On Surviving Family Gatherings During The Holidays

The Lady of the Manners apologizes for the lack of posts during November 2013, Snarklings. There were a bunch of other things the Lady of the Manners was juggling , and time scurried by a bit faster than she had realized. (Also, Tumblr is well-known to make one lose track of time.) However! Now it is December, and holiday festivities are lurking just around the corner.

This may be a surprise, but the Lady of the Manners is quite fond of the winter holiday season. All the twinkly lights, the giving and receiving of gifts and tokens of affection, sugary treats, and people trying to be a little more considerate of each other are all wonderful things, even if the theoretical ideal of them sometimes gets lost in the real world practice. But the holidays can also be difficult, especially for people who are striding along to a darker drum than the rest of their family and friends. So! The Lady of the Manners is going to pull up a previous Gothic Charm School post about dealing with the holidays, because (in the Lady of the Manners’ opinion) it is just as useful now as when she wrote it a few years ago. But now, that advice is dressed up with some additional new suggestions for coping with the holidays:

First things first: stop right now and think about your self-care activities. No, really, the Lady of the Manners is serious about this; the holidays are stressful no matter how much you may enjoy them, so reminding yourself of things that help you relax is vital. Do you need to retreat to a dimly-lit room and meditate for 15 minutes? Do you need to spend a few hours reading your favorite books or fanfic? Does spending a quiet evening wrapped up in blankets and watching a favorite movie make you feel better? Going for a walk with music blaring through your headphones? Mowing down monsters in a video game? Whatever your method of recharging is, make sure you do it. In fact, schedule time for it! Don’t just wave your hands and vaguely promise yourself that you’ll find the time, but stick a note on whatever calendar thing you use and take some time for yourself.

The holidays are generally a time for getting together with family and friends. But if your family doesn’t agree about what you’re doing with your life, what are supposed to be times of joy and celebration turn into festivals of disapproval and hurt. It’s hard to feel festive if you know that a holiday gathering is going to come with a side dish of criticism. Try to keep in mind that whatever relative is regarding your black-clad self with dismay is, at the heart of it, doing so out of what they think is concern for your well-being. Misguided concern, true, but the Lady of the Manners is willing to bet at least one fluffy winter capelet that the disapproving relative really does believe that you would be happier and your life would be easier if you were more like “normal people”.

Alas, arguing with these sorts of disapproving relatives is something of a losing proposition. If you think it’s worth your time and energy to refute their criticism, by all means, do so! But from the stories the Lady of the Manners has heard over the years from others, it doesn’t matter how clear, clever, or true your rebuttals are. Your relatives are probably not going to listen to you, and the whole “discussion” will lead to hurt feelings and arguments.

So what should you do, agree with them? Good gracious, no. Be true to yourselves, Snarklings, even in the face of family tension at the holidays. What you can do is state your boundaries in the discussion and enforce them. Practice calmly saying things such as “That is your opinion, not mine”, or “I am not going to talk about this”, or even “If you don’t have anything kind to say, please don’t say anything”, and then keep saying them in the face of provocative, insulting, or clueless comments. If nothing else, grit your teeth, silently tell yourself over and over that you won’t stoop to their level, and eagerly wait for the next bit of time you can steal for yourself.

Now, on to the rest of the surviving the holidays advice!

“You’re so pale! Are you all right?” “You are not wearing that to your grandparents’!” “I think you looked better with your natural haircolor.” “Oh, I thought this was a phase — haven’t you gotten tired of it yet?” Yes, all familiar questions. But this year the Lady of the Manners’ gift to you, Dear Readers, is advice on how to deal with those same questions in a graceful, restrained, and polite manner.

The Confused and Sometimes Annoying Questions From Relatives, and How To Deal With Them

Before you have to visit them, practice smiling. Or if you’re soooo goth that you don’t smile, practice a pleasant neutral expression. Practice this until you are confident that you can maintain it even if you were in the throes of homicidal rage. This is important. Because when you are asked, for the umpteenth time, “But why do you want to look like this? You could be so pretty/handsome if you only (A: styled your hair differently. B: dressed more like a normal person. C: didn’t wear That Sort of Makeup. D: smiled. E: got some sun…),” you want to be able to look non-threatening and friendly when you say, “because I like to,” or “because I feel it represents who I am.” (The other trick is to give your answer, whatever it is, in a friendly, cordial tone of voice. In most family gatherings, it’s not what one says but how one says it that is important.) If you are pressed to give details about What It’s All About, stick to easily-explained, family-safe examples such as literature, the Addams Family, or Tim Burton movies. If the relative quizzing you seems fairly accepting, then you can try an in-depth explanation of the subculture and why you’re a part of it. (Why, you could even give a copy of the Gothic Charm School book to those relatives!)

