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I'm sure there are well-adjusted families out there where holiday get-togethers are as idyllic as A Very Brady Christmas. The very thought makes me want to slap someone. My own holiday gatherings are stressful, angst-ridden affairs laden with guilt trips, ennui and a fair dose of Machiavellian maneuverings. Every year at Thanksgiving or Christmas an argument starts, inevitably ending when someone hurls a dish (usually something nasty like peas or green beans) across the room and storms out. That's why I've brainstormed a few survival tips for these lovely gatherings...advice that Martha Stewart will never utter.

  • Play Dead, feign Narcolepsy or demonic possession to extricate yourself from undesirable conversation. Nothing says "I find you tiresome" like keeling facefirst into your pumpkin pie or chanting in Latin in response to "So...have you met a nice girl yet?" (I recommend reciting "Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo")
  • Be honest. In a family where denial and pleasantries are the status quo, nothing will bring Aunt Hagwella up short quite as nicely as responding to her personal inquiries with blinding truth. We all know she really wants to know the dirty bits...why keep her speculating? Tell all! "Where's that lovely Shannon, dear? You were so cute together last year." deserves the proper response, "Oh, Shannon? We split after I caught her working the corners and cashing in on her ping pong ball trick. I hear she joined the circus as part of a sideshow lesbian contortionist act...pass the yams." Sit back and enjoy everyone's expressions! Fun!
  • Carry a beeper, and arrange for a friend to page you at a predetermined time, like right after you expect to finish eating. This will spare you the nightmare of making small talk for several hours while your Uncle Lenny demonstrates his fabled flatulence. Don't explain why you suddenly have to go...let them wonder.
  • Become the Stepford Relative. Equally dishonest, but if you can pull this off they will love you. Pretend to adore that godawful tic-tac pie Cousin Gladys concocted, compliment your siblings on how well-behaved and intelligent their devil children are, and agree wholeheartedly with the insane socioeconomic theories your father preaches across the dinner table. Warning: if your head feels ready to explode from the effort, discontinue. While a wonderful conversation piece, detonating relatives leaves a mess and is unconscionably rude.
  • If all else fails, simply don't go. It's not like they'll really miss you anyway.

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