After much anticipation, the big day has finally come. It’s time to put on your best dressy casual, map out your route and go to family dinner. Perhaps you are hosting this year, so you’ve spent hours, days even, cleaning the house, organizing every nook of your kitchen, shining up the good china and prepping for the hungry masses who will grace your dining room table, couches and kitchen counter. You may be going low-key this year at home, either solo or with immediate family, buying all the household faves, filling the DVR with binge-worthy content and washing all the couch and bed linens to prep for a relaxing holiday. Either way, you planned. A lot. And what does a lot of planning bring? You got it. Great expectations. There are certain optimal scenarios you’ve played out in your head. If things do not go quite as planned, will you still have a great holiday?
The Much Anticipated Guest
You are either a regular or a new addition to a big family dinner. The assumption is that you have the easiest spot in the holiday possibilities. The expectation is for you to show up with some classic dish, perhaps a really marshmallowy candied yams, or maybe a great bottle of wine, catch up with family and friends, play trivia games, eat until you can barely walk, then make your way home with a week’s worth of leftovers. What could go wrong? Here’s a couple tough scenarios you may have experienced:
- You forget to pick up the Holiday Ham
- You do not help out in the kitchen
- You help out too much in the kitchen
- You forget your little cousins are allergic to the nuts in the yams
- You didn’t “love” your aunt’s new cranberry sauce recipe like she promised, and she noticed
And the list could go on and on. You are the holiday celebrator with the least responsibility, so you are the celebrator with the greatest expectation of having fun. You have not slaved over a hot stove all day. You are not entertaining a house full of people. So you must be entertainment for a house full of people. If you wear something too casual, people will whisper that you didn’t put any thought into their celebration. If you wear something too dressy, people will accuse you of trying too hard to make everyone else look bad. So what can you do to get it right? Absolutely nothing! So do not stress over any of it. Well, do ask about food allergies. But forget the rest. Be yourself. Get comfortable in a spot next to your fave family members (we all have them), eat, drink and be merry. Talk about your year, share stories about work, your kids, the place you got or want to buy. Look forward to hearing all about how their business endeavors worked out. Understand you will never win certain people over. So stop trying. Be gracious to the host and enjoy.
The Host with the Most
Whether it’s your first year hosting or your regular post, you are the holiday celebrator with the most pressure. It is your job to make others happy for the holidays. And that happiness hinges on every detail of your preparation and execution, from your choice of proteins to the temperature of the house. You must get every detail right to secure your spot as the Holiday Host. So what are your fears?
- You forget about the Cherry Pie in the oven, which is now a dish of char
- You slip and sit your two uncles next to each other, forgetting their ten-year feud
- You tell both your cousin and your brother’s new girlfriend to bring the potato salad, and now the house is divided on who did it best
- You buy the store-brand hand soap, forgetting all your sister’s kids are allergic to it
- You run out of toilet paper. It happens.
After you’ve spent weeks, possibly months preparing for this special occasion, how can even one of these scenarios happen? It’s life, and shit happens. The more responsibility we put on ourselves, the higher the risk of letting down the people we love. What they must understand, and most of all, what you must understand is that it is your holiday, too. You are the host who took the time to let all these beloveds in your home for the holiday. You are a family member. You are not a hotel concierge. You are not a personal chef. You are not a hotel manager. You are not a party planner. This is not your job, it’s a very generous gesture. There are things you can anticipate (Stock up on toilet paper), and there are things you cannot. Either way, it is your duty to enjoy yourself. Have a drink at the table. Let people get their own second plate. Put your feet up. Enlist one of the younger cousins to help you clean up later. And relax. You hosted holiday dinner. You are a rock star.
The Safe and Snug Celebrator
This year, you decided to take a break from the traditional family festivities and celebrate at home. Maybe you have to work the holiday and/or the days surrounding it. Maybe you are far from home and were not able to take time off to travel to family. Maybe you just needed to be home. Whatever the reason, you may have some holiday expectations which are unique to other celebrators. Since it’s either a party of one or a very intimate gathering, you may not be looking to bake the best peach cobbler or select the perfect bottle of champagne Your goal may be to use the phone as little as possible. Your goal may be to watch as many episodes of Game of Thrones as possible. Your goal may be to get through the day without crying. But you are home, fully in control of the situation. What could go wrong?
Your peaceful solitude keeps being interrupted by memories of past holidays.
You have a fight with your husband, right before the holiday.
You have work to do, work your boss expects you to complete by Friday.
You planned to binge-watch Game of Thrones all day with your family, but they would rather play Call of Duty and stay on Instagram Live all day.
You planned to play Call of Duty all day, but your wife expected you to watch Game of Thrones with her.
Expectations are everywhere, especially in your own home. The biggest problem with in-house expectations is that they are rarely communicated. We all assume the people we see the most can read our minds. They are expected to know when we want to be cuddled and when we need our space. These assumptions lead to disappointment and discord. So do communicate your plans for the holiday with your family. Come to a nice compromise: binge-watching at breakfast and dinner, solo activity throughout the day. You will figure it out.
For the solo celebrators, talk to friends prior to the holiday for some emergency holiday shelter. Someone may be willing to save a spot and a plate for you if you should get a little down and lonely. You can also volunteer at an actual shelter to feed those less fortunate. If you are stoked about all the solo time, make sure you put a “Do Not Disturb” on both your outgoing phone message and your email. Savor every second of your solitude like that delicious plate of Broiled Brussels Sprouts.
Up next: Coping with Loss during the Holidays