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Satellite Sisters Strategies for Getting Along at the Holidays

From the archives: 

Put down the carving knife and walk away slowly.

This week on the podcast, we’re talking turkey with the Butterball lady and family dynamics with Dr. Forni. But over the years, we’ve developed our own expertise in the arena of large family get-togethers and we wanted to share it with you.

Gathering for the holidays with family can be a time of great joy and tradition or a long weekend of stress and aggravation. There are some ways to turn a potentially implosive family holiday into a festive affair.

We have a huge family -lots of siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandkids, in-laws. And we’ve staged many successful family gatherings. We know there are a few key elements to family fun. read on for family fun!

1. Can’t you just try and be pleasant?

Attitude is everything when it comes to family gatherings. You can choose to be positive or you can come with the childhood injustices of 20 years ago weighing on your shoulders. Being in good humor, or even faking it, a the best way to start off a weekend with the relatives. The Thanksgiving table is not the time or place to air old grievances or create new ones. A willingness to forgive, forget and forge ahead is a great way to approach a family gathering.

2. Work on your material

Each family member has a job at the holidays that goes beyond making a pumpkin pie or bringing a bottle of wine. No matter what kind of party, guests have an obligation to contribute to the overall good time of the group. Sitting on the couch and watching football does not constitute a significant contribution. Family members should come with a few funny anecdotes, a prepared musical piece or a willingness to lead the group in a game of charades. A little entertainment can make the gathering go from same old, same old to something memorable.

3. The Buffer Guest

Some combinations of family members are just arguments waiting to happen. To absorb the friction, it may be necessary to employ a Buffer Guest. The Buffer Guest is a go-to cousin, nephew or friend that can be invited with the sole purpose of keeping everyone on their best behavior. Typical Buffer Guest duties include keeping the conversation going, cooing over the holiday meal, sucking up to social superiors and keeping unwanted relatives out of the kitchen. If successful, the Buffer Guests will tell so many amusing anecdotes that Aunt Betty won’t get a word in about her latest medical situation. For once, Thanksgiving will proceed without the mention of the word “spleen” and for once, the family will be truly thankful.

4. When in doubt, be Switzerland

Neutrality is a key element to a stress-free holiday. Why pick sides on any issues, if deflection is an option. Turkey vs. ham? Make both. Who makes the better cranberry sauce– Grandma Smith or Grandma Brown? Both are delicious. Did you vote Democrat or Republican? Say Libertarian. Grab any chance to be the diplomat.

5. Vacation simultaneously, not together.

If travel is in the family holiday plans, remember to plan as much vacation time apart as time together. Just because relatives are in the same place for the same dates for the same reason, doesn’t mean that every activity, from meals to shopping to sightseeing, has to be a group activity. Stay in separate rooms, eat breakfast or lunch on your own and never plan any activity that involves the entire family trapped on a boat together for long periods of time. Split the family into smaller subsets for excursions, then re-group en masse later for cocktails. A little separation goes a long way in preserving good manners and good attitudes.

Pass this on to family and friends, especially those you’ve invited over for the festivities. If everybody reads the same memo, then maybe everybody will be on their best behavior!

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