Marti Schodt
December 23, 2014 11:05 am

Don’t get me wrong; family is the best. But around Christmas, when everyone has a case of the yuletide crazies, family can also be the worst. We love each other so much that we start picking and prodding and poking and pruning every last nerve until someone snaps and sets the tree on fire (accidentally of course). It’s a stressful time, and even the most loving and considerate families can end up saying regrettable things when the tensions are high and the eggnog is heavy.

I beg you, put down the candy cane sword and give your mom a hug, because these people love you, despite what they said about your college major. And you love them, too, despite what you may or may not have done to the tree. Eat a cookie and grab a blanket, because you’re in this for the long haul, and you’re going to be grateful to have these people in your life one day. Here’s how to survive the remainder of Christmas break with a smile on your face and happy memories in your pocket. You’ve totally got this. Now smile, because they’re watching.

Try to leave the house

There’s something about being trapped in a house with everyone you love that really grates on the nerves. I think that one house can only hold so much affection before it explodes in a fiery love-cloud of yelling and finger jabbing. I recommend leaving close quarters on a regular basis. Take a long walk alone to clear your head, call a friend and grab coffee, see an afternoon movie, just get far, far away from the loving cage that is the family home. A change of scenery can do wonders for the psyche, and there’s no shame in a taking a little break before you break.

Organize a craft project everyone can help with 

Nothing brings a family together like some good ol’ holiday crafting. Having a common goal can build a sturdy little bridge with family members you maybe haven’t talked to in a while, and it’s nice to have something to chat about other than big scary life choices. “Can you pass the glue, uncle John?” will always be easier than “So I heard you decided to leave your boyfriend. That’s brave.” It doesn’t have to be difficult. Glue cotton balls on a paper plate, tie ribbon around pinecones, who cares? Just have fun with it! The goal is to focus attention on something positive that you can build together, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be time-consuming and calming.

Stay one step ahead of everyone

If you know what fights are coming, do your best to stay one step ahead and cut them off at the source. If your family argues about dirty dishes, do them before anyone can complain. Laundry? Stash it in your room. Your grandma wants to know why you aren’t married? Tell her all about the good things in your life before she gets a chance to question your happiness. Just be prepared. Be on your toes. Like a cheetah. Be the cheetah. Feel the cheetah. Rooooooaaaarrrr like the cheetah, and then take a nap because you’ve earned it my fierce friend.

Be cool about your family’s traditions

If your family has specific traditions, do your best to honor them. My family always has a big Christmas party where all of the adults drink and all of the children run around and poke each other with forks. It’s always a hotbed of drama and feelings and more often than not someone starts crying. But it’s exciting and thrilling and very telling of my family’s flair for theatrics, so I wouldn’t change a thing. If you have anything similar to my family’s one night mini-soap opera of a party, I suggest you do what I do: just let it happen. You know going in that it’s going to be messy, but if you let go and give yourself permission to have fun, even the biggest meltdown can turn into a chapter in your memoir later on. Lean into it; accept it for what it is, and watch out for flying forks.

Divert attention away from the fight-zone

If you sense a fight about to break out, derail it by breaking into song instead. It’s hard to be angry when there’s an impromptu Frozen sing-along happening in your living room. Add dance moves if you have to, whatever it takes to diffuse the tension and get everyone back in a loving mood. Let it gooooooo.

Repeat after me, “Do you really want to fight about it?”

I’ve actually said this out loud to various family members and it almost always shuts it down. Nobody wants to be the one who’s always picking fights for no reason. If you sense that your aunt doesn’t really want to argue about wrapping paper, gently suggest that it probably isn’t worth it, and walk away. Keep it light and jokey, and never let them see you sweat. Additionally: throwing out a compliment always helps. “I love your shoes, Aunt Jo!” *speed walks away from conflict*

Wear your humor on your sleeve

Laughter is the best way to keep your sanity. My family is full of sass and sarcasm, and I’d be lying if I said I never got my feelings hurt by a wayward joke. It’s important to remember that no one is trying to upset you, they’re just nervous and awkward and hoping to deflect their own insecurities. Smile, nod, and laugh if you can. It’ll be funny later, I promise. Do it for the memoir.

Stuff them with food until they fall asleep.

This is also a useful babysitting tip. People are happiest when they’re full and sleepy. If you’ve had a little too much family time, make a big dinner, turn on the TV, and let the turkey magic do the rest. They’re so much cuter when they’re sleeping.

Be in the moment

Recently while I was helping my mom decorate the tree, I said something about how much I loved our ornaments and she responded with this: “They are pretty, I’m going to miss them when you move away and take them all with you. Then I’ll have to buy new ones and it won’t be the same.” This was a week after my dad got emotional talking about how this may be the last year my whole family gets together to go pick out a Christmas tree. I think that they’re trying to vote me off the island. That or they’ve realized what I haven’t accepted yet: that I probably won’t live in my hometown forever and that there may come a time when I can’t make it home for the holidays. This makes me incredibly sad, because jokes and crazy antics aside, I love my family more than anything, and the holidays are always special and magical and now I’m crying everywhere.

Please, appreciate the time you have with your family. It’s precious and irreplaceable, and one of the purest kinds of love you will ever experience. Bake the cookies, hang the lights, sing the songs, watch the movies, and hug all the hugs you can because these are your weirdoes gosh darn it, and they need to know how much you care.

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