It’s the most wonderful time of year, at least according to two songwriters from the 1960s. Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, or just an agnostic shopaholic lured by seasonal sales, there’s a good chance you’ll celebrate something this year. The madness begins today with Thanksgiving, a time where we can stuff our faces with less guilt and more gusto. While you’re busy getting high off your pine scented Yankee Candles, distracted by the flickering of Christmas lights, people are falling victim left and right at the hands of others. Follow this advice to avoid these 3 man-made catastrophes.
Catastrophe #1: The Conversation Trap
Like most Americans, I’ll be forced by family to watch the Macy’s Day Parade before eating my weight in side dishes. I’ll pop the wine cork at noon then enjoy a sloth-like afternoon on the couch, watching my boyfriend play Clash of Clans on his phone in an attempt to avoid actual conversation with my family. I’ll spend the next 3 hours recovering from dinner before I have to do it all over again with his folks. My situation isn’t unique. Most of us visit several groups of people each holiday and people can be exhausting. Unlike my boyfriend, you probably shouldn’t sit on your phone in a room full of people.
During the holidays, there is nothing that poses a greater threat than having a bad conversation. Often, we’re surrounded by family members we only see once a year – or through our Facebook feed. Sometimes, we’re visiting a new partner’s family or friends, meeting people for the first time. The worst feeling is being stuck in a conversation that is either boring, awkward or heated. Whether you’re a social butterfly or a fly on the wall, here are a few tips to ensure you don’t get caught in the conversation trap.
Tip #1: Don’t talk about politics.
Trust me on this. I am the guiltiest when it comes to this social faux pas. As a bleeding heart liberal, I just knew everyone needed to read all the insightful articles I felt were share-worthy. Sadly, I was unable to garner any self-awareness; I posted and posted until I was practically given a social media intervention. While my Facebook rants are certainly obnoxious, face-to-face political conversations easily qualify as the most dangerous conversation trap.
This year, we’ve had a heated election. The country appears more divided than ever and people are dreading family get-togethers more than usual. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, the holiday table is NOT the place to share your views. You’re not going to convert a conservative into a liberal or vice a versa. No one wants to hear your opinion. While you may hate that your Uncle voted for a racist, misogynistic Oompa-Loompa, you need to remind yourself that your relationship is more important than being “right”. If you feel the impulse to get into a political debate, just don’t.
Tip #2: Don’t be a bore.
Possibly worse than a fiery political conversation is a boring one. Create a list inside your head with several topics that you can bring up at your event. Spend some time reading the news to update yourself on current events. While this may seem like its own conversation trap, do not cross the line into politics. Instead, talk about things happening in the arts or sciences, recommend a show you’ve recently finished; talk about anything that suggests you’re a human being that actually participates in reality.
Topics to consider:
- Television / Movies / YouTube Videos (This is the grasping-for-straws-but-still-acceptable category.)
- Books (People still read? I know, shocking.)
- Art / Music
- Westworld fan theories
- Season 7 Game of Thrones predictions
Tip #3: Avoid awkward topics.
Something no one wants to hear about? Your job. Avoid this topic at all costs, unless you actually have a job people give a shit about – like you’re literally an astronaut or a photographer for National Geographic.
Also, don’t ask people about their jobs. This is the time of year many people get laid off, myself included. 95% of Americans loathe their job and while venting about corporate America may make them feel better, chances are you’ll regret that you ever asked.
Avoid gossip at all costs. This may seem counter-intuitive. Gossip brings us together, right? Right…and wrong. If you’re telling your best friend the latest dish, that’s one thing but during the holidays you’re typically engaging with people who aren’t in your close circle of friends. Gossiping makes you look petty and uninteresting. Do you really need to share your cousin Jane’s marital problems? It’s not necessary and it’s not nice.
Some obvious things to avoid asking/saying:
- When are you expecting? (Your cousin Theresa may just be super into Oreos, you don’t know.)
- When are you planning on having kids? (Believe it or not, some people don’t want kids. Some people are trying and failing. Don’t bring up something uncomfortable just because your 28-year-old cousin got married last summer.)
- When are you getting married? (THE ABSOLUTE WORST. Some people don’t believe in marriage, some people don’t want to get married; one partner may really be waiting for a ring while the other is avoiding it at all costs. Whatever the case may be, do not inquire about marital status. It’s super awkward and really not your business.)
- What are you going to do now that you graduated? (Recent grads are already filled with dread when it comes to life, let alone meaningless holiday conversations. Spare them the misery, ask them about their Instagram instead.)
