It's the holidays. You can tell because every store is blaring Christmas music and there are strung lights hanging from every available tree, roof overhang and shopping center. Right now, it feels a bit whimsical and nostalgic. By December 26, you'll want to strangle an elf and eat venison made from reindeer meat just to make yourself feel whole again.
Then, there's family. George Burns once said, "Happiness is having a large, loving, close-knit family in another city." But when they are in your town, you can't just ignore them. Sometimes, you might even want to see them. It's all fun and games until one of the two big topics of discord come up: religion and politics. This year, you can add healthcare to that list because vaccines are apparently political now.
We all do our best to avoid these topics like the plague (sorry, bad reference this year), but how exactly? Some relatives (and friends too) are insistent upon turning any conversation into a debate.
"Dad, how is the new kitten you and mom got?"
"She would be fine if she had more freedom!"
But for those who are capable of mostly reining it in, here are some tricks for turning the subject around before the Build Back Better plan or Donald Trump gets brought up.
Talk about the baby or someone's pregnancy.
In fact, if there is a baby in the room, just shove that little creature into the arms of an unsuspecting grandparent who just learned about Alex Jones. If there is no baby there, talk about the one on the way or someone who recently had a child. If you have to, get out your phone and start swiping through photos even if it is just Facebook and pictures of strangers' babies. It's a distraction.
Bring your dogs.
And we do mean dogs plural. Even for those who don't have or like pets, the pure chaos of a bunch of yapping dogs at their feet will distract them from booster shots and immigration. The more animals the better. Also, be sure to pick up that little pup at the table during an "uh, oh, here comes a rant" moment. Some will squeal at the cuteness and others be so disgusted, they lose their train of thought. Either way, crisis averted.
Everyone loves a funny video.
We bet your older relatives have never heard of TikTok. Now is a good time to introduce them to fail videos and videos of people getting scared or talking huskies. Download the app for their phones and sign them up. They'll be amused for hours.
Engage in some kind of competitive activity.
Cards, dominoes, Monopoly, football, whatever. Get those rivalry juices flowing and lay down the smack talk. No one will care about Greta Thunberg when they just went blind nil successfully. They'll be too busy dancing around the room and pointing at you, maybe calling you loser. That's its own annoyance, but better than discussing climate change with the brother who works in the oil industry.
"I remember when..."
We don't mean the "back in my day, we did things different" kind of nostalgia. We mean the memory of dad refusing to get a tree stand at the lot and instead trying to shave the trunk down with a chain saw and force it into the $5 metal tree stand he got on sale a decade earlier. Remember the string of expletives, the bleeding scratches on his arms and how red his face got when he proudly displayed his work only to have the tree fall over? It was hilarious then and it's hilarious now.
Keep serving food.
Too full is not a thing at this feast. You want these people to keep stuffing their faces. Better for things to go in than out. They might have to unbutton their pants. There could be a run on Tums. But, even if they need Roman vomoitorium after a day of overindulgence, keep handing out the pie. More chewing, less talking.
Turn the game on, but be careful.
There always seems to be sporting event of some kind on TV during the holidays. That's a great distraction and a convenient form of relaxation, but proceed with caution. We used to think the only thing controversial about sports were the bad calls from referees, but with social justice and kneeling during the national anthem, a simple basketball game could cause all hell to break loose in your house.
Two words: mandatory nap time.
Whether it's the tryptophan or the stress of being at a big holiday gathering, everyone gets sleepy eventually. Don't just encourage napping, make it a requirement. Does anyone ever say no to taking a nap?
Start a fight over something trivial.
If you are going to fight, choose your battle. Complain about they way your cousin wears his pants. Tell your niece she needs to do better in school. Let your uncle know he might need to lose a few pounds. There are always sensitive spots and we wager you know them all. If things turn weird and you can feel a "why don't you go to church anymore" conversation come on, tell mom you thought she loved your sister more than you. That will cool things down.
Drink. A lot.
Finally, the steadying influence of alcohol. That's right, steadying. As Homer Simpson once wisely toasted, "To alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life's problems." Even if someone starts a rant, it is easily dismissed with, "Go home, Bob, you're drunk." And if you have a bunch of teetotalers, no worries, more wine for you. Happy holidays!