A Holiday Guide to Keeping Relatives Happy - Wyoming Magazine


A Holiday Guide to Keeping Relatives Happy


by Will Craft


For some reason, the autumn and winter months have a ton of holidays, and they have pretty much all of the holidays that we care about. That is, unless you work at a bank, and then you get every other Monday off for a holiday that’s really just a president’s birthday.

With the holidays comes the inevitable family strife that we never deserve but always receive at this time of year. Instead of seeing the same people something like 46 times in a span of three months, why can’t we spread those visits out? I’m not sure why, but we can’t. It breaks some kind of rule or something. But fear not! I’m writing to you for a reason, and that reason is to turn that inevitable strife into entirely avoidable squabbles. Here’s a holiday-by-holiday guide to avoiding family conflict and, ultimately, suppressing lots of anger. Don’t lock it up, never to deal with it. Your future self will thank you. .


Veterans Day

Let’s start slow here. Veterans Day is not typically an overly stressful holiday. The purpose is to pay our respects to the men and women who have made significant sacrifices, and sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, to protect the United States. Those guys rock. “Guys” being used genderless-ly, of course. Veterans Day isn’t typically an occasion for which family members make much of a trek, and if your family does, there’s a relatively simple fix to any drama they may bring with them.

Simply state the facts. Remind your dramatic relative of the purpose of Veterans Day. It’s not a day to be spent under ridicule, but rather supporting the sacrifices of our fellow countrymen. That should shut them up. However, there is the chance that they’ll retort with something along the lines of “Well, they fought for my freedom to treat you however I please.” If they respond in such a way, rest easy knowing that you’re a better person than they are, because you’re not exploiting the troops for evil.



Straight to the big dog. Or, at least the holiday that ties as the big dog. Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for all of our blessings, to overeat, and then to go take a nap instead of catching up with people that are somehow related to you. Sometimes avoiding the problem and waiting for it to go away isn’t a good idea; it usually results in said problem growing into something bigger and scarier. In this case, however, stepping back is  not the worst option. Just nap until your relatives are safely packed into their station wagons with the best leftovers that they, for some reason, got to take with them.

There may be Thanksgiving scenarios that aren’t avoidable. But fear not! Those situations aren’t impossible to survive.

Greeting your relatives is one of the more tense situations: You’ve been waiting anxiously, be it in the backseat of a cramped sedan or your smoked-up kitchen, constantly wiping your sweaty palms across your lap and attempting to keep from nervous-sneezing. When the doorbell rings, it’s time. Now, your strategy depends on which side of the door you happen to be on. INSIDE STRATEGY: Don’t wait at the door. Don’t do that. Have the cook  give you some simple kitchen task, and take said task extremely seriously. If you time it just right, you could be watching something almost ready to come out of the oven, or preventing something, anything, from congealing. You can’t come to the door, obviously, because you can’t let anything burn, and God forbid something congeals. Can you imagine what a disaster that would be? Goodness. But you, singlehandedly, saved the day and avoided some slobbery kisses and sweaty hugs in one fell swoop. OUTSIDE STRATEGY: Carry something. Preferably something large that would be difficult to transfer to the hands of one of your waiting greeters. Insist on carrying it to the serving area and have several menial preparatory tasks in mind that will require your undivided attention for…a while.

Once the excitement of everyone’s arrivals has subsided, it’s usually time to sit down to dinner. There are several things that could go wrong at this point, and several things that you can do to make sure those things work in your favor. STEP ONE: Choose who you sit next to very, very carefully. Don’t be the first to sit down, because then you’ll be subject to sit by Aunt Karen and endure her rigorous interrogations and photos of whichever husband she’s found herself this year. She will surround you like, um, locusts, or something. Maybe not quite like locusts—those bastards are pretty intense. Anyway, it’s crucial to bide your time and pick your seat thoughtfully. Sit next to quiet relatives, relatives aged similarly to you (unless all of your cousins are terrible), and relatives who have always been proud of you, no matter how insignificant your accomplishment. Don’t sit next to relatives who never stop talking politics, the ones who brought the nasty food, or anyone who will expect you to have done something monumental with your life. Chances are, even if you have done something monumental, it won’t be good enough for them. STEP TWO: Pick what you eat based on who made it and who you’re sitting next to. Obviously, eat everything that you want to. But if you’re skeptical, consider what those around you have brought to the table, and who will throw a fit if you don’t try what they concocted. Keep portions small; you don’t want anything left on your plate that leads to a suspicion that you were dissatisfied. STEP THREE: Definitely clear dishes. If it’s your house or someone else’s, volunteer to ferry salad plates and dirty forks to the sink, allowing you to spend as much time as possible away from the madness.

After dinner has finished, this is where the napping comes into play. If you have a family that is keen on playing some sort of game or gathering around and singing songs, great. If you’re into that. If not, stick around long enough that everyone makes eye contact with you, crack a joke or two to be remembered, and then retreat. Get out of there and go somewhere creative. Go somewhere where  you can curl up and those searching will give up before dragging you back to the festivities. Behind the drier, perhaps, or inside a kitchen cupboard. Just try not to break anything whilst situating yourself in whatever spot you’ve chosen, and if you feel that it may be necessary to break something for whatever reason, do so quietly.



