There are several kinds of holiday gatherings most people have to negotiate this time of year, from classroom cupcakes to family dinners and more, more, more. Let's see if we can help you get through the next few weeks of mandatory cheer without killing anyone, dying of embarrassment, or losing your mind.
1. The Office Party. Work parties can be great, especially if you work in a pressured environment, because all it takes is one person lighting a tray of shots on fire to make everything unravel into chaos. Chaos can be very entertaining, but you're more likely to keep your job if you're watching the mayhem from a safe distance. Ultimately, the success of an office party depends on how much you either like your coworkers or don't care at all what they think of you.
Budgets are tight these days but alcohol may still be involved in the typical after-work holiday party. If you're a drinker, do yourself a favor and stop at three. One drink per hour over a three-hour period ought to ensure that your butt doesn't end up on the copy machine or your lunch in a potted plant, and will get you home in time for Real Housewives. But make sure you eat something, and not just cookies. You need protein, especially at night, it helps you sleep. If a coworker gets drunk and hits on you, punch in the face (as in a glass of punch, not your actual fist) is appropriate; if your boss gets drunk and starts hitting on you, RUN.
2. Dinner with In-laws. Be polite. Laugh at their jokes. Accept whatever you're offered to eat or drink graciously. Do not indulge in practical jokes unless you know in advance that the person you're targeting can take it. Avoid taking part in passive-aggressive exchanges, gossip about anyone that may hear about it later, and ganging up on the weak. If you start to feel panicky or nauseated, excuse yourself and get some fresh air. Agree on a safe word so that your partner/spouse can be ready to bolt when you've reached your limit. Tell everyone you have to get up early for a conference call / take your cat to the vet / sprinkle reindeer food on the lawn and call it a day.
3. Gift exchange with your family. Do not come empty handed, no matter how much they "owe" you. Bring something to share with the group like nuts, chocolate, or wine. If you've drawn names ahead of time, make sure the gift you've chosen for your recipient is actually appropriate: it doesn't not need to change their life, it just needs to get you through the next three hours. Include a gift receipt. Do not be offended if your recipient tries to swap gifts for something "better." This is not a reflection on you, it is merely the result of their inability to appreciate the glorious return of the tam o'shanter. Pray for a gift card but be delighted with whatever you get. Re-gift as necessary, or save the reindeer sweatshirt to wear at next year's gathering to cheer up grumpy older relatives that enjoy a good laugh at your expense.
4. Elementary School Holiday Program. Bring a thermos filled with something cheery like hot chocolate (schnapps optional) or eggnog (rum optional). School programs usually start with the lower grades and work their way up. Enjoy the charming awkwardness of the youngest children's performance of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." (Drink.) When the slightly older grades come onstage, occupy yourself by trying to remember the names of everyone in your second grade class. (Drink.) While the middle grades perform, think about the first crush you had, and wonder whatever happened to him/her. Resolve to find him/her on Facebook. (Drink.) When the oldest grades step onstage, try to figure out which kids like each other. Resolve to wring all related school gossip out of your child on the way home, as your spouse/partner will be driving if you have opted for the schnapps or rum and you will be in the back seat singing Christmas carols and telling your fourth-grader how much you want grandchildren.
Image via Seattle Municipal Archives/Flickr