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December 12, 2011

Ah, the holidays. It’s that merry time of year again. A time to reflect, a time to give, and time for the annual forced family gathering. Seems like it just hasn’t been long enough since the last one, has it? Well, never fear, readers. With my expert scientific, psychologic, and anthropologic knowledge, I have put together a guide to help you get through the holidays. You’re welcome.



You can never hope to make it through the family gathering without a survival pack. For ladies, this could be a purse or a large tote bag. For the gents, I recommend an attaché case or a small backpack. In it you should have:

  • A laptop, iPad, smartphone, or any other miscellaneous Internet-ready device.
  • If you’re going somewhere without Internet access (God help you), you should bring a magazine or a book. In most cases, I recommend bringing both.
  • Headphones. Self-explanatory.
  • A small flask in which to store your survival juice (alcohol). Survival juice can be anything from a nice bordeaux to a cheap vodka, just make sure you have something on tap. This is not optional.


You should have on comfortable clothing that is easy to move around in (this will come in handy when you need to make hasty exits from a room). Ladies, ditch the heels. Seriously, who are you trying to impress at your family party, you incestuous tramp? Gentlemen, no snowman sweaters. I mean it. Also, make sure all tattoos and body piercings are concealed. This will save you the awkward 20-minute lecture from Grandma. Try to wear something that makes you look thinner, so the family doesn’t judge too harshly when you go face-first into the taco dip upon arrival.


Every family has at least one crazy person. This could be Grandma Who Likes To Remind People of Her Impending Death, Overly-Nosey Aunt Who Constantly Asks About Your Personal Life, or Socially Awkward Cousin. Chances are, you identified your Crazy Relative (CR) years ago and have been avoiding them ever since. Try to observe who they hang around, and avoid those people. It’s every man for himself at the family holiday gathering, and you need to keep a safe distance between yourself and your CR, no matter how many people you have to throw under the bus to do it.


Your “safe buddy” is a relative with which you would not mind spending an extended period of time during the gathering. This could be a sibling close in age, your uncle, or even your dad. Stay by their side as much as possible. Chances are, they are avoiding the same people you are. Teamwork is key.


Well damn, it’s only been 20 minutes and Mom is already telling an embarrassing story about you to the entire camp. Easy, soldier. Don’t let her see you sweat. When she is finished, laugh it off to save face and exit the room. Locate your flask.


After about 2 hours of clinging to your safe buddy and roughly four hits of your survival juice, it is time for the main event: dinner. Finding a place to sit at the dinner table is a delicate dance, indeed. You’re going to want to be prepared. Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Never be the first to enter the dining room, and never be the within the first four people to sit down at the table. This increases your chances of Crazy Relative sitting next to you. And that, soldiers, is a nasty fate.
  2. Try to get a spot near the end of the table. Typically, a sane person will be sitting at one of the ends. But, be warned. Crazy Relative likes the end, too. Typically, your CR will take the end opposite your designated sane person. The rest of the table will move on a continuum, from crazy to normal. Your objective is simple: identify the crazy side, and sit as far away from that area as possible. Please refer to Figure 1.1 for more information:


After dinner (and hopefully dessert, you deserve a reward for all that work), the party should begin to wind down. Now, you and your camp will try to identify the most appropriate moment to attempt an escape. Typically, the oldest people will leave first. They need their rest. The exits then occur on a basis of 1. Who lives farthest away and 2. Who has the youngest children that need to get to sleep. You should plan your exit accordingly.

When leaving, be sure to say a polite but short goodbye to all partygoers and the hosts. If you time your escape just right, most of the party will have already left, cutting down awkward goodbyes by a good half hour at the least.

As you are saying your final goodbyes, make sure you are giving all physical cues necessary to suggest you are leaving. Get your coat on, inch toward the door, pull your keys out of your pocket. If you skip these steps, you may be guilted into post-party cleanup: a danger zone no one wants to be roped into.


Get in the car and shut the doors. Likely, your hosts will have followed you out to wave goodbye as you speed away (Why do they do that?). Politely wave, force a smile, and put the pedal to the metal. When the host’s home is no longer within sight, you and your camp may begin the ceremonial shit-talking of everyone else in the family.


I hope this field guide serves you well in your family holiday gatherings. Remember, soldiers: together wecan survive the temporary imprisonment that is the family party. Happy Holidays.