There are a lot of great holiday movies. Most of them are touching in some way, many of them are hilarious, and a few are even scary. But you know what virtually none of them are? Relaxing. Peaceful. Tranquil. Calm. The holiday season and those words just don’t really go together. And yet, we all operate under this false pretense that the holidays are a time for recharging our batteries, catching up on sleep, and recovering from our hectic careers and schedules during the rest of the year.

Where in the hell did we get that idea?! Let me state this in no uncertain terms: the holidays will not be relaxing. The holidays will not have you starting the new year refreshed and rejuvenated. The holidays are more often than not brutal, expensive, and frustrating. 

Pick a Christmas movie. Any Christmas movie. I guarantee it’s full of issues, squabbles, foul-ups, arguments, problems, fights, abuse, and disappointment. Sure, everyone may come together by the end to enjoy a lovely morning around the tree, but the aggression is still there, bubbling just under the surface. It’ll explode sometime after New Year’s Day. 

First of all, the holidays are all about (or supposed to be, anyway) family. They come to you, or you go to them. But guess what? Families can be super irritating. Yes, of course, you love them. But most of us love them more when they’re 700 miles away from us and not sleeping in the guest room. There’s a reason most people elect to move out and away from home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that crap. 

The holidays are not fun. Expensive. Stressful. Exhausting. Most of us look forward to returning to work in early January just so we can get away from them. There’s a petition making the rounds to have Christmas erased from our collective memories à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. How awesome would that be? 

Until then, we need to agree to some compromises to make the Christmas holidays a little less sucky. 

Buy at the Dollar Store

Seriously, enough already. Christmas has become a parody of itself these days, with the average number of presents for each man, woman, and child growing exponentially. It used to be a couple from Santa, and a couple from family. But now? Each person has roughly 223 gifts under the tree on Christmas Day. And those aren’t just tiny little things, either. Smartphones, laptops, cameras, iPads, Roku sticks, iPods, Apple TVs, PS5s, and dolls that can cry, poop, and do your taxes. Americans spend an average of $997 on gifts and holiday items as of 2022. Crikey. Even worse, most children expect to find everything on their “list” under the tree, and are vocally and openly hostile if that doesn’t happen. And that list? Again, the number has been creeping up for years. Back in my day (do I sound like a cranky old man?), I remember capping my wish list at 4 or 5 gifts because I didn’t want to seem greedy. Not so today. Lists habitually reach 15-20 items. Or more. 

Can we make a pact? Let’s just agree, right here and right now, that no one can buy or request anything that isn’t available at a dollar store. And before you write it off as a crazy idea, consider the breadth and variety of items available at a typical neighbourhood dollar emporium. They have literally everything in there. Clothes? Check. Toys? Check. Books? You betcha. Food, candy, and snacks? In spades. Electronics? Yup, albeit in limited supply, and most of it will break before you get the package open. But, you could complete your Christmas shopping in an hour, and for a grand total of $16 plus tax. 

The other $997 could be better spent on booze and tranquillizers. Because the more time you spend around your family, the more they become necessary. It’s a scientific fact (they proved it with lab rats last year). 

And, lest we forget, shopping anytime after November 15 becomes an exercise in warfare. People get nuts. Ever been to a Walmart on Black Friday? It’s like the fall of Saigon, man. I, for one, no longer want to wrestle with another human being for the last Tickle Me Elmo. 

The dollar store idea is so much more civilized. Join me, won’t you? 

Brutal Honesty is the Best Policy

Another idea to include is a universally accepted “brutal honesty” policy during your time with family. Everyone agrees to hold nothing back. To always tell the harsh, horrible truth. Sister driving you up the wall? Tell her. Mother’s passive-aggressive behaviour have you ready to punch the picture window in the living room? Give her the 5-minute warning. Gift from your aunt the most hideous crap you’ve ever seen? Let her know. Brother’s kid acting like a spoiled little asshole? Say it. Keeping track of all the little white lies and bottling up our true feelings is both exhausting and unhealthy. We shouldn’t have to. Family is supposed to love you no matter what, so let’s put our cards on the table. If we can’t handle the truth, we probably shouldn’t spend any more time around each other.

Three Strikes and You’re Out

Look, someone (and likely everyone) is going to piss you off at some point while you’re there. It’s inevitable. When family gets together, nerves will be trampled on. Let’s start a brand-spankin’ new tradition: three strikes and you’re out. When someone says or does something that irritates at least two people, that’s a strike. Drunk uncle makes a racist, sexist, or other -ist joke at the supper table? That’s a strike. Sibling finds a way in every conversation to point out that they make more than you and the other kids? Strike. Your stepdad gets drunk and throws up on the sofa (that doubles as your bed while visiting)? That’s a big strike…actually, make it two strikes. That SOB needs to learn.

When someone reaches the magical strike 3, they’re gone. Literally. Upon receiving their third strike, an individual must immediately vacate the premises. Pack up and go. Extinguish their tiki torch and leave the island. You are the weakest link. Goodbye. For the sanity of the rest of the herd (i.e. you and your family), they must be excised. 

And if the person happens to be the host or hostess, well, they still have to get out. At their own expense, they have to move to a nearby hotel for the duration of the holidays. It’s only fair. 

One Get-Out-of-Anything Card

Last, but certainly not least, is the creation and distribution of “Get Out of Anything” cards. Everyone gets one. The size of a business card, these suckers are worth their weight in gold. The name explains it all: don’t want to attend your sister’s bratty kid’s Christmas recital? Hand over your card and head to the nearest pub. Whistle and skip on the way. Mother want you to go with her to visit Great Aunt Gertrude in the house that smells like cat piss and wet dog? Nope. You have a magical card. But choose wisely, as the average Christmas holiday with your family has about 29 things you won’t want to do. Think ahead. Select the most heinous. 

For even greater morale, have a few extra ones up for grabs. Maybe a lottery, or 50/50 draw, or silent auction. Winner gets an extra card, and a bit of spending cash to use doing something infinitely better than whatever fresh level of hell they used it to escape. 

I’m surprised this hasn’t been introduced decades earlier.  

The holidays can be magical. But let’s be frank…they’re usually not. Too many people. Too expensive. Too much pent up aggression. But you have to do it. Right? You suffer through and persevere because that’s what families do. 

In the immortal words of Clark W. Griswold:

We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.”

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. 

How do you survive the holidays? 


Bryan Johnston

Former high school English lit & drama teacher. Current writer, stand-up comedian, & improv performer. A big switch? You betcha.

International expat for 12+ years with stops in Beijing, Dubai, Shanghai, & Guangzhou. Dad to a university sophomore, an eleven-month old charmer, & the two best doggos. Lover of funny things & people. Oh, and craft beer.

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