Christmas comes but once a year, even though it feels like you just had to see all of these relatives less than a month ago. Even the most wonderful time of the year can present challenges, and many of those are directly related to you or your significant other. Having a family that could probably land its own Bravo TV special has helped me gather some strategies for dealing with the trials and tribulations that come with relatives. It has also helped me learn to mask a lot of my true feelings with sarcastic banter. Both great gifts if you ask me! My gift to you is this guide to surviving your family this Christmas! Sorry, I forgot your gift receipt-no returns or exchanges.
Your Dad’s New Significant Other
According to this New York Times Article, while the overall divorce rate in our country is declining, the rate of divorce for people over 50 has almost doubled. That means that a good chunk of you are like me and your parents divorced after you left the nest. Now, there may be someone new in you mom or dad’s life, and that brings with it a myriad of feelings which are not all Christmas cheer. My advice is this: one, don’t meet this person on Christmas day. That’s too much pressure for a holiday. Two, try to keep it all in perspective. This person is not expecting to be your new parent, nor do they want to be. At best they will be a new friend; at worst they will be a reason for you to write to advice columnists in your spare time. And three, don’t let your dad’s new significant other sit down with your mother to look over your parents wedding album to see “what he was like in the 70s.” That kind of awkwardness is more of an Easter thing.
Nana is your elderly relative who struggles with memory. If she’s like my Nana, she is fairly progressed in her dementia but is still able to attend holiday functions. This is a double edged sword- I feel truly lucky to still be able to spend holidays with her, but the challenges this presents are not to be taken lightly. For one, Nana repeats her questions a lot. Smaller children need to be prepped ahead of time to avoid hurt feelings. Another challenge that has recently come up is that dementia can also bring with it some paranoia. At Thanksgiving, my Nana could not remember that she had handed down to us a few pieces of furniture and some dishes over the years, and began to question how we had come to have them. While you can’t move major pieces of furniture, it would be smart to preemptively skip the serving dish you were gifted in order to avoid further confusion. I would also suggest pictures. Make “Selfies with Nana” a thing. You won’t regret it.
Christmas should be a time for giving, for eating, and for watching A Christmas Story while reciting the best bits of dialog (“Stick my tongue to that stupid pole? That’s dumb!”) But some friends or family members can’t let a large gathering go without trying to debate someone over current hot button topics. They see a living room full of people and think audience. When this happens, I want you to whip out some awkward conversation segues like so:
Obamacare – doctors – TV doctors – “Hey small child, come over and tell Grandpa all about Doc McStuffins.”
Gay Marriage – Married With Children – Where is Ed O’Neil’s Emmy for Modern Family?
Global warming– It’s cold outside – Baby It’s Cold Outside; creepiest Christmas song ever?
Your Polyamorous Brother and His + 2
While I don’t have direct experience here, I do know a thing or two about relative’s sexuality and how others think it will somehow affect the Christmas ham. The best course of action here is to just pull up three chairs far, far away from The Debater and maybe not directly next to Nana, as she may be having a hard enough time keeping people straight without additional challenges. Leave it up to the polyamorous adults to take the lead on how much they are telling, or not telling, people about their trio. In an ideal situation, this should probably not be the first time your parents are hearing about this aspect of your brother’s life, but he’s an adult, so that’s his call. Also, since they are bringing an extra adult, they need to bring extra food. Personally, I would prefer more desserts, but I also enjoy sides so surprise me!
There are many ways to make a family, and many ways to get invited to a family’s holiday dinner. For example, maybe your sister is dating someone with kids and they are joining you all this year. I have read enough Dear Abby/ Prudence/ Comment Section letters to know that sometimes these bonus kids aren’t well received by older adults, especially in situations where there are other grandchildren. If you can, and are able, please pick up a gift or two for these kids. Holidays can be rough- and can be made rougher still by watching kids busting with joy at opening an American Girl Doll goat, while you sit with nothing. Art supplies or comic books can go a long way in making a child feel included.
The Relative Who Won’t Stop Singing
Once, this was my brother’s boyfriend and a strange array of Disney songs. Often, this is my dad, especially if my aunts are around. All I know is, when you hear “Angels We Have Heard on High” for the second time in 40 minutes, that’s the time to signal every man, woman and child who can walk to dress warmly and go caroling. Pass out hats and scarves and make lofty promises of hot chocolate for when they return. Then have yourself a merry little moment of quiet, wine, and the twinkling of lights on the tree.