How to do the bare-ass minimum when navigating uncomfortable holiday family gatherings

Happy holiday, babes!

Nat King Cole (literally a Christmas song guru) once sang “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright.”

While we love Nat, my boy wasn’t exactly right about that. The beauty and frill of holiday traditions aren’t always strong enough to gloss over the sometimes uncomfortable, triggering and even traumatic conversations that can arise at the family holiday gathering.

Hopefully, these suggestions can get you one step closer to a more bearable holiday with your loved ones.

You can’t control other people, but you can control yourself

Arrive with realistic expectations. We always hope that going home for the holidays might be different from the year before, but that’s what we call wishful thinking.

Also, set your limits. We don’t let people walk all over us ‘round these parts!

Will you tolerate them clowning on your baked mac and cheese but draw a line when they bring up why you lost your job?

You can set boundaries

External boundaries can be tricky, but you got this, babe! Each year you might find yourself in an argument with a specific family member. Maybe you disagree on still listening to R. Kelly, abortion rights or who should keep grandma’s ashes. If so, reach out to them beforehand and establish some boundaries.

Try this: “I love you, but whenever we get together, we tend to argue about the same thing. Maybe this topic should be off-limits this year. I want a peaceful and enjoyable visit. Don’t you?”

Internal boundaries are just as important as setting external ones. When you feel a family member is making you question your values, morals, personal capacity and identity, try some affirmations. Make a beeline for the bathroom mirror and say: “I am good enough the way I am.” OR “The only validation I need is within.”

You can do things on your terms

Arriving fashionably late and/or leaving fashionably early is the most subtle and strategic way of controlling how much energy and time you dedicate to your family during the holidays. Some may call it petty, but we call it tactical thinking.

Also, start planning where you want to stay (it doesn’t have to be with family) or even who gets to stay at your place (don’t be afraid to tell certain family members no).

You can look to your confidante

We all have that one person in our family that agrees with us when the turkey is too dry or if auntie’s new boo is a little shifty. If not, you might have a peacekeeper or an open-minded family member.

Look to them for strength and guidance when things get hairy or in moments of uncomfortably. They might even need you too — we are stronger in numbers so stick together, y’all!

You can pick your peace (say no and don’t go)

Never feel bad about saying no, especially if you don’t feel prepared to be in the company of family members who cross boundaries and trigger you.

This might be hard to do, but just remember to keep your explanation simple and to the point. Try, “Thank you for the invite this year, but I/we won’t be able to make it this time.”

A Reckon Note.

Regardless of your holiday family gathering hesitations, you are worthy of love and of sharing the holidays with people that reciprocate that love to you and that might not always come from your given family.

This year and every year you can decide who you spend the holidays with and it’s okay if this year that’s your chosen family.

Thank you for showing up authentically as you. You deserve to do that every day, babe. Happy holidays!

Alexis Wray

Alexis Wray |

I report on HBCUs and Blackness, working to introduce voices and perspectives of students, alumni and community members that amplify the experiences of Black life on and off campus.

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