Around age 13, most of us lose something. We remember the pixie dust excitement sparkling around every holiday season – the smells, the colors, the chill in the air, the slow buildup between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And then, during adolescence, aka the dark night of the soul, we lose the magic.
We are Peter Pan plummeting into a sea of acne and questionable hairstyles, and we forget how to revel in the holidays, carefree and happy. Now, as adults, we’re lucky if we can get through a turkey and post-pie nap, or holiday gift exchange, without hearing exactly who our extended family feels is responsible for the impending apocalypse. Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men this is not.
The kicker is that It’s not just in-laws butting heads over politics. It’s the juxtaposition of how the holidays used to be, and in our minds, should still be. So the question is, in a world where winter’s first flurries signal the expense of snow tires, and Netflix documentaries remind us if there is a Santa, he’s likely suffering from diabetes (thanks a lot, sugar industry), how can we bring a spark of that former magic, and, I don’t know, actually enjoy the holidays?
Fortunately, there are some adult ways to do this – and no, I'm not just talking about booze.
Okay, well, obviously I'm going to talk about booze a little. The original winter holidays were conceived in manic, wine-drenched celebrations. And while we don’t suggest you design a homespun bachchanalia, drinking until you faceplant in the plum pudding (I’m looking at you Uncle Rob), a glass of holiday cheer goes a long way in softening an otherwise edgy encounter.
Just be sure to take it slow. The holidays are a marathon in more ways than one. Slightly less than two drinks seems to be the magic number for charm and levity. Much more than that in a short span means you start offering a lot of opinions that sound much less insightful the next day when recounted by your sobbing mother.
Learning how much to drink to make yourself more sociable is hardly the only party skill you’ve learned as a grownup. Sometimes, when back in the social settings you dreaded as a teenager, it’s easy to revert to the social fumblings of your younger self. Speaking from experience, it can be exceptionally hard to hold a conversation as an awkward adolescent, and big holiday gatherings can bring you right back to that headspace if you let them.
The trick is to put your grown-up experience to good use. At this point in my life, I’ve done job interviews, I’ve been to parties, and perhaps most valuably, I’ve worked in journalism. I can just slide into interview mode and learn a ton about what it was like for my aunts and uncles growing up in the '60s. Talking about them is way more interesting than talking about me.
If you need tips, try reading up on how to master the art of small talk.
Take To the Kitchen
Another awesome adult skill: cooking. If you want some alone time in the kitchen or just need something to do, all you have to do is offer to cook, and apply whatever kitchen skills you’ve gained in the last few years (like what spices to use when or how to cook with cast iron) to the current holiday meal.
Not only does it give you some breathing room from the family gathering, but you get to be a functioning, contributing member of the event.
Break Out the Games
This can go either way for most families. I’ve seen my quiet, reserved family devolve into what looks like a scene from Sons of Anarchy during an ill-fated game of Rummy. And I love them too much to ever, ever, accept an invitation to learn euchre. I can’t risk those kinds of emotional scars.
That said, sometimes a game is lighthearted enough to melt even the chilliest dispositions. Last Christmas, we all played Farkle, an old dice game that, among other things, involves yelling the word “Farkle” loudly across the table. As you can imagine, when this game is paired with other items on this list – namely, drinks – we all wound up retiring to bed late on Christmas Eve glowing in that old holiday magic.
Don’t Waste the Experience
Don’t spend your entire holiday on your phone. At the risk of sounding preachy, your phone is literally going to be around forever. Your online experience is only going to improve in the coming decades. The times you have to make really good memories with certain people, though – you only get so many of those. And when you look back on life, you won’t wish you spent more time online. Open yourself to the possibility of having real fun and making actual, meaningful memories.
Equipped with all of the above, go ahead and embrace the loud, weird, frustrating things about your holidays. Jump in with both feet and love it for what it is. It’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be that little chamber of perfect nostalgia you remember as a kid, but you can make it great.
Whether you're with friends, family, or just yourself and some really great Perry Como records, twinkly lights, and a couple cartons of eggnog, these could be the best holidays you’ve ever had. Open yourself to that possibility.
Happy holidays, everyone.