The Clothing Issue

First of all, if you are a more historical/romantic/neo-Victorian sort in your manner of dress, you’re going to have a much easier time than others. Most parents and older relatives think it’s sweet to see someone ‘properly dressed up’, and a lot of mainstream catalogs and stores are filled with dressy clothes in dark jewel tones and black velvet during the holiday season. Just don’t coat yourself with white greasepaint clown makeup, and you’ll be fine. However, if you usually adorn yourself from the more…extreme and fetish-themed side of the Subculture Closet, then you have a dilemma. The Lady of the Manners’ advice is to tone it down slightly. If it’s a choice between being full-on GAF or causing a family argument, just think of it as if you were going to a job interview. It won’t kill you, you won’t be selling out, and you’ll be (hopefully) helping promote Peace On Earth and Good Will Towards Men, Women, and everyone else.

Gifts

The Lady of the Manners is not going to give you advice on how to shop for your relatives. Hers are problematic enough, thankyouverymuch. No, this section is about that marvelous, anticipation-filled moment when you’re unwrapping a present from a family member…and it turns out to be a fuzzy yellow sweater. Don’t throw a fit. Smile, say a quick noncommittal “thank you,” and set it aside. Later, after the frenzy of gift-opening is done, go to the family member you get along with the best and ask them if there would be any chance of being able to exchange said yellow fuzzy thing. Let him or her go talk to the gift-giver if you think that doing so yourself will provoke a family argument. If there is no chance that the inappropriate item can be exchanged or returned, you can always sell it at a consignment shop, or even donate it to a charity shop. Of course, the way to ward off such problems is to either have relatives who will give you gifts in keeping with your tastes, or start subtly suggesting the idea of gift certificates as being the ideal present for you. If you can, enlist your parents’ help in spreading this suggestion to the rest of your relatives.

(But be sure to write Thank You notes for all the gifts you receive. Yes, they are tedious and annoying to do. But they are a very important touch, and are a sure way to impress elderly relatives.)

General Tips To Make the Holidays Run Smoother

Act as much like a polite, responsible grown-up as you can. Ask if there is anything you can help with, be it setting the table, washing the dishes, or entertaining any of the younger children that might be around. (Besides, most small children are fascinated by gothy relatives. After you get past the “are you a witch?” questions, it should be smooth sailing. Just make sure that your idea of “entertainment” is okay with the kidlings’ parents. If nothing else, read to them from Alice in Wonderland.) Even the family members who don’t approve of your style will be pleasantly taken aback if you make the effort to be convivial and helpful first.

Another important thing to remember is Do Not Lose Your Temper, no matter what the provocation. The benefits of being able to do this are: 1) the warm glow of self-satisfaction that you can bask in when you refuse to rise to the baiting of a pigheaded relative; and 2) knowing that you most likely just went up a notch in the eyes of any of the onlooking family.

Of course, none of this will help if your family members are truly convinced that you are demonspawn. If you have the sort of relatives that belong on an exploitive “reality” TV show, you might want to look into how feasible it would be not to join in any familial merrymaking; it would probably save a lot of heartache and arguments if you could just be discreetly absent. If that isn’t possible, then silence is probably your best option for holiday family gatherings.

Family holidays are not fun for everyone. Unless you are lucky enough to have family that understands and accepts who and what you are, you have to work at making family parties and dinners a pleasant experience. But it can be done, and once you start making a “good impression” on your relatives, it becomes easier to get along with them. Besides, you can always console yourself that you are probably behaving better than any of them. When the holidays are over, you can go out to whatever goth club you usually frequent, and commiserate with everyone about their family holiday woes. In a restrained and polite fashion, of course.

With that, Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is going to toddle away from the computer and go start making a batch of festive gingerbread bats, and possibly listen to “Fairytale of New York” on endless repeat. The Lady of the Manners wishes you all a happy winter (holiday or not), and will burble at you again in 2014!

