream him in all his glory to Facebook.
- Cousin Gertrude: When you hear Cousin Gertrude is coming, you can’t help rolling your eyes. “No! Who invited her?” someone will inevitably say. “Well, she IS family after all,” someone will reply…as if that makes it okay. If you are lucky, Cousin Gertrude will be on her medication and sitting quietly on the couch, meditating or doing yoga. If she is off her medication, she will be sitting in a corner, mumbling to herself and laughing as she watches the wall while the family pretends not to notice. No one ever wants her to try to reenact what she sees on the wall like she did last year (we’re all still trying to recuperate from that fiasco), so it’s better to just go about your business and not encourage her.
- The Crafty One: Pinterest has nothing on this one. The Crafty One, armed with a glue gun, a piece of felt and a paperclip will MacGyver a multi-cultural animated holiday centerpiece worthy of the White House. Your construction paper napkin rings never had a chance, no matter how much glitter you put on them. She also sewed her own Christmas dress and is currently fabricating a sports sedan in the garage out of tin cans and pallets. She is nothing if not perfect and was put on God’s green earth to make all others feel inadequate but what comes out of her mouth is a pseudo-humble “Oh, this thing? It’s just a little something I threw together!” I suggest hitting the punch bowl early.
- The Cook: “I just brought a little snack,” says the Cook as she unloads a U-Haul of covered dishes and crock pots into your house. The Cook is usually a sweet great-grandmother who learned to cook southern style. Her food is stick to your ribs old-fashioned goodness, but everyone will be passed out an hour after eating it. If she didn’t bring food, she will wander into your kitchen and find a box of stale Ritz crackers, a bag of rice, and a can of mixed vegetables in your cupboard and whip up a little seven-course dinner.
- The Opinionator: This unique individual prides himself on being able to single-handedly offend every person at the party. No subject is taboo to the Opinionator, and he will not back down from a good debate about everything from politics to religion, veganism, child rearing and Star Wars versus Star Trek. He may be indirectly responsible for creating The Tipsy Sipper. Okay, maybe not so indirectly.
- The Gossiper: She will be the one making witty observations about everyone at the party, everyone who didn’t show up, and people she has seen on dog food commercials. She will gossip behind everyone’s back while forming alliances like a Christmas themed Survivor show. You are always nice to The Gossiper because secretly, you fear her just a little bit. She filmed your karaoke version of Funky Town, and she isn’t afraid to use it.
- The Christmas Cheer Spreader: The Christmas Cheer Spreader put her tree up on Halloween. She wore candy cane earrings to Thanksgiving dinner, and she is the reason Christmas advertising starts in June. She finished her Christmas Shopping in August (she was late this year, she’ll have you know) and her presents have been wrapped since Labor Day. Although we would rather eat dirt than let her (or anyone else) know, we all sort of secretly wish we were the Christmas Cheer Spreader as we stand in a Target line on Christmas Eve with a cart full of clothing that we already know will need to be returned because the only size left was petite and who is anyone kidding? Petite. Yeah, right.
Holidays are not stress free, and God knows every holiday function is doomed to failure from the start, if you invite people, that is. Oh, I’m not saying every event is sure to fail in epic proportions – although those are certainly the most exciting. Perhaps it will only fail in small degrees…because nothing can be perfect no matter how much we want it to be. Because people are involved, family is involved. And people, especially family, are simply not perfect.
Still, take a minute to appreciate every friend and family member in all their flawed glory this year; it is the mixture of personalities that makes the season memorable, warm, and usually hilarious.
I’ll drink to that.