Surviving Holiday Visits

Omar scared all the other Christmas ornaments away.

My small Christmas tree, with the Omar Little finger puppet of holiday ambivalence.

It’s Chrismukkah (insert your “We’re halfway out of the dark” holiday of choice here), the time of year where some of us take a few days off, eat and drink things with people we love, light sparkly lights, maybe exchange gifts. If this is a relaxing, special time of year for you that you love, I hope you enjoy it.

For some of us this time of year is one long slow-motion anxiety attack.  I must have “arrived” as an advice columnist in some way, as the letters about family holiday worry, financial stress, grief for dying relatives, the fear of facing abusers over Roast Beast started coming over a month ago. There are too many of them (and some of them cut too close to home) for me to answer in the way they deserve.

Here are some things I know, mostly on the subject of “don’t should all over yourself.”

1. Travel: You don’t have to go home (if you can’t afford it, if you dread it, if people will be mean to you). Perhaps you will “ruin” someone’s holiday if you don’t go. Perhaps you will “ruin” your own holiday if you do. If you choose to go, it gives you a little bit of armor for you to choose to enjoy what there is to be enjoyed and let the rest go. If you go because you “have to,” you’re sunk.

2. Presents: If you can afford to give presents and you want to give them, presents are delightful! If you can’t, don’t put yourself in a bad financial situation because you think you are “have to” give them. At this point some commenter is going to tell us about the awesome inexpensive Blah blah homemade blah blah crafty! blah blah thing they made, to which I say “Great! Please go share that on one of the 8 million sites about cool crafty stuff that is not here.” For some people making crafty stuff is fun and relaxing and exciting. For someone with limited resources (be it time, emotional energy, or money), the prospect of bedazzling a bunch of whatchamajiggits is filled with pressure and dread.

For the record, if someone gives you a present and you don’t have anything for them (because you can’t or because you didn’t know that y’all were gift-exchange-type-people), the correct answer is “Thank you! I love it!” and not a 15 minute Socially Awkward Penguin dance where you apologize for not having anything for them. Send them a nice thank you note. If they are the kind of person who keeps score and gets offended, this experience will teach them not to get you anything next time. Every kiss does NOT begin a diamond pendant shaped like buttocks.

3. Manners & boundaries.  Some families think that “We’re close, we don’t need to have manners! We can just say whatever pops into our heads! I’m not criticizing you, I’m just being honest! We don’t stand on formality around here! Wait, why are you crying?  God, why do you always have to be so sensitive?” The Venn Diagram of these families and those of the letter writers filling up my inbox are a series of concentric circles. Manners count. Kindness counts.

Simone at The Hairpin says the rest. I owe her some kind of nog or amateur craft project for knocking so many letters off of my to-answer list with one blow.

17 comments
  1. Snail said:

    Thanks for this.

  2. (4) Keep your own stash of motherfucken booze, and apply liberally as needed.

    • Tori said:

      (4a) — Especially if you felt like you “should” go home, and mom has not so many manners WRT this and takes your booze without asking.

  3. kathleendonohue said:

    It is a cruel coincidence that holiday social obligations are at their zenith at precisely the time when my Seasonal Affective Disorder is at it’s depressive lowest.

    Also, that pendant totally looks like buttocks. Why didn’t anyone tell poor Jane Seymore?

  4. RedSonja said:

    This has been the holiday season from hell. It’s the first holidays since my dad died; my stepmom brought her new (spectacularly emotional baggage laden) boyfriend to Thanksgiving, which elicited an understandably spectacular meltdown from my sister; our car broke down on the way to Thanksgiving 2 states away; and now we’re flying to Florida for Christmas and then going on a cruise with my stepmom and sister.

    I am terrified my husband and/or I will be deemed “too fat to fly” and have to buy an extra seat. I am convinced there will be at least one public emotional meltdown. And I would not be at all unsurprised if I end up drinking myself into a stupor at least once on this trip.

    So yes. This holiday season is about survival, not enjoyment. Maybe next year I’ll be a halfway stable human being again, capable of enjoying normal things. Blargh.

    • Virginia said:

      My father died right before (a) his birthday and (b) Thanksgiving 2 years ago. My heart goes out to you.

      • RedSonja said:

        Thank you. Everything just feels so fraught right now. And I feel like a total ungrateful asshole, because here I am going on this cruise and I’m only periodically able to summon some enthusiasm. I’m really hopeful that once we get there I can relax and enjoy it.

