It’s that time of year when the world falls in love and every song you hear seems to say that the countdown is on until you gather together for the family holiday and all try to make it out of the season alive.
Even if you actually love your family and voluntarily spend time with them outside of holidays and weddings, there’s something about Christmas that can bring about a layer of tension that isn’t necessarily present on other occasions. Maybe it’s the close quarters. Maybe it’s the politics of gift exchanges (Do not give me candle holders for the EIGHTH YEAR IN A ROW, especially now that my kids use flames as an excuse to test the parameters of our insurance policy). Perhaps it’s the steady flow of wine and poinsettia punch that contributes to more feistiness.
Whatever the reason, your survival is paramount. Here’s how to make it through to the new year, whether you’re the ones traveling to visit family out of town or every living relative on the family tree is descending on your place.
Talk about the weather
Here are the safe topics for discussion: snow removal tactics and how to care for indoor plants. I know it’s tempting to catch up, but seemingly harmless chit-chat leads to in-depth discussion which leads to arguing and before you know it, it’s Merry Fisticuffs to all! By all means, if you can share your child’s progress in preschool without it turning into a fight about how many episodes of Paw Patrol is okay in a day before it becomes damaging to the formative mind, give it a go.
Here’s what not to discuss: breastfeeding, ISIS, past family vacations, Hilary Clinton or The Bachelor. Those topics can get ugly, real quick. Just before Thanksgiving, I read an article that said the big family meal was a great place to discuss the upcoming Canadian election. Absolutely. It’s just not a holiday without tense, angry silence around the dinner table.
Find your own space
If that happens to be a beach in Hawaii, all the better. You could also try taking a walk to clear your head or retreating to your bedroom for a bath and some quiet reading time if you need a break from family dynamics. That works. But so does packing an emergency bag and your passport in case things get really awkward or you need to make a quick getaway from the scene of a fruitcake-fueled crime.
If you’re tempted to play games, stick to options that pose low risk for conflict like Trivial Pursuit, Sorry (Look, an apology built right in!), or hide and seek, where everyone hides while you head out for a nice, quiet dinner alone.
Look for opportunities to create new family customs, such as serving a unique dish at dinner, watching a holiday classic after the presents have been opened or heading out after the sun sets to systematically dismantling your neighbour’s Christmas display that is roughly visible from the sun and plays a never-ending loop of Frosty the Snowman. You cannot put a price tag on this kind of bonding.
Well, maybe your neighbour can.
Raise your glass
Alcohol is probably the most obvious crutch for surviving your family. This is merely a warning to exercise caution when using it to self-medicate through your aunt’s questioning of just what happened to the horrible fruit bowl she gave you as a wedding gift (That you accidentally dropped. Under the back tire of your car).
Four out of five drinkers agree (and by drinkers, I mean the first five friends who texted me back) that cocktails remove filters very quickly and that can escalate any situation that would otherwise be a non-issue when you aren’t imbibing. Have a designated mediator, who can sip sparkling water throughout the night and defuse these situations. Also, once the seal on the Bailey’s is cracked, do not make any official, legally-binding decisions about power of attorney. (Unrelated: don’t ever offer that up on Twitter either, but don’t ask me how I know).
Happy holidays to you and your loved ones! And may they remain your loved ones well past Boxing Day.