Surviving the (Extended) Family Holiday Dinner

Surviving the (Extended) Family Holiday Dinner

Our guide will empower you to connect this season — even with your most distant relatives.

By: Alyssa Chirco

Holiday dinners with the family are intended be a joyous affair, but for many of us, they never quite feel like the all-out celebration they are planned to be. Whether you feel uncomfortable or tense dealing with in-laws or long lost relatives with whom you have little in common, it is possible to survive — and even enjoy — an extended family holiday dinner. You just need to have a game plan.

Break the Ice
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Aunt Betsy, you may feel as though you have nothing to talk about with her. Ditto for your mother-in-law’s second cousin and your brother’s latest girlfriend. The good news? If you’re feeling this way, others probably are too.

Instead of sitting down to dinner immediately, break the ice with a few family-friendly party games. A round of charades or an outdoor game of flag football will go a long way in helping everyone to relax and feel more comfortable chatting when it’s time to sit down to a delicious meal.

Dial down the Drama
The holiday table is rarely the place for rousing ideological debates, nor is it the best forum for discussing hot-button issues that inevitably lead to family squabbles. Be respectful of each other’s differences and focus on topics of conversation that foster a spirit of camaraderie and togetherness. Happy family memories are a great place to start.


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Own Your Choices
From how you’re raising your children to which career path you’ve chosen, it’s easy to feel judged or misunderstood by relatives — especially distant ones who don’t know you that well in the first place. But if you have confidence in your decisions, you will feel more comfortable smiling politely and simply ignoring any unsolicited “advice” you receive.

Ask Questions (and Listen Closely)
Most people love the opportunity to talk about themselves, so a few well-timed questions are often all you need to get a conversation going. What fun facts do you know about the person sitting next to you? Did your husband mention that his great aunt raised 10 children? Ask her about them. Then listen closely (and with genuine interest) as she talks. Before you know it, you may realize that you share more in common than you thought.

Spread the Cheer
Holidays are supposed to be happy occasions, so do your best to keep a positive attitude and look for the good that surrounds you. Compliment your sister on her new haircut and your mom on her mashed potatoes. Have fun by playing a game with the kids. Use humor when necessary to diffuse tense situations.

Before you know it, your good-natured outlook will rub off on others, and the entire family will be following your lead.

Embrace Imperfection
No holiday dinner is ever going to be perfect and neither is any family. But keep in mind that, sometimes, it’s that very lack of perfection that makes your meal — and your entire family — worth celebrating.

Alyssa is a St. Louis-based freelance journalist who provides writing, editing and social media services for print, Web and small businesses. She writes about parenting and family life for and is a contributing editor for Parenting Squad.

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A hit-the-nail-on-the-head post. The best part about the advice was to grin and ignore the advice. I completely agree. You are meeting the extended family for a short while after a long time. You need not take up cudgels on every single issue. It doesn't matter what others say and do. Bear with it and continue your life as it is. Do not add to the list of people who dislike you.

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