It’s the most wonderful time of the year, filled with peppermint mochas, ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas, holiday shopping and your favorite festive treats (homemade gingerbread cookies, anyone?). As the semester winds down and you venture back home, you will face your next test: navigating the chaos and awkwardness of family gatherings. We love them, but it’s not a true family get-together without some sort of unexpected drama. This season, how can you stay sane and keep the holiday spirit alive? Follow HC’s simple tips to surviving family holiday parties!
1. The interrogation
How’s school going? What are your plans for the summer? Will you intern anywhere? How about that boy—what’s his name again? Are you dating?
When you haven’t seen your relatives since the last family gathering, it can be overwhelming to finally have them all together in one room with questions ready. Marci Lash, founder and Chief Etiquette Officer of Contemporary Etiquette, says it’s best to stay positive even if you’re feeling aggravated.
“When you go into a situation like this, you want to go in strong and with a positive mind,” she says. “Don’t go into the party with a chip on your shoulder, because it’s just going to end badly.”
Instead of sitting in the hot seat all night, she recommends turning the questions on your relatives. “The best way to respond is to be respectful and polite,” she says. “Answer their questions and then change the subject! Ask them about themselves.”
This will show that you are interested in their lives, and the pressure will be off of you. They’ll be excited to share what they’ve been up to and hopefully will forget all about your love life and future plans.
To avoid the interrogation altogether, you can take the advice of Kayla Alexander, a senior at the University of South Carolina, and hang with the little ones. “For the most part, I pretend to be taking care of the little kids in my family and running around with them so no one really has the opportunity to ask me anything,” she says. “It's worked out pretty well so far.”
There’s nothing worse than insulting your Grandma’s cooking (is that meatloaf or cheesecake?!). To avoid any awkwardness, it’s always best to take a little (potentially bite-size) serving of everything. This way, no feelings will be hurt and everyone will be happy. Plus, maybe Grandma’s mystery meatloaf cheesecake is actually out of this world. And even if it’s not, if she asks, it’s the best you’ve ever had.
If you’re feeling creative, why not bring your own dish? This can help lessen the responsibilities of the host, and you can show off your awesome cooking skills. Win-win! You can also mention the yummy new recipe that you tried out if you’re in need of something to talk about when there is a lull in conversation (who doesn’t love talking about food?).
As everyone settles down to eat, Lash recommends keeping the small talk light in order to avoid uncomfortable disagreements between family members. “It’s tricky because there are so many things that are off-limits,” she says. “You don’t want to talk about politics, religion or social issues that you know are just going to ignite somebody at the table.”
Instead, she says it can be helpful to talk about less controversial issues, such as a new movie in theaters that you want to see or your school’s latest sporting event.
Stuck between two cousins who won’t stop debating about anything and everything? Uncle Rob giving you the creeps? Have an escape plan! Lash says it can be as simple as going to get a second helping and running into another family member to talk with instead. Offer to get dessert for your cousin or another drink for your parents, and you’ll be excused from the conversation effortlessly.
3. The gift exchange
Congrats! You’ve made it through the awkward small talk and dinner phase. Now it’s time to open gifts. If all goes according to plan, the rest of the night should be drama-free. But that would be too simple!
When it comes to opening presents from others, it’s best to act excited and appreciative no matter what. It’s easy to offend someone, especially if they put a lot of effort into your gift. Put on your best poker face, because who knows what you’ll end up getting. That sweater from Aunt Beth is ugly-sweater-party-worthy, but she doesn’t have to know that.
4. Clean up
As the party winds down, offer to give the host a helping hand with cleanup. You can get a break from mingling with family and some much-needed alone time.
Bonus: if certain relatives need to step away from each other to avoid a fight, bring one of them along to help. When that many people are together in the same room, something is bound to come up! There’s nothing wrong with separating the problem so that it doesn’t fester or turn into something bigger than it needs to be.
5. Heading home
After hours of mingling and chasing around your baby cousin, you’re about ready to call it a night. Your family doesn’t want you to leave, and it’s hard to come up with a legitimate excuse. What should you do?
Upon leaving, Lash says that collegiettes should politely thank the host, make their rounds of goodbyes and keep their explanations to a minimum.
“You don’t need to over-explain yourself,” she says. “What if you’re not feeling well? Or you’ve been up since 5 a.m. because you were working [an early] shift, and you’re tired? It’s one thing to put on your party face, put your time in and go. That’s good enough!”
Family get-togethers can be awkward and dramatic, but remember the true meaning behind the celebration and try to cherish the time that you have with your (slightly dysfunctional) family. Here’s to hopefully stress-free and enjoyable holiday gatherings, collegiettes!