Though Hanukkah perhaps isn’t widely celebrated in Wyoming, it’s still extremely important to know a few things about it and how to diffuse tense Hanukkah situations if you ever plan on taking a December trip out of Wyoming. Hey, it could happen.

You have friends, probably. Those friends come from a variety of backgrounds, unless they’re the ones you grew up with, in which case they’re all farmers, probably. Seriously, why does everyone who’s not from Wyoming think we all live on farms? Perhaps because  we do, but we have wifi, and we only sometimes ride horses to work. Regardless, it’s not impossible that you have some Jewish friends that you’d rather not offend. On the off chance that your goal is to offend your Jewish friends, just skip this section and read about Christmas.

The best way to avoid tense situations during the December celebration is to cover some simple definitions and terms to build up your Hanukkah vocabulary, or correct it from whatever nonsense names you were using before. Those “Sixteen Candles” on that “Hannukah Stick”? Yeah, there are only nine of them, and it’s called a Menorah. Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration, and so one candle is lit for each day. The ninth candle is used to light the others, and provide some bonus illumination. Another Hanukkah tradition you may not be overly familiar with is that of the dreidel. A dreidel is a four-sided top used in the game of, well, dreidel. Each side is decorated with a letter from  the Hebrew alphabet, and together those letters stand for a Hebrew proverb translating to “A Miracle Happened There.” The game is played by putting into and taking from a central pot of treasure, be it candy, quarters, or any of your favorite gambling materials. Each side of the top lets you know how much to take or give up. It’s a relatively simple game, but now you won’t be the biggest Amoretz at the teylvayz.

Another thing you should be prepared for when attending a Hanukkah celebration is the food. Traditionally, foods fried in olive oil are eaten to represent the gift presented to Christ by one of the Wise Men. Potato cakes and fried donuts are among the most popular Hanukkah foods and donuts are filled with just about everything, too. Originally it was only strawberry jam, but now Little Debbie sells, like, 16 different flavors of sufganiyot donuts during the holiday season.



Remember earlier when we said Thanksgiving was one of the big dogs? Yeah? Well, Christmas is the other one. This here, friends, is big dog number two. Christmas is a time to celebrate family, togetherness, Christ, and giving. Or at least that’s what they tell us. In reality, it’s just a whole lot of guilt tripping until Uncle George gets drunk and tells your mom that thing that you told him in confidence last summer on the fishing trip. Seen it a thousand times.

One of the more tense encounters is the family gift exchange. You want to get everyone something that they’ll use and enjoy, but that looks different for everyone. The perfect gift could be small or large, homemade or budget-busting, and, of course, you won’t get the perfect gift for everyone or even know what that gift is. But you want to try! Just don’t try too hard. If cousin Trevor wants a new Xbox and Aunt Linda wants that stupendous brownie recipe, and if your family is as dysfunctional as most of ours are under the surface, you can’t make both happen. Sure, you get them both what they asked for, but you just spent hundreds on one and the other one is a photocopy of a greasy old note card that has some ingredients on it. You have to make it seem like you’ve put the same amount of work into all of the presents you give, and here’s how you can do that.

Presentation is a big part of gift exchange: the big box with the bow and ribbons vs. the paper bag with some newspaper stuffed inside. One obviously looks better, but sometimes you’re just not considering presentation as much as you should be, you lazy jerk. Fear not. The  solution is one that the lazy jerks may grumble about at first, but will revel when the plot unfolds: a difficult box. That’s right. It may not sound like much, but when someone spends 12 minutes unwinding duct tape from the outside only to find a wooden box screwed shut with 30 screws in it, it is worth it. Whatever “it” is in your situation.

You could approach all gifts with the same care regarding presentation, or you could offset them. Give the great gifts crappy wrapping and the crappy gifts great wrapping. Make it seem like you at least put something into the project. The important thing in this situation is that no one feels left out, no one feels undervalued. Because we know that when someone feels undervalued, they lash out just like Uncle George did.



Let’s backtrack for this one. Kwanzaa? Kwanzaa is a relatively new celebration as far as holidays go. It’s a week at the end of December (this year from the 26th through the first of January) dedicated to honoring African-American Heritage and the seven principles of Kwanzaa, which are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The tradition began in the mid 1960s and are primarily celebrated in North American countries to honor those of African descent.

Celebrations of Kwanzaa revolve around feasts, music, and another candle thing, which is not, in fact, called the Kwanzaa stick. It’s a Kinara, and it’s used similarly to the Menorah: to signify the days of the holiday. So, because of the cultural celebrations and rituals, you’ll want to practice up your drum circle skills and make sure you don’t get sick before you pass around the communal cup, or Kikombe cha Umoja, during feasts. Theoretically, Kwanzaa festivities don’t sound too tense or seem like they’d give much room for drama. But you never know, so feel free to employ any and all aforementioned strategies in whatever situations you deem relevant.


Have a happy and healthy fall-winter Holiday experience from all of us here at Wyoming Magazine.

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