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The Nightmare Before Christmas


The family holiday dinner scene from August: Osage County. Seinfeld’s Festivis Airing of Grievances. The dinner scene from American Beauty. The scene from A Christmas Story where their holiday dinner gets eaten by the dogs. The scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Why do we have so many hilarious movie scenes regarding family get togethers? Because if we don’t laugh, we might cry.

In all honesty, the holidays stress a lot of folks out. There is something about the gathering of a family during the holidays that sometimes dredges up unfinished business, forces interaction, and brings up longstanding issues. Difficult personalities, feuds, opinions—it’s a bonanza of holiday fun. Seriously, some family holidays pose a major challenge. How then, can you approach these difficult situations with grace, and possibly even enjoy your holiday celebrations despite all of the above?

First, let’s understand why holidays are particularly notorious for evoking crisis or conflict. Holidays simply equate to family and friends. Many of us recall holidays with our families and have memories (some good if you are lucky, others bad if you aren’t). Our memories (good and bad) are partly what are responsible for the power of emotion behind holiday drama. Family of origin (your siblings and parents) are your first experiences of relationships. Because these are our first relationships, they are primal. By primal, I mean they are predominant. We measure our other relationships against them. These primary relationships carry a heavy emotional weight, so to say. While other relationships like friends and lovers that come later in life can have strong emotional ties, the first people you relate to are the gauge by which all is measured. No matter how you feel about you family of origin, no matter how disjointed or dysfunctional… there remains the ability for it to cause strong emotion.

That being said, depending on your emotional and psychological evolution around your own issues and others, you might be dreading the upcoming holiday gathering. Just because you dress up and head to your brother’s house or your father’s and stepmother’s living room, doesn’t mean there will Peace on Earth.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep your mouth shut. If someone offends you, is unkind, brings up a sore issue—just ignore it. A tennis match takes two people. Remove yourself from the situation if you feel yourself losing this ability.
  • Keep the peace. Remove yourself from bad subjects, volatile conversations, and people with poor attitudes.
  • Know that most of your relatives, or friends for that matter, have their own constellation of issues. You have nothing to do with them. Listen if you are able, but don’t make it your problem. Keep neutral and benign.
  • If a holiday gathering makes you sweaty and anxious, you shouldn’t go—period. Holidays are a time for joy and peace. If you cannot have these things, don’t go. Find your joy and peace elsewhere.
  • It’s okay to create a “family” of your own. They don’t have to be biological. Be with the people who make you happy and try to make peace with those biological relationships if you can. Regardless, surround yourself with love.
  • Make memories…. you’d be surprised how many walls come down when you bring out old photos, honor a family tradition or do a cooperative activity. Baking together, decorating the tree, cooking a meal are all great examples.
  • Show gratitude for the ways your family relationships have touched you. Again, even when there is conflict, walls go down when you honor the ways the people in your family have touched you and molded you. Some people may struggle to identify any—but most can identify and share a positive way a family member has impacted them.
  • Celebrate life. Don’t worry, be happy. The holidays are a time to abandon worry and celebrate.