10 Responses to “On Surviving Family Gatherings During The Holidays”

  1. Annabel Lioncourt Says:

    Ah yes, the lovely holidays and having to explain that Edward Scissorhands is indeed a holiday movie as the MAJORITY of it takes place the day before/night of Christmas. And its about snow. And family. And fitting in in a family that is absolutely nothing like you at all.
    But I digress.

    another thing to do with those ugly sweaters or pastel blouses that you can’t return or exchange is to dye them (if the material allows it) or add lace, ruffles, or experiment with sewing designs that you’d be afraid to try on a different garment.

    And also bringing your own spooky touched desserts to family gatherings I’ve found is a great way to ease iffy relatives into accepting your goth-ness. I brought skeleton gingerbread men to Christmas Eve dinner and everyone thought they were neat if not adorable.

  2. Robert Tritthardt Says:

    The gingerbread bats were delicious! Thank you for baking so many that your real husband had to bring some to Game Night. 🙂 YUM!

  3. laura Says:

    I think by now my family has started to accept that whatever they say won’t change my clothing preferences. If I do get gifts I don’t really want and can’t always return I keep them as backup. you never know when there will be a time you need them for something. but I have found alot more festive items in the past few year like the gingerdead men and the oodles of jack skellington decor. even some of the more recent versions of a christmans carol follw the darker tone that carries out its traditional christmas meaning and makes you stop and stare blankly at haunts and ghosts stressing the importance of good will and togetherness.

  4. Sandra Says:

    I’m very lucky to have a small family, so I don’t have to explain my existence anymore 😀 Most of my family is okay with my fashion sense, my late grandmother really loved it, so it was a good excuse to dress up!

  5. Sugarbat Says:

    In my country we have Christmas in the summer. (So I have to apply lots of sunscreen on.) I decided for Christmas presents for my family members (that were gothy like) I made small glass decorations that were dark angels, bats and stars. Some of my family that got to them early loved them! (even if goth is not their particular taste.) I am glad that I have a big and supportive family that accept my gothiness. Although, they do make sly jokes like “You still think it is Halloween?” (Which I reply to them ” No but I wish it was everyday! Along with Christmas, Birthdays, Easter etc.”)

    Anyway I hope everyone has a happy and family filled enjoyable Holiday/Christmas/New Year/Hanukkah (If celebrated) whatever season!

    P.S. Stay Goth! (If you should and want to.)

  6. Shelby Says:

    Thank you very much for this post. To be honest, My family is perfectly fine with me being gothic, but I do have an aunt that make fun of me for it. I strongly dislike her, so I really don’t know how to respond.
    We also have a family friend visit, and she is currently dating a mortician’s assistant. This is a problem for me, because I want to be a mortician when I am older, and my grandmother insists that I do not bring up the topic, but I usually cannot help myself, so we end up in a very detailed conversation regarding the mortuary field, and that usually causes family members to leave and complain about our conversation being a bit too graphic for comfort. My problem with that is the fact I inform them that the conversation may be a bit too graphic, yet they sit down anyway. I am convinced that my grandmother and my family are working together, but I am not entirely sure.
    Thank you for all of your wonderful posts, and I cannot wait to hear more.
    Have a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.
    xXx

  7. Ghost of Novalis Says:

    Of course today’s non-Goth masses have numbers on their side, but you have history on yours. Jump back a century or two — and everyone was pretty much Goth. Goth is about the Dark and Wild Muse, and they are subtle and sublime. Most people can’t fathom subtle and sublime. But don’t rub it in. Just endure as best you can, explain as calmly and succinctly as possible . . . and they’ll either wise up, come around . . . or they’re hopeless.

  8. lance-alot Says:

    every holiday gathering i go to for my family i always get questioned about clothes tht i wear or how i act

  9. Stormbringer Says:

    Holidays with the extended family were always a chore for me but now that I’m in my late 40s and have a three year old son, some of the ‘magic’ seems to be there. I’m an agnostic and have been since I was about 15 so religious holidays mean very little to me, other than a day of peace and tolerance when it comes to my family. My advice to all you younger Goths is : grin and bear it. The older you get, the more seriously people will take you. Show them that you are an intelligent, creative and tolerant person. You might never get them to understand but at least they’ll see that you take your gothness seriously and that will hopefully earn you their respect.

  10. Gothic Charm School Says:

    […] On Surviving Family Gatherings During the Holidays […]

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