The ultimate guide to surviving family during the holidays

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  • Filipino family dynamics can be—in a word—complicated. Adding Christmas to the mix can take things even further

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year—but not for everyone. The stress of rising prices, Christmas shopping, too many Christmas parties, and meeting many many people for the first time since the pandemic started can be a little much. Not to say that the holidays aren’t fun, but it can just be a little overwhelming—especially if you’ve changed over the course of the last few years. 

Arguably the biggest holiday challenge a lot of us have is something we also cherish: family.  

As a child, I wondered why there were so many teleseryes about family fighting during the holidays. I thought to myself, “Isn’t this supposed to be when we celebrated the coming of Jesus and the importance of family?” 

Photo by Stefan Vladimirov on Unsplash

Then I grew up and understood. 

Family dynamics are, to say the least, complicated. Filipino family dynamics even moreso. Make no mistake, I love my family. I’m sure many of us do. But as with all relationships, past events and current attitudes can make it difficult for the love to shine through. 

Putting all the members of a family with different dynamics, back stories, and experiences into one room over the course of a meal can be akin to cooking with a pressure cooker. If you’re not careful with the way you load up the ingredients and set the cooker, things may just explode. 

For those of you who are expecting a difficult holiday season, here are a few things to keep in mind to help you navigate through it. And hopefully, come out the other side still doing just fine. 

Figure out which events you must attend

The typical holiday season of the Filipino family isn’t just made of one big event. It can be made up of several events that either lead up to Christmas, or a few events scattered between Christmas and New Year. None of these things are formal family things. It can be a cousin inviting you over, or an aunt or uncle that hasn’t seen you in a while and would like to share a meal with you. 

Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

Of all these meriendas, dinners, and catch-ups, you must decide which to attend and which to skip out on. The year has been long, and the pandemic even longer. Which, surprise, isn’t over yet. Conserving your energy for the events you don’t want to or simply can’t miss out on should be your priority. 

For those events that don’t make the cut, decline firmly but respectfully. Your time and energy are both limited resources. Be it work, personal, or just life-related, there are other things you probably need to do—which works as an excuse in the case of a pushy person asking too many questions. 

Remember, firm but respectful. 

Make the right mental and emotional preparations

For the events you can’t miss but are dreading, emerging unscathed means preparing yourself well. No matter what year it is, there will always be questions about your job, your love life, and even comments about your weight. 

For older family members (or just older people in general), these things are simple conversation starters. For us on the receiving end of these queries, it can be a trigger or something we obviously don’t want to hear. 

I personally don’t meditate, but I like listening to a powerful playlist to get ready for anything I need to get ready for. Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

Knowing and preparing for these questions can help you come up with creative ways to respond, which can be quite satisfying when dealt out at the right time. Let’s say someone brings up weight gain and directs it at you, a response to this rude comment could be, “Well, at least inflation isn’t stopping me from eating well,” or something of the sort. 

For people who want to take a less direct approach to these types of comments, a tight smile and silence can do wonders to show how uncomfortable the situation is for you. 

Use Filipino time to your advantage

Being late is extremely par for the course when it comes to holiday events. Traffic has once again become unbearable, which is a wholly valid excuse for showing up late and leaving early. The principle of “Last in, first out” is something I learned from my brother—bless him. No one bats an eye when he arrives late to dinner, and even less when he leaves early for fear of “traffic.” 

Of course, this only works if you live away from the venue. If the event just so happens to take place in your own home, this obviously won’t work. 

Find a buddy you can take breaks with 

Surviving and navigating a difficult holiday season is hell by yourself. Finding someone (preferably a cousin who has similar experiences) to share your feelings and experiences with can take a lot off your shoulders. 

It’s important to have a support system—and even be someone’s support system—when you’re having a tough time during the holidays. Buddying up with a cousin can be even more fruitful since you’re already going to the same events and have shared life experiences. 

Photo by Taylor Smith on Unsplash

Taking breaks is essential to avoid feeling overwhelmed by any situation. That doesn’t exclude Christmas dinner. Excusing yourself from uncomfortable situations and situations are well within your right. If you’re not feeling the holiday spirit, you can step out for a minute to collect yourself.

Bring your buddy along if the situation allows, or just escape to the nearest washroom to breathe deeply for a minute.  

Silence is your best friend—and secret weapon

We all have that relative who doesn’t think too hard before they speak. Instead of wasting your energy trying to debate their points over the dinner table (and possibly causing a very memorable holiday scene), a pointed silence can bring your point across very well. 

Not laughing, not nodding, not even moving, and just keeping yourself quiet is a message in and of itself.

A single family can have different views on literally everything—and you and your relatives can be very passionate about these views (or archaic opinions in most of our cases). When the conversation starts steering itself (or getting steered) into dangerous territories (like politics, human rights, gender, human sexuality, and a laundry list of other uncomfortable topics), a silent stare of defiance can make the conversation turn towards friendlier waters. 

Not laughing, not nodding, not even moving, and just keeping yourself quiet is a message in and of itself. Just make sure to use this wisely and sparingly if you want it to keep its effect. And while it may be bold (and considered rude in some households), you can always just reply with “Well if there’s nothing good to say, might as well not say anything at all.” 

The emergency French exit

Greeting everyone hello when you first arrive at a party is basic etiquette, but leaving without saying much is a gray area. When the festivities are at a climax and you’ve decided you just want to go home, exiting the party as the French do will make things go much faster and neater. 

For those of you who don’t know, a French exit is when you leave a party without saying goodbye to anyone. You just simply exit. Another version of this popular party trick is telling maybe one or two people that you’ll be taking your leave—then simply leaving. 

Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

There can be a million and one reasons you’d want to leave a party and not enough emotional bandwidth to say goodbye to everyone. In these instances, you can just quietly slip out the proverbial back and ask someone to make up an excuse for your departure (if that’s what you want). 

If people ask questions about your exit, you can say you weren’t feeling well and not expound. People are still getting sick these days, so you can leave the other party to reliably fill in the blanks. If someone takes it too far and asks you to present a negative test result for you to be able to attend the next party, you can comply or take that blessing and run with it. 

Let yourself feel the Christmas spirit

While the majority of these tips tackle the gloom and doom that can be associated with the holiday season, there’s still some magic to be found. That is, if you let yourself feel it. It’s been a hard few years for everyone, but Christmas should be a time for rest and reflection. 

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Filipino family dynamics aside, there are still people you love and care about sitting with you at the table for Christmas. Exerting effort into making them feel the love and gratitude you have for them can come back to you in ways you might not expect. 

We should all find the little joys where we can, and turn them into bigger joys if possible. Togetherness is the essence of Christmas, and spending time with those important to us is one of the joys we’re sure to find. 

Nolisoli.ph © 2020. Hinge Inquirer Publications, Inc.

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