How To Handle The Holidays Like A Boss

Reject guilt. Seek out gallows humor. Burn bridges. And more handy tips.

They seem to start airing earlier every year: saccharine tearjerker commercials selling diamonds or tissues or cars, all wrapped in shiny red bows and normative family cheer. When Best Buy hawks Christmas jingles well before Halloween, it’s clear there’s no rest for the grinchy.

Media can be extremely difficult to consume during the winter holiday season. We all know how advertising morphs women’s bodies and beauty standards to the realm of impossibility, but we rarely consider that it plays similar hocus pocus with our expectations for holiday happiness. In the world painted by late fall/early winter advertising, Thanksgiving and Christmas are universally beloved touchstones of unmitigated joy and unconditional love.

But, oh, wait, what’s left out of all those commercials promising familial camaraderie with every new cardigan or FitBit you cross off someone’s wish list? Emotionally abusive, narcissist parents. The sibling who always beat you up. Uncle Creeper and Aunt Sob. Low-income kids whose parents can’t afford presents. Cousins rocked by addiction. The couple who disowned their child for being transgender, or gay, or for dating someone from a different race or religion. And, of course, single folks with no relatives, gazing through the window across the street, longing and seething in equal measure.

So if your pending holiday is more “the horror!” than “Ho ho ho!” — don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

What’s left out of all those commercials promising familial camaraderie? Emotionally abusive, narcissist parents. The sibling who always beat you up.

Here, inspired by Avital Norman Nathman’s “Ask A Raging Feminist: How to survive a family get-together this holiday,” is my handy-dandy plan for how to HANDLE THE HOLIDAYS LIKE A BOSS.

These eight steps will get you started. (Hey! You could even use it for each night of Chanukah):

1. If you go home for Thanksgiving, you may be tempted to play a “drink whenever someone says something offensive” game. Don’t, unless you want to end up with alcohol poisoning before they carve the turkey.

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2. Personal affirming mantras repeated silently inside your head (for example, “I am not my relatives”/”My life is everything I want it to be”/”Bite me”) are your friend.

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3. Dysfunctional family bingo! Check off boxes in your own family-specific bingo card whenever someone criticizes someone’s appearance, or pretends someone else’s queer partner is their roommate, or says something misogynist or racist.

(If you fill out the whole card, we give you our hearty approval to splurge on a treat you’ve been wanting.)

4. Don’t let anyone police your weight, appearance, or food choices.* (*But do be healthy. Holidays can trigger eating disorders, so seek help and support if you need it. NEDA, the National Eating Disorders Association, is one place to start.)

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5. Don’t care about burning bridges? Hand out “NOPE. WRONG.” cards any time your dad mansplains, your mom says “All lives matter,” or your grandmother tells you to get married before she dies because she can’t live forever. Add a cute puppy pic to the “NOPE” card to soften the blow.

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6. Limit your social media intake to avoid depression triggers such as cloying memes, joyful holiday family photos, and “best, happiest, most loving family EVER!” posts.

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7. Seek out gallows humor from funny, smart, empathetic friends via text or private FB group — their running commentary will both amuse and support you.

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8. REJECT GUILT. Self care is not self-indulgent. It’s crucial. You deserve it. And if that means spending holidays with chosen family, sipping fizzy drinks with umbrellas in them on a beach somewhere, dancing your ass off, face-planting in a pile of kittens at a cat café, or anything else you need to do to have a wonderful, affirming time . . . do it. Reject trauma. Choose yourself (and the face full of kittens).

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BONUS TIP: Don’t be afraid to accept help. When friends tell you to call them if you need to talk, believe them. The people who love you want to be there for you; take them up on it if you feel isolated, stressed, or sad. If you feel alone, let your friends know that you would love to spend time with them; invitations will likely start coming in. And if they don’t, find a place to volunteer — you’ll have companionship and you’ll feel better knowing you’re doing something good for your community.

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