Every holiday season there are lots of articles and news segments on surviving the holidays. I’ve found them to be mainly unhelpful: “Watch your sodium intake”–there’s a pile of summer sausage just sitting there on the festively-decorated table, ready for the taking. And a bathtub filled with gravy, delicious gravy. I’m supposed to avoid summer sausage? I’m supposed to decline swimming in the gravy tub? I don’t think so. Here are my honest tips for surviving the holidays, which are really more just a validation of your feelings, in case you’re dreading turkey time. Feel free to add your own in the comments.
Family members are annoying.
I’m not the first to make this observation and I won’t be the last. Any time you’re with a group of people you didn’t get to pick, you’re going to be irritated. Everything Mom says reminds you of why you moved out of the house. Your father keeps trying to fix things that aren’t broken in your house…leading to broken things in your house. Your sister-in-law hovers in the kitchen, pointing out that you overcooked the turkey and your mashed potatoes aren’t as fluffy as they could be. Your husband hides in the basement in front of a football game, unwilling to referee the madness. Relatives can be the most difficult part of the holidays. You can mitigate some of the rage you experience by not building up people to be different than they are. If your cousin is the most annoying person on earth every other day, he will still be the most annoying person on earth on Thanksgiving. Expect it, accept it, try to have a little compassion. Or use wine to cope.
The holidays are not always wonderful.
Not every Christmas can end with the scene from It’s A Wonderful Life. Sure, some Christmases will definitely end with people showing up at your house unannounced to put their pocket change on a table to save your bank, and sing Christmas carols and welcome your war hero brother home. But not all. There is no guarantee that the holidays will be more wonderful than any other random day. Kids are liable to get crabby; presents may not be as appreciated as you’d hoped; a snowstorm can mean only half your guests show up to dinner. If the day isn’t that great, that’s okay. Don’t build it up as something other-worldly. The rules of this world still apply. And the rules of holidays still apply–no one will judge you for drinking wine at 11am. Don’t be a hero. Drink the wine.
No one pulls off the perfect holiday.
Let me spoil the surprise right now–something will absolutely go wrong if you are hosting. A couple years ago, I hosted my first big holiday, with a significant number of people. Despite lots of preparation and a written minute-by-minute tally of what was to go in the oven or on the stove, I left too many things for the last hour before the meal. I ended up with vegetables that weren’t cooked, gravy that was like water, and a cooling turkey on the counter. Naturally, my brain short-circuited and I couldn’t figure out what to address first. Thankfully my mother and sister stepped in and helped, but I felt disappointed in myself. Now I think about that meal and wonder first of all, why didn’t I let anyone help earlier? Second of all, of course things went wrong! I was cooking for a crowd! I was making Brussels sprouts in a huge vat! There were a hundred moving parts–if it wasn’t the dinner then the dogs would have gotten into the pie. If it wasn’t the pie then the cable would have gone out during the football game. Even if you can’t tell when you’re a guest at someone else’s table, trust me, something has gone wrong. You just haven’t been privy to the panic. Roll with the punches and be kind to yourself (and others) when things don’t turn out perfectly. Also, wine.
Humor, humor, humor.
This time of year is not ideal for working through grievances with people in your life or making serious decisions about the future. There’s a lot of stress, a lot of distraction, and people aren’t at their best (this is includes you). The best way to get through it, and more importantly, try to actually enjoy it, is to have a sense of humor, about yourself and other people. Yeah, your relatives might be obnoxious, but if you can laugh it off (or try to see their redeeming qualities), you’ll have a much better time. Same goes for all those other expectations–when things go wrong, when you get frustrated, cut yourself and everyone else some slack and move on. Try to find the tiny moments of contentment among the distractions of the season. When all else fails? Watch Home Alone. That juvenile, slapstick humor is still the perfect elixir for a bad mood. (As is wine.)