As a writer and southern storyteller, I regret I don’t have many good stories about family blow-ups during the holidays. I wonder why? Perhaps it’s because I learned these tips for How to Enjoy Your Family This Holiday Season from my relatives in the Giles and Rankin clans.
Don’t drink.Or don’t drink much. My grandparents and parents abstained from alcohol for religious reasons. We still don’t serve it at big family gatherings. If we had a mean Aunt Sally or a randy Uncle Albert, not that we do, without alcohol to loosen their control they tend to stay decent and civilized while we’re together.
- Family Arguments: Deal with conflict ahead of time. People on both sides of my family share their opinions in a direct and open way. We do have differences and occasional disagreements, but usually air them long before we gather for holidays. As a result, we don’t release many bombshells or act out hidden agendas.
- Make alternative plans. If you don’t want to go, don’t. You can delight lonely people with an invitation to YOUR table, volunteer to serve meals to the homeless, or snag a cheap holiday excursion if you can’t be with the family. I remember the year after my divorce when I could be with my sons only on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I discovered an exhibit of my favorite artist Georgia O’Keeffe in Zurich Switzerland, with works from private collections rarely seen in public. After a beautiful Christmas Eve service, and our traditional Christmas breakfast, I hugged my sons and flew off for a week in Europe!
Was I terrified to travel there alone? Of course. Yet I had a great time, and I gained confidence from making plans instead of sitting home alone. Another year, as I grieved the loss of my father, I ventured to New Mexico to be with my brother and his lovely wife. We enjoyed magical moments together, and the new location held no memories that triggered my grief.
- Enjoy games. Both sides of my family enjoy card games. Perhaps we express our aggression under the guise of fun, as we bid over a partner or accuse a loved one of cheating. Some people say we get along at holidays because we don’t talk much. We just play the darned card game.
Family drama can be fun when it’s about the sainted grandfather who bids over you and goes set, or the beloved aunt who accuses a brother with terminal brain cancer of cheating.
- Favorite holiday foods. We love food, and don’t worry about calories at the holidays. If you serve enough carbohydrates, everyone will feel mellow and calm. How can you fight if you’re dozing off for a nap? Cookbook author and TV personality Nathalie Dupree expounded on this at the Southern Festival of Books:
“When you cook for the holidays your goal is to make something so delicious that after you’re dead and gone your family will lie down in their beds Christmas night and say to themselves It just wasn’t the same without _____’s mashed potatoes.”
I hope that’s what succeeding generations say about my pecan pie. Whatever your specialty—your relatives will be calm if everyone’s carbo-loaded and fighting to stay awake.
After Five Steps to Enjoy Your Family This Holiday Season, it may be wise to consider What Not To Say to Someone with Depression. Let me close with three gentle suggestions for stupid comments to avoid, such as:
- To the person with a loss—
All is well, you can have another child/relationship/dog.
- To the unemployed—
It must be relaxing to have so much time off.
- To one with a health problem—
Oh my. Let me tell you all about my ailments.
I enjoy connecting with family because it helps me understand why I am who I am. As Elizabeth Huergo said in the November/December 2014 issue of Poets & Writers:
“Identity is very much rooted in time and place, in history and community, and that human will is sustained, shaped by identity, which is itself an aspect of story.”
Whatever your story, your family and community are part of your identity. Since they shaped you, look for fresh ways to enjoy your family this holiday season.
We are none perfect, but don’t let the pressure of holiday expectations rob your joy..
How are you doing with holiday stress? Take my quiz “Signs Burnout May Be Building” and check yourself out:
©2019 Deborah Rankin RD