Surviving the Holidays When You’re “A Lil Different”

Are you the vegetarian in a family of omnivores? Do you believe Western holidays are pagan/the white man’s lies/unbiblical, etc.? You want to babywear and breastfeed instead of giving your infant pecan pie and letting every distant relative hold her? Maybe you’re in a nontraditional relationship, or in some other way, you’re “a lil different” than your relatives.

This can make the holiday season a minefield – there are countless opportunities for awkward moments, offensive statements, defensive reactions, you name it! (Shout out to Shirley Caesar.)

Let’s be clear: even if you’re not the “weird one” in your family, holidays can be confrontational.  #ThanksgivingClapBack Tweets went viral because every family has at least one messy relative who always comes for the wrong person. But when you feel singled out or picked on for a change that you believe makes you a better person, it is easy to turn all the way up or stay away altogether.

If you feel torn between the desire to connect vs. staying true to your beliefs, you’re not alone. It’s okay to stay home if your conscience requires it or if you sense too much negative energy. It’s also okay to acknowledge the natural urge to gather and make memories with our kinfolk, and in our current society, these Western holidays are one of the few times when everyone is off and together.

So here are a few peace-keeping strategies I’ve learned from decades of feeling like the black sheep unicorn of my family:

  1. Know thyself. Are you fully committed to your beliefs and practices or are you just exploring? Do you feel confident or unsure about what you’re doing? There are no right or wrong answers; it’s just important that you know where you stand. Once you embrace your vulnerable areas, it’s harder for anyone else to use them against you. You might even be able to genuinely laugh or shrug it off when relatives try to put you on the spot or get under your skin.
  2. Respect is a two-way street. If you want your lifestyle to be respected, you can’t come in the family house preaching about dead animals and Eurocentric rituals. If you feel it is your mission to “enlighten” the family, bring a meatless dish or offer to share what you’ve learned, but don’t act shocked if a few clapbacks come your way, too.
  3. Be direct, but remember this principle from The Four Agreements:

Still, if someone blatantly disrespects or hurts your feelings, you can say “I feel disrespected” or “that hurt my feelings”. You might get a response of “don’t be so sensitive” or “I was just playing”, but they may feel self-conscious enough to leave you alone unless they are an unrepentant asshole, in which case…

  1. Hope for the best, but plan your exit. Focus on spending time with the favorite aunt or cousin who you don’t get to see very often. Ask them to help you avoid the drunk (off that yak and/or his own righteousness) uncle who likes to challenge you. And if you’re not hosting, you don’t have to stay until the bitter end. Make your appearance, enjoy the togetherness and excuse yourself before the dessert is digested.

Deidre R. Gantt is the former Associate Editor of Face2Face Africa. Prior to that, she served the Greater New Orleans community as a Program Associate with Foundation for Louisiana, where she managed leadership programs, grant opportunities and communications support to drive civic engagement and policy change. Her communications background includes a lengthy freelance career as a writer and editor, grant writer, and college writing instructor. Between 2007 and 2010, Deidre covered the rebirth of the cultural arts community in her hometown, Washington, DC, for the Ward 7 Arts Collaborative. Her professional writing career began in the 1990s as a contributing editor for Rolling Out urban style weekly. Deidre is also an accomplished poet and performer who has appeared on stages throughout the United States as well as in Tanzania and Ghana. Deidre holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Emerson College and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Southern California.

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