        • JenniferP said:

          Well, the pressure to enjoy yourself doesn’t make you more likely to enjoy yourself when you’re actually feeling a lot of other stuff. I hope you do manage to get some relaxation once you’re out on the water.

      • My heart goes out, too, to both of you–RedSonja, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. My mom died after a long long illness two years ago, but it basically ruined every fall/winter holiday for me for the foreseeable future. She had a stroke the week before Thanksgiving; she died in mid-December; her birthday is mid-January. I sort of want to kick everyone who gets excited about the holidays. Have you seen Jay Smooth’s video? It made me feel acknowledged: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JBHMwB3x2ho

        • JenniferP said:

          Great video. I love that man. And my heart goes out to you- what a shitty time of year.

          • Thanks. It makes my usual levels of Xmas-music-induced rage skyrocket.

        • RedSonja said:

          SweetMachine, I’m so sorry for your loss. Dad wasn’t sick very long (“just” 2 months), so it still feels very sudden. And what a hard time to lose someone! Particularly since the rest of the world keeps right on blithely starting to play Christmas music in early November and stampeding the day after Thanksgiving and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that the holidays aren’t all happy and bright and cheery for every single person everywhere.

          I hope things go as smoothly and easily as they can this holiday season. if you want them.

  5. Nemo said:

    Thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. We don’t have Thanksgiving where I’m from, so Christmas is the big hurrah of family get togethers for the year and it’s not something I’m looking forward to. I danced around the idea of sending in a letter asking for advice on how not to destroy people I happen to share genes with, but figured a few would come in touching on the same subjects I’m struggling with.

    You saved me much typing, Captain Awkward letter writers.

    I don’t want to deal with dramatics from relatives I see once a year. I don’t want to deal with my sister’s childish boyfriend who has Taken Over Christmas. I don’t want to be told how much weight I’ve put on or be asked why I haven’t got a real job yet or be expected to look after someone else’s children since I’m not drinking and everyone else is.

    I’m getting worked up just thinking about it.

    My plan is this: I’m making a list of everywhere that’s open on Christmas Day (around here, there aren’t many places) and I’m making a hasty, but polite exit as soon as it starts to be too much.

    And you’d better believe I’m grabbing the nearest container with a lid and taking dessert with me on the way out. Hell if I’m missing out on that because of relatives with no boundaries or manners!

  6. Virginia said:

    Number three. NUMBER GODDAMN THREE.

    It makes no sense to me – I think that if you love and respect someone, you should be MORE solicitous of their feelings. More caring. More generous.

  7. Esti said:

    I hope this doesn’t come across as insensitive or braggy, but this post/comment thread makes me so, so grateful for my family. I always look forward to going home, and even though I’m not particularly close with many of my relatives, my memories of the holidays are all warm and happy. I’m going to say some extra thank yous to whatever powers that be (and to my family!) at Christmas this year, because I know how lucky I am.

    • NessieMonster said:

      You are indeed lucky, and it makes me happy to hear that not everyone is fooked 🙂

      For myself, what I hate is being asked if I’m looking forward to going home for Christmas. Because the answer is ‘Well, no, actually! Because ‘ *while trying to not cry*.
      Blergh.
      Wishing for a non-stressful Christmas to everyone who’s written in and best of luck with the boundary setting, comrades.

  8. Chisa said:

    Well…this year has been really hard for me. I was told in January that my scholarship was cut and I had to drop out of grad school with an unfinished PhD. I struggled for half a year to find anything to work. At all. Had to get social welfare. Felt like the biggest loser out.
    Thankfully, I was offered two jobs last week and was able to choose the one I think will be my future. And I’m quite happy.

    What I am not happy about: I gained a lot of weight during this depressing year. Chocolate was my only way to cope with this whole S**t. I was totally ready for my mother giving me weight-related presents. She is a tailor and made me a two blouses. This I could cope with.

    Unfortunately my grandmother (the mother of my mother) has recently become an elephant in the porcelain store of social relations and her manners are very “honest”. So she just wants to help me when stating that my mother should make the blouses even wider as the pullover I was wearing was way too small to fit me. (By the way, she presented me with cookies and chocolate!) She also believes that she is slimmer than me (which she is not) and wants to give me clothes that don’t fit her anymore…(ha ha!!)

    Really, it becomes worse every year. The whole family doesn’t want to invite her to anything anymore.

    I hope I survive tomorrow. Merry Christmas to everyone!

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