A Guide to Avoiding Family Drama During Holiday Gatherings

We all have that “one” member of the family. You know the one that I’m talking about!

A Guide to Avoiding Family Drama During Holiday Gatherings (Getty Images)

While holiday gatherings are supposed to be full of cheer, it’s not uncommon to fall victim to the obnoxious comments made by family. My parents have separated and both remarried, so I know a thing or two about “interesting” family gatherings. 

Here is a guide to make sure you spend time with your family while keeping your sanity intact.

Briefly update your family on any unusual changes

It may be hurtful to inform your family that you and your longterm partner have decided to split ways. But sending a quick text in the group chat telling them not to expect your ex to join you this year will save you from answering dreadful questions later. Especially, if this partner is close to your family. No one wants to be triggered in the middle of passing the gravy. 

Establish your boundaries, EARLY 

Establishing clear boundaries helps decipher where your pushing point is. A great rule of thumb is to avoid any controversial topics at the dinner table. When you haven’t seen your family in a while it’s easy for “small talk” to go left. Reminding someone of how much weight they’ve lost (or gained) is not appropriate. More than likely, they have already noticed themselves. Other topics like politics, the family will, or what the young adults are getting into in college should be left for another time. (I think I can speak for all college students here. If you’re going to ask questions about my college experience, you need to send a monetary donation with it! It’s hard out here … ) 

Staying clear of anything that could potentially offend your guests is a great way to keep the peace and remain proactive.

@myfriendscallmekb #getupfromthetable #familyholidays #thanksgivingdinnerblackpeople ♬ original sound – destiny

DO NOT drink too much alcohol (If you are over 21)

In a stressful situation, it can be tempting to pour up another glass of wine. (Or if you’ve been invited to my home. Spiked eggnog and coquito!) Knowing your limits will be key to having a decent time. Alcohol works differently in different people. While it may make you mellow, help you break the ice, and crack jokes … . Others can become obnoxious, loud and offensive. Too much booze at the Christmas party can lead to bringing up bitter moments from the past.

When in doubt, find a connection

Pivot, pivot, pivot! Amid the madness, it can be difficult to find a way to diffuse the situation. Finding a connection is a sure way to calm the chaos. Do you come from a family who loves sports or music? Now would be a good time to sing your favorite holiday songs around the piano. And I don’t know if many of my family members would decline a conversation about what teams are making it to the championships. Complimenting the chef, or reminiscing on the good memories from the last family vacation can also bring smiles to faces. 

Give your gifts in private

You would never want to make someone feel excluded. Depending on the situation, there may be a possibility that you don’t have a gift for everyone. If you find yourself in this situation, pull the gift recipient aside and give it to them in private. 

Offer your help

When conversations start heating up, remove yourself from the equation by being helpful. Ask Grandma if she needs help putting the dishes away, or go check in on the kids that are playing.  Besides, when the adults are acting immature, the kiddos don’t seem as childish. 

Have an escape plan 

Let your family know that you won’t be able to stay too long. Blame it on having to check on the pet that you left at home. And, if you don’t have a pet to place the blame on, blame it on your “boss” who scheduled you for work early in the morning! Building an alliance is key here. Grab your favorite cousin and make sure they’re aware of your escape plan so they can vouch for you.

In certain families, the family holiday party is a time for peaceful gathering. For others, it takes on a more boisterous and festive atmosphere. Regardless of your family’s unique style of friction, it’s wise to have a strategy in place to either prevent conflicts or swiftly address them. Following these tips will make sure that you are invited to next year’s family holiday party.

Jeydah Jenkins (she/her) is from Newark, NJ, but is an Atlanta-based journalist who covers the arts and culture. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok: @JeydahFromJersey.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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