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A Little Help to Smooth the Holiday Awkwardness

By Nicole Christina December 12, 2019 Mindset

Maybe it’s just me, but the holiday season can be an emotionally tricky time. As the mother of an adult son on the Spectrum, and a member of a family with different ways of seeing the world, I need a strategy to deal with the potential awkwardness and occasional tension around the family holiday visit.

Suffice it to say that my holiday celebration never looks like the Facebook posts I see. It’s always a mixed bag, and every year I try to figure out the best way to take what’s good and leave the rest.

I’m conscious of being grateful for all that I have, but sometimes I need another strategy to make sure I’m prepared for what can feel a bit… less than ideal.

Enter: Knitting

Knitting is my go-to strategy for surviving an awkward holiday celebration (or any other potentially fraught social gathering for that matter).

It offers many benefits you may not have considered. For example, you can appear to be involved in the conversation, but it also provides a type of barrier for family weirdness. You are engaged, but also protected from comments that otherwise might make you react in a not-so-appropriate fashion.

It’s a subtle buffer that no one will fault you for. It’s a friendly activity and does not feel as off-putting as scrolling down your social media feed during the holiday get-together. Subtlety is one of its many charms.

Knitting as a Connector

Knitting offers a neutral topic that is a bridge to family members of different views which you might find distressing (or horrifying). There’s the proverbial “What are you making?” which provides a topic of conversation that rarely goes badly.

You can talk about colors, patterns, difficulty level, the warmth… the list goes on. And if your family member also knits, you can enter into the vocabulary of the knitter: “I always drop stitches,” “I hate short rows so much,” and “This yarn has a beautiful drape – feel it.”

It’s a feel good activity that people admire and can comment on.

Knitting Enhances Cognitive Abilities

Research shows that another benefit of knitting at emotionally charged events is that handcrafts are good for your brain, staving off depression and anxiety. I love the idea that I can be helping my brain, even as I am measuring my words so not to cause any conflict.

I can sit, zenned out, while political views get tossed around. If the conversation gets particularly dicey, I can concentrate earnestly on reading my pattern. It feels less insulting than burying my face in my phone. No one can blame me for concentrating on my pattern.

Knitting Provides a Sense of Accomplishment

As I sit around the holiday table, I also have the satisfaction of knowing I am accomplishing something. I can watch my sweater pockets come to life and get excited that the sweater I have been working on for months is almost done.

I can get lost in my head planning my next project and reminding myself that I have to finish a second sock before I start something new. I’m in my own little knitting world, present only to the extent I wish to be.

I remind myself to knit mindfully and focus on the feel of the yarn in my hands and the stitches growing. The rhythm is soothing, and it offers a deep sense of calm, even if there is a cloud of tension hanging in the room.

Small business Saturday found me browsing at my local yarn shop. The owner, Susan, asked how my Thanksgiving was. A bit too loudly, I replied: “Thank God for knitting!” She nodded. I think she understood.

What do you do when emotions run high at family get-togethers? Do you take a handcraft project with you when gathering for the Holidays? What kind of project is it? How does it help dissolve conflict? Please share in the comments below.

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The Author

Nicole Christina, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and the host of the acclaimed podcast ZestfulAging (, which is heard in 89 countries around the world. Find out more about Nicole at

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