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Deck the Halls (Not Your Family)

Surviving Christmas is one thing. Family gatherings are another.

There’s a reason Chevy Chase made a successful career out ofportraying family gatherings. Coming together with your own relatives,extended family and in-laws can get a little dramatic.In an effort to alleviate the winter anxiety and help make thisyear’s gatherings more enjoyable, here are a few keys to surviving theholidays at home:

Master the greeting

You walk in, scope the room and approach the first of several dozenrelatives you haven’t seen in a year. Do you extend a hand for ahandshake? Is it appropriate to open your arms for a hug? What about asimple fist bump?

Although etiquette varies from family to family, follow these basicguidelines to minimize the awkwardness of initial physical contact:

The Hug. This one is most acceptable for family members of the opposite gender. As a rule of thumb, the older the relative, the morelikely they are expecting a hug. (If they’re over 75, you’ll probablyalso find yourself on the receiving end of a wet cheek kiss, soprepare.)

If you’re not a big “hugger,” try to approach each family member very slowly. You can use those extra seconds to read body language andascertain if the person is bringing a full embrace—or if a friendlyside-hug/back-pat would suffice.

The Handshake. Visiting in-laws for the first time? Want tomake a good impression on your new father-in-law and his tough-guybrothers? Have an emotionally distant cousin you never really speak toanymore? Good news! You can’t go wrong with the handshake. It’sversatile, formal and, most of all, safe. Of course, if you have grossly misread the situation and need to quickly abort the handshake anddemonstrate the desired intimacy, there’s always the …

Handshake/Hug Super-Combo. This one is for the unsure moments. Extend the hand for the shake, but as you approach, if the look ontheir face is telling you, “Really—a handshake?” quickly grab their hand and throw your other hand around their back, embracing firmly. It’salways good to say something in their ear toward the end of thismaneuver (preferably something that ends with the word “bro”), like, “So good to see you, bro!” or, “Merry Christmas, bro” or, “I hardlyrecognized you with that sweet mustache, bro!”

The Kiss on the Cheek. Generally try to steer clear of thisone. (Though if you’re confident enough to actually touch your mouth toanother family member’s face, more power to you.) Exceptions to the“steer clear” rule: 1) Your Thanksgiving dinner coincides with a big fat Greek wedding; 2) Your in-laws are in the mafia.

Be Prepared to Answer the Tough Questions

Inevitably, at any family gathering, you will be faced with a barrage of uncomfortable, unnecessarily frank, personal questions. These passive-aggressive dinner interrogation sessions will most likely come from relatives who, despite their complete absence from your life for the past 10 months, feel obligated to interject their opinion and subtly express their dissaproval of your life decisions.

The best way to avoid the awkwardness is to prepared answers in advance so you're not caught off guard. To assist in your preparation, here's a list of possible questions you may be expected to answer in front of your entire family:

  • Are you planning on finally moving out of your parent's house?
  • So, you still don't have a boyfriend/girlfriend?
  • When are you two finally getting engaged—or is something not OK with your relationship?
  • how much money are you making at your new job?
  • Have you considered checking our Weight Watchers?
  • How's the job search coming—hasn't it been over a year?
  • When are you two planning on having kids?
  • Are you going to have that removed?
Avoid the Clark Griswold Meltdown

There’s a reason family holidays have a reputation for inducingstress. Inevitably, the combination of traveling, preparing lavish meals and seeing people you’ve known your whole life for the first time inalmost a year leads to anxiety.

Even so, the last thing anyone wants is to be the one who has thepublic meltdown in front of the entire family. We’ve all seen it godown: A conversation starts off innocently enough—about politicalpreferences, the economy or your recent string of unfortunate lifedecisions. Then, out of nowhere, it goes too far. Dishes are slammed,old arguments are rehashed and a series of regrettable things are saidin front of the elderly and small children present. 

No one wants to be that guy. Sure, it might feel good to get somethings off your chest (a la the Festivus airing of grievances), but in a few years’ time, your little outburst will be remembered more as a joke than a confession. (“Remember that time Uncle Steve freaked out andthrew the turkey down the stairs after everyone complained that he’dundercooked it? That was hilarious!”)

This holiday season, if you feel the stress mounting and you knowyou’re just minutes away from completely wigging out, take a deepbreath, walk to the dessert table and tear into an unnaturally largepiece of pumpkin pie. You’ll feel better.

Don’t Bail

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all had the grand illusion ofditching—to forgo the travel and the stress and the family drama, tojust chill at home, put on the Macy’s Parade and eat some takeout Boston Market. (Similar to the little-seen Tim Allen vehicle Christmas with the Kranks, where he and Jamie Lee Curtis decide to skip Christmas with the familyand go on a Caribbean cruise. As you may have assumed—because this isTim Allen—hilarity fails to ensue.)

But ask anyone who has missed a holiday with their family and they’ll tell you, it’s just not the same. Christmas and Thanksgiving withoutfamily ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Even if you’ve always considered these gatherings, with theirrequisite awkward greetings, uncomfortable questions and sketchy sidedishes, a necessary evil—and sometimes a source of yearlong dread—onceyou’re away from it, you’ll remember more than the painful drama. You’ll remember the laughter, the love and the inviting smell of fresh,homemade food. In the end, holidays aren’t about you and your comfortzone. Family is about the good and the bad—it’s about being together nomatter what.

In a way, the holidays are like a lot of things involvingfamily—there are plenty of moments of awkwardness and goofiness, butwhen you’re away from them, you realize most of the memories are goodones.

That’s the thing about families; too often, you don’t realize howmuch they mean to you until you’re apart. This Thanksgiving andChristmas, relish the awkward moments and try to laugh at the drama.Enjoy time with your family, even if it means eating that marshmallowcasserole.



Anonymous commented…

I never had big family Christmas growing up, it was my small family of three as long as I can remember. My wife has a decent sized family and I now have a live in mother-in-law, so holiday's are much different. I have a hard time maintaining my cool sometimes at holidays. Often times I find there are some matters that people are rather particular about that I have no understanding of why it is so important.
I feel forced to enjoy my holidays on someone else's terms.
That can be frustrating. I have worked hard on trying to dance the dance, but I find it an annual battle.

All that to say, the article is good direction for how to handle yourself well in the midst of high tension holidays. It is easy to be a jerk, handle yourself poorly, and ruin ruin the experience for everyone. it is a much greater representation of good character for others to know it may not be your desired way of doing things, but you handle yourself with grace.

This is a lesson I am still learning and far from having it mastered. The article is encouraging that I am taking some of the correct steps.


learnthinkact commented…

Thank you for sharing these survival tips - it's good to know I'm not the only one with an "interesting" family :o)

Luke Olson


Luke Olson commented…

Great game plan!! Come to Turkey where I live, and you'll get a hug and a kiss just as a hello!! Hahaha.

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