The arrival of autumn also means that we’re on the edges of the holiday season. And with that comes a slew of holiday gatherings. Turkey and dressing with the in-lawas. Latkes and a cherished family Driedel. The school holiday play and the office Christmas party. And there are also the more intimate holiday gatherings – like decorating the Christmas tree while sipping hot cocoa (or spiked eggnog).
When we imagine treasured and perfect holiday gatherings, we hope for ones that are filled with love and cherishing. That despite hot messes of previous experiences, that this year will be different. Rather than drama, we will be able to experience the holiday spirit at every turn.
We look forward to sharing delightful meals, making beautiful memories, and being surrounded by loving and supportive friends and family.
Let’s be real, though. Most holiday gatherings – be they with family or friends – can feel like a minefield. And as if you’re gearing up for battle rather than an opportunity for joyful companionship with loved ones.
The holidays can trigger even the friendliest of folks to act in…shall we say… less than loving ways.
Though we become accustomed to the little ways our families are dysfunctional (and accept them as normal), it doesn’t mean we leave every holiday gathering feeling loved and accepted. Even the most amiable of folks don’t always treat the people not born into a family (aka spouses, partners, step-children) with the level of kindness they show to their friends and blood-relations.
Oh, let’s be even more honest: some of our in-laws are nicer to strangers and mangy dogs than they are to us. And then there are the siblings we desperately want to be friends with, but who seem unable to utter a kind word.
When our desire is simply to enjoy what’s before us and cruise through the end of the year without drama, holiday gatherings can feel like stepping onto a battleship.Whatever holidays are part of your tradition, here are some suggestions for navigating – and surviving – the holiday minefield.
One – Not Everyone is Going to Like You
Call me a Pollyanna, but I look at meeting someone as an opportunity to make a dear friend. So, I’m always shocked when someone isn’t friendly. The truth is, not everyone is going to like you. Maybe you remind them of someone who was mean to them in junior high. Maybe they see you as a threat to their place in the family. If someone doesn’t like you, there really isn’t much you can do to change their mind. In fact, the harder you try, the meaner they may become.
This isn’t your all-access pass to being rude. Just stop trying to make everyone like you because it’s only going to stress you out.
Two – Acceptance Goes a Long Way to Not Stressing Out
When you make the decision to accept the situation as it is, you can release a heck of a lot of stress. You stop trying to bend over backwards to change someone’s opinion. Accept that nothing you do or say is likely to change the cranky person’s beliefs about you, and move on to a different encounter.
This will allow you to enjoy the holiday gatherings with more peace in your own heart.
Three – Choosing to Be Optimistic is Always Helpful
Though you can’t expect others to change, there’s always a chance that the person you most dread seeing will have changed. Now, don’t hold your breath, but you never know.
Four – Remember that The Grass Always Seems Greener.
Many of the snarky comments and back-handed compliments uttered across the holiday table are said from a belief that your life is so much “easier” than the lives of others. You know the kind of comments I’m talking about – “must be nice” kind of comments. We all know how comparisons and looking at the outside results of someone else’s life doesn’t show us the real story. Your grass just seems much greener than their own. Remember that it’s not personal.
Five – Holiday Gatherings Are Not All About You
I know barbs and slights, and even being ignored may feel personal, but they really aren’t. Just remind yourself that “it’s not about me.” Insecurities and fears make many people do less-than-nice things. You simply trigger a negative response because of their past interactions with other people. Often passive-aggressive behavior (or aggressive behavior) stems from a belief that the person feels threatened by you and saying and doing mean things allows them to feel as if they are in control. It’s not about you. It’s about the perception of power.
Six – Kindness is Always in Style
When someone regularly dishes out a side of nastiness, I remind myself how incredibly horrible it must feel to be inside their own head. This isn’t about being mean; it’s about knowing that most people’s inner critic is much harsher than anything they say to others. It’s also not about rewarding poor behavior, but about treating someone with the kindness they are unable to offer themselves. It’s a win for karma, even if it is challenging.
Seven – Choose to Bite Your Tongue at Holiday Gatherings
When someone says something hateful, it’s tempting to zing ‘em right back. Though it’s easier said than done, it behooves you to just not respond. Turn to the person next to you and start a new conversation. Take an empty plate to the kitchen. Go outside and get a breath of fresh air. Don’t react. Don’t snap back. Stay calm. Handle the situation with as much grace as possible.
Eight – For Those Times When You Have to Take a Stand
I’m a very non-confrontational person, but sometimes you have to draw the line. Take a deep breath, make eye contact, and very gently say something along the lines of “I’m sorry you feel that way, would you like to tell me why you would think that?” This isn’t about being snarky or hateful; it’s the opportunity to open up some dialogue without the drama.
Because, baby, you can try to make peace. But you are not a doormat.
Nine – Prepare Yourself
Before you go, mentally prepare yourself. Talk about your concerns with your partner or a trusted friend. Arrange some sort of signal with your partner if you are feeling the need to be “rescued.” Also, go into the situation making sure you feel comfortable and powerful in your own skin. Maybe it’s a special outfit or getting your nails done. Sometimes, our exterior “armor” can help us feel safer.
Ten – Decide: Should You Stay or Go to All the Holiday Gatherings
You deserve to have a happy, loving holiday, even if it’s just you and your spouse (or you alone!). If you know that your buttons are going to be pushed – or you are already having nightmares involving that one person – consider staying home. On the flip side, don’t let one person ruin the opportunity for you to spend quality time with people you love.
I know from experience that going over-the-river and through-the-woods can be a rewarding venture when the festivities are pleasant. I also know from experience what it feels to prefer a root canal over a family dinner. It’s easy to get lost within perfection and how things “should” be this time of year. Hey, you’re only human!
Just know that you don’t have to deal with being treated poorly by anyone. Love is your birthright and you deserve to be loved and accepted for who you are.