Last week I noted that, with the first “normal” Christmas in three years coming up for many people, a lot of folk are out of practice when it comes to holiday traditions and customs.
One that has always been fraught is the family Christmas dinner, and what with the pandemic, increasing political polarization, changing societal norms, and a host of other things, this year things could be even more tense around the holiday dinner table.
Here are a few tips to help you make it through the meal with your temper intact.
Buzzwords: Be alert for words and phrases that might, on the surface, sound fine, but which can quickly lead to tears, harsh words, angry exchanges, and/or at least one person storming away from the table. Sample phrases to watch out for include “Don’t you have a job yet?”, “Are you still at university?”, “When I was your age, I had already …”, “I don’t understand people and their pronouns”, and “Who did you vote for?” as well as anything containing the words “vaccine”, “conspiracy”, “climate change”, and “cancel culture”.
If you hear any of the above, do not engage. I repeat: do not engage. Instead, be ready with a deflection, which is an innocuous semi-related topic you can pivot to. Example: When Uncle Mark says “When I was your age I had already bought my first house,” you reply “Really? That’s very interesting. By the way, anyone else notice that the Anderson house is for sale? Such a beautiful place, perfect for a young family.” Or when Aunt Margaret says “Are you still at university? It sems to be taking you a long time to get that degree” you reply “Yes, I am, and I’m so glad I’m at [insert name of university here], it’s a lovely town, have you ever been there?” Deflection takes some practice, but it’s a skill worth acquiring.
Separation: If your family is sufficiently large, there is probably a kids’ table, and that can be an excellent place to sit if you want to avoid tension at the grown-ups’ table. Not to say that kids are a walk in the park, but the stakes are a lot lower (and I have never yet met a kid who cares about a grown-up’s marital status, job, political views, or lack of home ownership). You’ll probably learn way more than you ever wanted to about what’s hot in kid-world, but you’ll get bonus points from the parents, who can relax knowing someone else is on kid-watching duties. Win!
If there’s no kids’ table you’ll have to get a bit more creative. Volunteer to help out in the kitchen; offer to take the dog outside or see where the cat’s got to; tell everyone you left something in the car and take a loooong time looking for it; pretend you’ve got an important phone call you just have to take (“That boss of mine, always riding me, but at least I’ve got a job, amiright?”).
Food: Do not be a drama llama. Unless you have a massively restrictive diet (in which case you have thoughtfully brought something you know you can eat), there will be something there you can partake of. And if you can’t eat something, don’t loudly tell everyone why, just say how good it looks/smells and move on. No one else wants to hear about your food allergies/restrictions/diet.
Home alone: The nuclear option. If you have reason to believe that Christmas dinner with others will be like the fifth circle of Hell, only worse, you can opt to Just Say No. “I/We are having a quiet Christmas dinner at home alone this year” is a complete sentence as it stands, and needs no elaboration, but if you feel that’s a bit too blunt and/or might cause too much conflict, you can come up with something to soften it: illness (feigned if necessary; I’m not here to judge), bad weather/roads (or the threat of same), young children or pets who can’t take the excitement: whatever works.
You can even blame your boss and claim you have to work.
At least it puts an end to questions about whether you have a job.
Barbara Roden is editor for the Ashcroft Cache Creek Journal.