EDITORIAL: When Your Family Takes the ‘Happy’ Out of ‘Happy Holidays’

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Published December 9, 2021
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The Montclarion
Ian Long | The Montclarion

The phrase “Happy Holidays” doesn’t ring true for many people, and the pressure to feel nothing but sheer joy as the calendar year winds down is intense. Besides the crushing capitalist fervor of gift-buying, one of the most common sources of holiday stress is the prospect of having to see family.

Everyone has a family member that they are thankful lives far enough away to only justify seeing them for the holidays. What could be merrier than a visit from Aunt Sasha, who literally only talks about her ex-husband’s many failures even though they’ve been separated for almost 12 years?

Or your cousin who forces you to make embarrassing TikToks with them? How about your grandparents, who once again, unannounced, brought their completely incontinent dog?

While some beloved family members are nuisances at their worst, some take things to another level. Some might refer to such people as “toxic.” They could be any combination of racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic or other forms of ignorant. Others have created “elephants in the room” by doing something unthinkable.

But because they’re your relatives, and therefore you’re supposed to love them, an obligation exists to include them in your festivities.

This idea is so sacrosanct that for generations, countless people have come to dread the time of year that is supposed to bring them joy. Thanks to unwritten societal rules and the pressure to follow tradition, it’s largely unthinkable to even entertain the idea of excluding anyone from holiday celebrations, no matter how awful they may be.

Imagine sitting next to someone in class who started exhibiting the same behavior as that one family member you can’t stand. You would probably be inclined to move away from them and try to forget their existence because no one wants to be around someone who makes them anxious or uncomfortable.

Somehow this practice of setting healthy boundaries in daily life is rude or unacceptable when it comes to family. Thankfully, in recent years people collectively have become more aware of the importance of ending unhealthy relationships, no matter what form they come in.

The concept of “chosen families” is not a new one. It has origins in the queer community dating back to the late 19th century and is defined as “nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not, deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love.” While it has remained a prevalent notion in the queer community, it has also expanded to be used by anyone seeking the healthy relationships their family or home environment might lack.

Blood relations or not, no one should feel like they have to be in the same room as someone who doesn’t respect their existence, arguably the lowest bar one can set for any kind of relationship. This especially applies during the holidays, a time for togetherness and good feelings all around.

Considering the taboo surrounding the exclusion of family members, it is hard to imagine setting such boundaries without dealing with absolutes. For some people, it may not be possible to avoid such unwanted interactions, particularly if the toxic family members in question are staying at your home for an extended period of time.

Whatever your situation, there are ways to cope and preserve your mental state no matter what the holiday season brings for you. Seeking support from your friends or other support systems leading up to and during the holiday season can be a vital step to take. Ask them to check in on you often and to be as available as possible in case you need a moment to vent your rage over FaceTime.

If there’s no escaping the toxic relatives in your home, distance yourself from them as much as possible, not just physically but emotionally. Another family member who you trust can keep you engaged to distract you from whatever pseudo-political nonsense Uncle Howard is spewing.

If possible, choose to spend the holidays with friends rather than visiting home. It may disappoint or anger your relatives, but you deserve to be happy, too, and sacrificing your well-being to make someone else comfortable is never worth it.

Finally, if you’re hosting the holidays at your house and find yourself having to weigh the pros and cons of inviting someone, that is a good indicator they may not need to be there. The degree of explanation you provide for not inviting them is up to you, just remember that “no” is a complete answer.

However you cope, and whoever you choose to spend this time with, The Montclarion wishes you a restful winter break and a happy holiday season!

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