Family Party Survival Guide
For when you’re just not feeling the joy
I love Christmas, but I find the holidays stressful – especially when I have to gather with family and in-laws that I normally don’t see throughout the year. Everyone has their own set of expectations for the holidays and these can be impossible to meet. Also, a lot of time, energy and money go into planning and preparing for the holidays, so by the time you get together, tempers get frayed and flare easily.
Every year, my husband and I feel run down after all the rounds of visiting and swear next year we’ll fly south and avoid the whole thing altogether. If you love getting together for eight family dinners over the holidays and get along with all your relatives and in-laws, including your brother’s surly 10-year-old son, your sister’s know-it-all husband, and your busy-body aunt, then try reading one of our gift-buying guides. This article is for people who need to know how to survive the big family dinner without gouging out their own eyes.
Rules of Engagement
Don’t Try to Please Everyone:
If you’re hosting The Big Dinner, don’t expect to do it the way your mother or any other previous generation did it. That means if you grew up eating goose but always hated it, you can have a turkey, or ham, or whatever you want. It means if your father-in-law expects to have homemade Christmas pudding, you can tell them to either try the pumpkin pie or ask your mother-in-law to bring pudding. At my first Christmas dinner at my home, I put out Christmas crackers since I’d always seen them as a child and wanted my children to have them. My mother asked why I was using them, we’re not British, afterall (even though I am actually one-eighth British, thank you very much). Do as you wish to make this memorable for your family, but be ready for sly (or not-so-sly) comments.
Head the Fighting Off at the Pass:
Decide who has to drive beforehand. If you’re not the driver, you can down a quick shot of something before you get in the car. This will make the drive there less stressful. Otherwise, you’ll bicker the whole way, as stress mounts the closer you get to your destination.
Come Bearing Gifts:
This means something for everyone, because nothing will make you more stressed than having nothing for someone who drives you crazy (and she brought you a gift). This is true even if you have all agreed not to buy each other gifts. There have been enough times when I’ve shown up without gifts only to be presented with a “token” bottle of wine by a not-so-favourite relative. Now my children and I make chocolate treats for everyone (chocolate-dipped pretzels, shortbread, and homemade truffles) and package them in pretty boxes from the dollar store. They’re little, easy to do and it makes me feel like I’ve covered my bases.
Look for Distractions:
For me, this usually involves a few drinks to take the edge off, but this solution doesn’t work for everyone. When things get tense or stressful, that is the time to round up a few of the children and take them outside for a good old-fashioned snowball fight. You get out of the house and look like the cool one who plays with the kids.
Other distractions include playing a board game with one of the least-annoying relatives or in-laws (there’s got to be at least one) or helping with the food preparations or cleaning up. Anytime the conversation veers in a direction that could be problematic for you, make that the time you need to get drinks for people or clean away dishes.
Be Prepared for Trigger Topics:
Some people always have something to say, so go through the list and make sure you’re prepared for their not-so-tactful comments about your relationship status, job, living arrangements, lifestyle—whatever it is that those people seem obsessed with talking about. You can either decide that this is the year you’ll put a stop to it and address it head on or avoid and know that it will never stop.
I've decided to reclaim Christmas for me and my family. THIS is the year we go stress-free, even if I have to do it with triple rum and eggnogs! Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
Written by: Reni Walker