Catastrophe #2: Shopper Blindness
During the holidays, you may be an unsuspecting victim of Shopper Blindness. You just went to the store the night before Thanksgiving to get a pack of red Solo cups, 45 minutes later, covered in black and blues, you stumble out of the store in a fury. 23 different people have elbowed your side, walked into you, or ran your foot over with their cart. They’re not trying to be douchebags, they’re simply suffering from Shopper Blindness.
Shopper Blindness is a mix of stress, rushing around, and shopper’s high. Picture the mom in the aisle, drooling over the newest holiday Febreeze scents. As she fantasizes over the fact that her entire house can be perfumed with sugar cookie spray, she blocks you from going down the aisle. She can barely move her cart out-of-the-way when you mutter an insincere, “EXCUSE ME”. People are overwhelmed and rushing around to prepare for the holidays. It seems unavoidable, but it isn’t.
- Don’t wait to go shopping until the day before a holiday. Big mistake. Seriously, if you wait until the night before, you deserve to deal with all the shopper blindness bullshit life can throw at you.
- Utilize a service like Stop & Shop’s Peapod. Have someone shop for you and pay a small fee to have it delivered to your home. You may spend a few extra dollars but you’ll spare the headache.
- AVOID BLACK FRIDAY SHOPPING, in the real world, at least. eCommerce is bigger than ever. Like many other basic white girls, Amazon.com is my happy place. Everything you need, you can get online. Companies know that people hate nothing more than dealing with other people, so they cater to consumers who favor the web. Black Friday is called Black Friday for a reason, it takes people to a dark place. People have literally beaten the crap out of each other over a TV set. No plastic rectangle is worth a trip to the ER.
Catastrophe #3: To Gift or Not to Gift?
As an only child, the best part of the holidays has always been the gifts. Call me a spoiled, materialistic brat but I’m just saying what most people are thinking. Christmas morning was the only day I ever woke up without being dragged from my bed. I annoyingly begged my parents to wake up at the ass crack of dawn so that I could maniacally tear through wrapping paper. Each gift came with its own high and the icing on top was the overflowing stocking full of endless Chapsticks, candy and dumb girly bullshit. Each year, the amount of gifts dwindled and I somehow developed reasonable gift expectations upon reaching adulthood. While Christmas is no longer my own personal version of crack, I still enjoy receiving gifts. Oddly, I’ve started enjoying giving them even more. Some giftees are obvious, like your parents, spouse, or children while some require more clarification.
Grey Area Giftees: How to Decide to Gift or Not.
General criteria is, as follows:
- Are they giving you a gift? If you know 100% that they are, you should probably consider giving one in return.
- Do you want to give them something? If you’re just a thoughtful soul, go for it, just don’t expect everyone to reciprocate.
Partner’s Family: Recently dating (within 6 months-2 years)? Having THE first Christmas with your partner’s family? This situation can be a tad tricky. First, ask yourself, how close are you with their family? Do you text/email/communicate with them without your partner being involved? If you have a relationship where you’re comfortable enough to reach out on your own, you should probably get them something. A nice solution for couples is to gift something from you both; double the funds and get something your partner’s parents will enjoy, instead of just individually gifting a useless vanilla candle.
Friends: This is another tricky area. Typically, I don’t gift anything to my friends aside from my bestie. Firstly, my generation is broke and I don’t have the money to get something for everyone I love and enjoy. If you want to be festive, send a Christmas card or give something inexpensive and universal like homemade fudge. Everyone loves an edible gift and you can make enough for everyone you care about. If you know a friend is getting you something, you should reciprocate the gesture.
Boss: Only if it’s a joint gift and literally everyone else is going in on it. Also, if you actually like your boss, it can’t hurt. Some companies frown upon gift giving during the holidays and if you work for one of them, lucky you.
Exceptions: When is it okay to not give a gift when you know you’ll be receiving one?
If you’re make shit money, are out of work, or about to lose your job, sometimes you just can’t spring for that next gift. It’s totally appropriate to not give a gift if you can’t afford to. How you should handle: Go to the Dollar store, buy a pack of cards and write thoughtful notes out to each person you know will be gifting you with something this holiday. Advise them that due to your circumstances you can’t reciprocate the way you’d like to and leave them with kind words and things you appreciate about them instead. Anyone who isn’t a total tool will think this gesture is endearing and will appreciate you taking the time to write out a card. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Hopefully, this advice spares you of awkward conversations, zombie consumers, and cringe-worthy gift exchanges so that you can enjoy what the holidays are really all about…whatever that means to you.