When my kids were little, even when I was broke, I always made Christmas a big deal. Our extended family and friends would gather for Christmas Eve and after everyone had gone, the boys would be put to bed with warnings about getting to sleep fast so Santa could come.

In the morning, they had to come and wake us. Before heading out to the tree to see what had been left for them, we’d open our stockings first, all in the big bed. Then we’d run into the living room to find bikes or scooters or maybe a drum set.

Lots of wrapping paper would fly and thrilled little boys’ voices were heard running through the house and out into the yard to try out the new gifts.

Fond Memories and a New Era

Those memories are precious and documented in old, yellowed photographs I will always treasure. Those were good times but I now realize why my parents always showed up a bit later in the day. The Santa chaos is just too much for people of a certain age. Sadly, I have reached that age.

I’ve learned by trial and error that timing is everything on Christmas Day. You want to arrive after Santa.

There are two reasons for that – the environment is either nuts with joy or hysterical with “I didn’t get what I wanted.” Either way, best to show up about 30 minutes later, but be careful you don’t get there in the middle of the candy-in-the-stocking sugar crash. That can be pretty unsettling as well. We try to get there for brunch, distribute our loot to the grandkids and make our get-away before the naps meltdown and/or the drunk uncle singing begins.

Know the Players

There’s an art to surviving the holidays. Besides sugared-out and over stimulated children there are in-laws and other sundry family friends and relatives to interact with. This year will be more of minefield than usual as the survivors of the election toss zingers back and forth.

Don’t forget about the competing grandparents vying to be the favorite, or your cousin that always manages to be “in her cups” by lunch and really wants to corner you in the kitchen to kvetch about another family member.

Am I sounding a little bah-humbug? I’m not. I love my family and the holidays – just giving some pointers here to keep you sane. So how do we visit our families, share the holiday cheer and not end up in our own private breakdown on the way home?

When it Comes to Surviving the Holidays, Timing is Critical

Like I said, it’s all in the timing. Unfortunately, many of our Christmas day get-togethers are open house situations. It’s hard to know when wacky Uncle Buster is going to make an appearance, although, I’m not above doing a drive-by just to get the lay of the land ahead of time. Then if it looks like a bad mix may be happening, you can go to a neighborhood bar and call a little while later to see if the coast is clear.

I’ve learned that mid-day is your best bet. Early, you run into the other over-zealous grandparents. Late in the day, you’ve got the too-much-eggnog crowd. Sometimes this group is lots of fun. Other years it can be downright maudlin.

Another good strategy is to always have multiple places to be – real or imaginary. Then, you can make an escape if needed. Just announce, upon arrival, that you’ve been invited to another open house hosted by someone they don’t know. If you’re having fun with the family, you can blow off the other event. If the going gets rough, you have a way out.

Gift-Giving Tactics

My grandchildren extend from 18 years to 10 months. The older kids get money – always a hit. The littles get something fun but educational and money for their college funds. That process and Amazon keep my shopping stress to a minimum. The adults have a big white elephant which is always fun.

None of us need anything, so why traumatize yourself searching for the perfect gifts? But I always have a few things stashed in the trunk of the car for emergency gifts. Just in case your distant cousin shows up and has one of her famous fruit cakes for you, or the person that stated no gifts this year tries to pull a fast one. Cheap decorative candles, gift chocolates and homemade bottles of Kahlua are always appropriate for these surprise gift givers.

Emergency Supplies

If, in spite of all your advance planning, you still become trapped in some sort of holiday madness, you will need some emergency supplies until an escape route can be found. Always carry a tube of very pale make-up. You can slip into the bathroom and quickly apply. Come out and announce you’re not feeling well and it could be food poisoning. This will get you out fast. No one wants to deal with that.

A flask of vodka is also good to keep on your person. Can’t really smell it and it will get you through a stressful couple of hours if you become trapped. Plan ahead – have a friend on the outside call you at a pre-determined time with a small emergency like a car breakdown. You look like a hero and you get away quickly and unscathed. Last, but never least, Xanax should always be in your pocket.

Happy holidays and good luck.

Besides these humorous suggestions, what tips do you have for surviving the holidays? How have you managed the stresses of gift giving and open house celebrations? Do you have a “timing plan” for making the most of the big day? Please join the conversation.

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