It’s that time of the year, again, folks. The time strategic lists start being planned for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Who will bring what to each event? When do the decorations go up? We definitely don’t want another mayonnaise-whipped cream-induced nightmare of a salad from Aunt Paula, and absolutely no one wants JoEllen to put some kind of unidentifiable nut in her stuffing, again. If that isn’t enough, Grandpa nearly had a self-induced aneurysm last year explaining why not putting up the Christmas decorations until every last dish from Thanksgiving dinner is dried and put away is some sort of sacrilege to the Baby Jesus and, we’re quoting here, “only Communist-sympathizers do things like that.”

So. Navigating family during the holidays is at best a challenge, and at worst an afternoon, possibly stretching into an evening of hiding in your closet with a flask of something strong in one hand, dark chocolate in the other, and a Brene Brown audiobook in your AirPods.

First, you have your parents of toddlers and elementary-age children, and it seems everyone in the world thinks it’s a great idea to keep the little ones hopped up on sugar from Halloween to New Year’s. The parents of these kiddos have holiday program after holiday program, concert after concert, and according to these parents’ strained expressions, if they see one more kid dressed as a pilgrim or singing an off-tune carol, they’ll jingle your bell. (No one even knows what that means.) Do not even get them started on the Elf on the Shelf and all the messes that little doll forces parents to make on its behalf. And then forces them to clean them up for the entire month of December. That elf has some explaining to do, and no one seems to be too sad when he gets crammed back into the attic with the other decorations in January.

How about the college students who have lived away from home all year? For the holidays, they come home to rules and a curfew. If that’s not bad enough, they are peppered with questions like, “When are you going to be finished with school?” or “A Liberal Arts Degree? What are you going to do with that?” Or “When are you getting married?” Or “When are you going to have baaaabies?” No wonder they want to stay out past midnight.

Then there’s the age-old argument about where to hold the holiday celebrations. Do you let the passive-aggressive mother-in-law have it at her house again, or give it to dear Aunt Rose, whose home always smells vaguely and inexplicably of cats, even though she doesn’t have one? When you do decide where to have your holiday dinner, there’s the hostess who is the compulsive cleaner who hangs the embroidered

guest towels and the pressed guest soaps shaped like Santa that “No one in the family had better touch because they are for company!” And they forbid anyone to touch anything or sit anywhere until the event is over, generally making life miserable for everyone. Exactly how the holidays should be.

Of course, one of the most important people during the holidays is the cook, and they know it. The kitchen is the hot zone. The turkey mustn’t be dry, the dressing should be the perfect mixture of crispy edges and a tender center (and at my house, blessedly celery-free). The pies are set in the center, and the cakes never fall. Heaven help you if you wander in with a glass of wine and ask if you can be of assistance. The glass will be whisked away, an apron will be slapped on your person and you will be chained to the kitchen cabinet, chopping something important until dinner is served. It’s a rookie mistake, and you hate to see it. Just steer clear. Stay with the holiday veterans watching football in the living room. Even if you don’t like sports, it’s better than the pecan pie sweatshop happening in the kitchen. The cook is a perfectionist, and perfection will be had.

(Unless your cook isn’t a cook, and everyone brings a potluck dish. In that case, God bless you all, and may the casseroles have come from clean kitchens.)

After the food has been eaten, you then have what some families lovingly treat as the bloodsport of board games. This is where you find out sibling rivalry doesn’t stop at childhood, as fully grown adult people get ridiculous over a game of Monopoly. I’ve seen shouting matches over who gets to be the shoe. Hands are thrown over someone not getting their two hundred dollars for passing Go. A board upturned when a monopoly was had on Park Place. Real tears shed over getting sent to jail. My husband eventually forgave our sons, though. Or maybe he forgot. In any case, I’m sure they’ll play again this year.

So, yes. Family can be difficult to navigate during the holidays. But with a little grace and love—and remembering what the holiday is about in the first place—holidays can be enjoyable. If all that fails, please see my closet plan, detailed above.