I originally posted this about four years ago, but I think it bears repeating.
Let’s face it, Norman Rockwell wasn’t a documentarian, Martha Stewart likely dines alone over the sink, and Hallmark makes it all up. So, if you, like me, have a family gathering coming up in the next while in honour of Christmas, I offer the following tips (some of them tongue in cheek,) for getting through a day or a meal with some of your more… interesting relatives:
1. Focus on the children.
They have not yet been completely messed up by their messed-up parents so there’s actually hope for a decent conversation if they’re old enough to speak. Don’t ask a lot of questions- just get down there and play with them. Be the fun auntie or uncle who really takes time for them. Be warned, they might not realize that you’re using them as a diversion and may take to clinging to your leg. This also can be helpful, as it takes up tons of time that would otherwise be spent hearing from their parents about how marvelous or disappointing they are.
2. Focus on the food.
Being busy preparing things is an awesome way of not having to hear about how evolution doesn’t really exist, or how auntie so-and-so did cousin such-and-such wrong this year. Prepare complicated and difficult dishes so you’ll look like you’re putting a lot of effort into the family rather than avoiding them.
3. Have a project.
Bring a notebook or some paper and ask everyone for recipes or favourite memories of Christmases past or something like that. It provides a natural talking point and can help you avoid hearing the stories about this year’s surgeries and other disgusting medical issues.
4. Drink heavily.
Kind of goes without saying, doesn’t it? Plus, it might have the added benefit of providing a distraction if your two uncles look like they’re actually going to have that long-threatened fistfight; you could provide a way for everyone to think about something else.
5. Be an anthropologist.
This one is handy only if you’re in the right mood, but it can extremely useful for the particularly difficult family. Pretend you’ve been dropped on foreign soil and must report back to your mother country on the attitudes and mores of the inhabitants with an eye to beginning trade talks or an invasion. Ask lots of questions, and do what you can to remember the answers as though you really were writing a report, because you are. When you’re telling your friends about the craziness you experienced at the Christmas dinner table, you’ll want to be well prepared with the inevitable details they’ll ask for.
6. Have some fun with it.
This is a tip only for the very, very brave or those who have taken tip #4 a little too seriously. Ask the crazy conservative about Sarah Palin, talk to the atheist about the vast void of nothingness that follows death, or even question the closeted about their love life. While asking the obviously closeted about romance might seem odd, it does the triple duty of a)providing a timekiller, b)giving the relative the chance to use the stories they’ve been making up for just such a situation and c)(bonus) provides assurance their secret remains safe.)
Here’s hoping your Christmas dinner is delicious and entertaining.