12 Most Merry Ways to Deal with Holiday Drama

12 Most Merry Ways to Deal with Holiday Drama

It’s the most wonderful, strike that… most stressful time of the year!

My mom and my grandmother never really got along, but their passive-aggressive tendencies always seemed to reach new heights around the holidays.

My grandmother had impeccable taste in clothing. I remember my mother opening a beautifully wrapped present from her. It was a gorgeous blouse in size XL.

The problem? My mom was 5’4 and weighed in at a whopping 120 pounds.

“This is a beautiful blouse, but it’s too big. Can I get the receipt for it and exchange it for my size?” asked my mother.

“Oh dear, don’t worry about that,” said my grandma, “You’ll grow into it.”

It was a very merry Christmas at the Mazur family’s house that year! My holiday memories had as much fun as dysfunction. As I grew up, I realized that my family was not unique in dealing with family holiday drama. That inspired this survival guide for the holidays — the 12 most merry ways to deal with holiday drama.

1. Understand the true meaning of conflict

The true meaning of conflict is simply two or more parties who have incompatible goals. Yep, that’s it. No yelling or emotional outbursts, just incompatible goals. When you realize what the true meaning of conflict is, it is a bit easier to put a squabble into perspective and to put the emotions aside.

2. Avoid hot-button topics

Do not bring up topics that spark family controversy. No one needs to chat over the Christmas goose about Cousin Cindy’s boyfriend who no one likes or to debate the merits of the Democratic or Republican healthcare plans. If you know it will lead to conflict, just avoid the topic.

3. Keep your emotions in check

You can’t control what other people say to you, but you can control how you respond. Family members know how to push emotional buttons very well. The closer the family member, the more they know where your soft underbelly lies. If someone starts poking at you, breathe deeply and remember that you are in control of your own emotions.

4. Schedule “me” time

Make time for you during the holidays. You need time to rejuvenate from all the merrymaking. This is especially true if you are an introvert and need to recharge with well-deserved alone time.

5. “No” is a complete sentence

My friend Betsy Talbot, of Married with Luggage, recently said “No is a complete sentence.” As you start getting overscheduled with holiday commitments from work parties to family events, remember to protect your time. Say “no” to events you don’t want to attend and remember — you don’t have to explain the “why” behind the “no.”

6. Phone a friend

When the holiday shenanigans start getting the better of you, call a trusted friend to vent. Just giving a voice to your frustrations can help alleviate the emotional stress and bolster your fa-la-la spirit.

7. Volunteer

Volunteering for a charity during the holidays is great use of time. But in this case, I mean volunteer to be the store runner. If Aunt Ruth is not happy with homemade cranberry sauce and she wants the jellied stuff that retains the shape of the can, volunteer to run to the store to get it. It will give you some much-needed unwinding time.

8. Accentuate the positive

It might be hard, but find one thing you like about each difficult person you have to deal with during the holidays. Maybe you like the way they make the turkey or really appreciate how they handled their recent layoff. Whatever it is, keep that one thing in your mind when you are talking with them. If you can feel positive about that person, it comes out in your communication.

9. Play games

Not mind games but board games. If everyone is focused on a game, it’s less talk time and more time enjoying the game and maybe enjoying each other.

10. Fake it

I am not one to advocate for being inauthentic, but sometimes it is just easier to smile and fake it during holiday gatherings. Just be sure you have someone to talk to about why you had to fake it (see #6). However, you might be pleasantly surprised — while smiling to fake it, you might actually start enjoying yourself. This has happened to me on many work party occasions.

11. The holidays come only once a year

Awkward work holiday parties and family get-togethers only happen once a year. They’re temporary, and soon this holiday season too, shall pass.

12. Eggnog

Have some spiked eggnog, but not too much spiked eggnog. You don’t want to be the relative that passes out into the Christmas tree. (I was NEVER the relative in the tree, but I’d be lying if I said I never saw this at my family holiday party.)

The holidays should be the most wonderful time of the year but for most of us, the holidays bring a lot of stress, awkwardness, and dysfunctional fun. Remember, it is your holiday too, so make the most of it.

How do you navigate holiday drama? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Featured image courtesy of Lomo-Cam licensed via Creative Commons.

Dr. Michelle Mazur


Speech Coach and Presentation Skills Trainer, Dr. Michelle Mazur, guides driven-to-succeed business professionals and independent business owners to ignite the smoldering fire within to speak up, speak out and make their impact — one compelling presentation at a time. Clients get noticed, promoted and paid more by overcoming their reluctance and learning to speak with authenticity and confidence, no matter how big or small their audience. To learn her proven approach to get ready for opportunity now — visit her website.

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Thanks for sharing the holiday ideas. I have really enjoyed to read your post.


Hi, I like all the tips you have shared here. A holiday is a thing which lead to comfort in our busy life. I have had my holiday in Spain with my friends and enjoyed really a lot.


Hey, Michelle. I'm spending Christmas this year on a beach in Spain cooking paella over a fire pit with a bunch of strangers. Just remember that you can always opt out of tradition and do something off the wall. When you're an adult you get to decide how you want to spend the holidays. You might decide that you like it better or it might make you appreciate your family a little bit more next year! Happy holidays. :)


Hi Michelle,

Really enjoyed this post, especially your comment about "me" time.  I do enjoy seeing family and friends and celebrating the holidays but I also need time to recharge otherwise I end up feeling completely drained. 

I guess the key is just finding a balance between important events and prioritizing!


The severe dysfunction of my family precludes any family gatherings ever again.

My elder Brother and Sister have adopted unending ostracism and sabotaging relationships as a means of controlling people they don't approve of.  There has never been an explanation as to why some of us were cut off.  Most recently my sister wrote an incredibly vicious email falsely accusing our 80 year old mother of spreading rumors stating that she never wants to see her again.  My sister was judge, jury and executioner: It destroyed Mom.

My brother's wife is a licensed counselor whose own brother is a child molester.  None of us knew this until a few years ago and then it made sense; the reasoning behind my sister-in-law's campaign of abuse.  Painting our family members Black to make hers look clean.  

There is nothing more painful than watching my elderly mother weep uncontrollably, knowing that I can do nothing to ease her searing pain other than offer support and an ear.

Sometimes the best choice is to walk away from bullies - Why spend the holidays, which is supposed to be a joyous time, with people who only dump misery on others? 

I say that Life is too short to waste a second on spiteful people.


You share such a nice post or also gives a nice or wise tips on how to deal with a holiday drama...I like the way that you used for described this post,it's really amazing.....


Out of all these wise tips, #9 is a personal favorite! Getting everyone to participate in a great board game is fun, and serves to prevent the discussion of hot button topics such as politics or religion. Another fantastic list Michelle!


@lzatulovsky I'm an extravert and even though I love people and get energy from them - I need time to recharge. It sometimes can be just leaving an event a little early or a well thought-out no. Balance is key!


@terez07 Games are great fun, bonding and a nice distraction from other topics. Thanks for commenting.