Do your family holiday gatherings remind you of a situation comedy? Or a psycho thriller? This article does not have any information on ways you can change your relatives to make them more tolerable.
1. Take time out to reflect on Christmas (or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or New Year's) past.
It is a good thing to take time out to calmly reflect on what has gone right and what has gone wrong in family gatherings in the past. The point is not to bring up old hurts and grudges, but to understand your family members as they really are, not as you want them to be.
6. Get some exercise, preferably out of doors.
I have a favorite cousin I see about every 10 years. He is nearly 70 now, but he will always find a reason to gather up the physically fit members of the family and go for a 5- or 10-mile run. He lives in Chicago, so there is no kind of weather that interferes with this strategy.
Going for a run has enormous benefits. Running releases calming endorphins in your brain. Most of us can't into a loud argument while we are running. Getting out of the house gives our other relatives an opportunity to gossip about us. It also gives us an opportunity to blow off steam about them (selectively and with discretion). Organizing an exercise activity at the right time is a great way to defuse family tensions.
7. Invite a friend.
Non-family members offer some of the same advantages for family gatherings as going out for a run. Family members may be less likely to engage in snarky conversations or to criticize each other in front of strangers. They may feel compelled to make sure their guest is comfortable.
Or they may not. Taking care of your friend's needs, of course, can provide you with a graceful exit from family tensions.
8. Organize an event that creates memories.
The holidays are a great time to reminisce about the past. Bringing photo albums and home movies or videos can help everyone remember good times and put bad times in perspective. Holidays are about memories.
But they can also be about creating memories. You can get the family together for a ski trip. Or a mission or service trip. You can all combine your resources and put on a holiday feast for people in need. And the holidays are also a great time to listen to live music, see plays, and go to tourist sites with the people you want to remember in the future.
9. Celebrate the holidays with your intentional family rather than with your biological family.
The truth is that some of us did not win the lottery when we got our relatives. We may have relatives who regard us as an ATM and tolerate us on holidays because we buy expensive presents. We may have exes who traded us for younger or wealthier models who have managed to woo away our own children. We may have relatives who are just plain obnoxious and nobody of sound mind would want to spend any time with them.
It happens. That doesn't mean you can't spend holidays with family. You just have to create a family you were not born into. You can run into the same kinds of issues with your family of intention as you do with your biological relatives, but you can also choose people whose character you admire and whose presence you enjoy.
10. Be yourself.
The holidays are not necessarily a great time for "coming out." Revealing to your family that you are gay, straight, married, divorced, just getting out of jail, about to go bankrupt, or a recent convert to Rastafarianism probably is not best done at a holiday gathering. But don't pretend you have things that you don't, enjoy things you don't, or that you believe things that you don't.