The holidays are a joyful time, a time of love, and time we remember to cherish our loved ones near and far. For some of us, it is also a time of massive family dinners, which can be stressful. I don't know what your family is like, but as much as I love my family and our family dinners are always top notch, but they are nonetheless stressful. Sometimes it's just the pure manic of feeding 20 mouths, mom yelling, dogs running around, mom yelling some more. Sometimes some of us are having a rougher year than others and the holidays can be overwhelming or even sad. No matter what your holiday may be like this year, unless you're gallivanting off to Hawaii or having some other non-traditional and very relaxing or quiet holiday, here are a few tips to help you get through the madness of family dinners (also to be applied at Thanksgiving, Chinese New Year, big birthday celebrations, and any other large family gathering).
1. Help Mom.
Happy mom, happy everyone. That is a life motto we should all live by. In my parents' home I have learned that if I stay active, mom can't yell at me as much, and I get more exercise! Also, if I'm moving, then that means I can eat more later right? No? Maybe?
It's not easy helping my mom, because it's her way or the highway, and so even if you're helpful, there's a good chance you're going to be doing things the wrong way and she'll let you know. Anyone else's mom like that? But I have found that even if I know she'll say no, I still ask periodically if she needs help with anything, because then she can't tell me I didn't try. Plus, there's no way my brother is doing that, so then I become the favorite. Also, just go ahead and set the table like 5 hours early, so that one or two hours before dinner she doesn't yell at you to stop sitting on your ass and start setting the table. "But mom, if not my ass, what do I sit on? My head?"
The goal of family dinners for me, is to avoid getting yelled at as much as possible. Keep in mind my mom has one volume--yelling. Even when she tells me she loves me, it's like "JUSTINE, I LOVE YOU!" Not even my husband has yelled he loves me.
2. Take Large Bites When You Don't Want TO Answer A Question.
It's rude to speak with your mouth full, so if someone asks you a question you don't want to answer, take a big fat bite and then do the universal gesture of "Oh sorry, food in my mouth, hold on" and hope they forget about it or pretend like you forgot after you've managed to swallow your big bite.
3. Ask Elders About War STories or Other STories.
There are many reasons to ask our elders to tell us stories. First, many of us don't think to ask these as kids, and there's so much to know and learn from them. The more I learned about my grandmother's WWII stories, the more I was in awe of her. No child should have to witness what she did, and yet around the world there are children who face violence every day. My great uncle once told us about being Chinese in Mississippi during the 60's. He got yelled at for sitting in the back of the bus, when he was trying to be polite by moving to the back first; but whites considered him white not black. A totally selfish reason to have elders talking is that it's a good way to avoid any other topic or conversation you'd like to avoid. Trust me though, once you get the elders talking, you won't care about anything else. I am never done talking to my grandmothers or their siblings, because there's so much to learn from their lives--things they don't teach us in history books and classes.
4. Have a Cute Puppy Around.
If elder stories don't keep everyone engaged and off each other's backs, make sure there's a cute puppy to distract everyone. People are always more loving and happy when puppies are around.
5. give thanks.
If you're having a family dinner, you are one of the lucky ones. No matter how crazy your family drives you, you have family with whom you are able gather around a table and break bread. That is truly special. Some families are missing loved ones, some aren't able to be together, and some may have toxic and unhealthy family relationships. For those who fall into the latter, also know that it's important and sometimes vital to set boundaries with family. There is no need to lose our mental health over people who only eat away at us. So, cherish your time with your family, the ones who bring you most joy and who love you, and remember to count your blessings. Think of each person in your head, and thank them for being in your life. Blood or not, those of us blessed enough to be loved have a lot for which to be grateful.