Dealing with family during the holidays

By Katie Gravagna

Staff Writer

You can lock your doors and bar your windows, you can store enough canned food to last for years, but you’ll never keep them out.

I’m talking, of course, about visiting relatives.

Most people have at least one relative that comes calling during the holiday season: the Bureau of Transportation Statistics states that traveling to visit friends and family is the single biggest reason Americans travel during the holidays.

But if the holidays are supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, peace on earth, goodwill to all, why do (probably) well-meant family visits cause so much stress? They aren’t deliberately trying to provoke anyone… Right?

You can brace yourself all you want, but when the time comes and the dreaded family visits roll around, you’ll most likely realize that you’re yelling yourself hoarse, attempting to convince your similarly tense parents that you are too old to play with the three year old cousins- you aren’t a babysitter! Just like last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

The problem is, bringing family together often stirs up a lot of trouble.

Why are holidays such a big deal? We see our family every day. Aside from the minor spats and unavoidable teenage drama, everyone most likely gets along quite well with their immediate family. Then Aunt Edna comes to town and starts hinting that you need to dress more femininely, or Cousin John laughs at you for not making the football team, and everyone dissolves into an angry mess.

Holidays are stressful enough without having to deal with equally irritable family: gift-getting, battling those inevitable winter colds, worrying about finals just on the horizon (farewell, sweet A+s), and having to listen to the same four Christmas songs over and over on the radio. It’s enough to drive anyone crazy.

Introducing family to the melee just adds more problems to the mix. Family can bring back ugly memories (we all have those stories we’d rather not bring up… Ever.) and heap on expectation after expectation until you can’t help but lash out.

However, not all hope is lost: there are many ways to cope with toxic relatives. Oprah comes up with some clever and even hilarious strategies to dispel the holiday terror.

To start, you could try playing ‘dysfunctional family bingo’.  Before the gathering, fill out a card with all those hair-raising but omnipresent idiosyncrasies that you dread in a family member.

For example, if your grandma always makes you listen to the same three battle stories of when she was your age (you know, the ‘uphill both ways through six feet of snow’ type), put it on a bingo square. Ta-da! Observing those horrible habits suddenly seems almost… if not fun, not quite so awful.

Another strategy is to be an observer. Hang back from the family; pretend you’re a psychologist preparing a report on this undecipherable group of people. Make notes of what to tell your friends later, then decide on a diagnosis.

If squabbling family feuds are a big problem, make sure you never try to control the behavior of others- this will just lead to more anger and frustration. If you can’t stand the nasty comments your great-aunt just made about the waiter, make a polite but firm remark and move on. Dragging your entire family into a be-all-end-all fight isn’t a good way to make a point.

Finally, venting about everything that happened is a must: before the next holiday, make sure you’ve whined and sobbed and moaned all you need. Believe it or not, people love to hear stories about how your family is weirder than their own.

As grim as the approaching holidays now seem, it’ll all be over soon. Remember, if you can’t get rid of your family (and you can’t, they put you in jail for trying) then you might as well accept them. After all, as comedian George Burns said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.”


Some holiday stats:

Poll results show that 46% of American Adults are happy about the holidays. 42% find the season stressful instead.

Many beloved Christmas songs were written by Jews, including the most popular Christmas song ever— “(I’m Dreaming of a) White Christmas,” by Irving Berlin.

National candy cane day is december 26th.

In 1990, a school board tried to ban all nativity and other Christmas scenes on their school property because they felt it violated the separation of church and state. They lost the case- Christmas was ruled a worldwide, secular tradition.