Holiday Family Parties
Aunt Edna is upset because Cousin Billy is bringing
his new girlfriend, and she doesn’t think she should
have to buy her a gift. Sue and Harry’s family can only
come on the Saturday before the holiday, and Aunt Judy
insists that everything be home cooked. Considering
the obstacles and opinions, why will Americans mob the
airports and highways this holiday season, as they do
every year, to attend gatherings with their extended
“People need to feel that connectedness,” surmises Charlotte
Shoup Olsen, an associate professor of family studies
and extension specialist at Kansas State University
in Manhattan, Kan. “When everyone is together you get
that sense of being part of a bigger community -- not
in the sense that you live close by, but just in a sense
of belonging. Holidays, especially, offer a good opportunity
to build that family history together.”
According to a recent poll conducted by Harris Interactive
and sponsored by Modern Woodmen of America, Rock Island,
Ill., 90 percent of Americans attend a holiday event
such as Thanksgiving or Christmas with extended family.
“Nearly all Americans in our survey (99 percent) feel
it’s good for children to know their relatives and family
history,” comments Sharon Snawerdt of Modern Woodmen.
Modern Woodmen, a fraternal benefit society offering
financial services, promotes strong family relationships
through its many member programs as well as its Web
Snawerdt adds, “Ninety percent of survey respondents
indicated that spending time with extended family is
one of the most important parts of their lives.”
The holidays are a time for “peace on earth,” but that
doesn’t stop Uncle Joe from fighting with Aunt Helen.
“Holidays are a time when people come home, and grown,
mature adults will fall back into those old childhood
roles in the family and past hard feelings resurface,”
explains Olsen. “Big sis just can’t get over feeling
that baby brother was spoiled rotten, even if they are
both in their 40s.”
Olsen says that all family members should be included
in the invitation, even the black sheep or the two family
members having a feud.
“If someone refuses to come because so and so will be
there, there is nothing you can do about it,” she says.
“That is his or her baggage.”
Olsen offers some tips for how to handle family members
who may not like to be in the same room with one another.
* Appoint a neutral member of the family to take on
the role of mediator. (This person should use humor
and tact to encourage guests to avoid touchy subjects.
In other words, if Uncle Joe starts discussing Grandpa’s
will, the mediator should gracefully make it known that
this isn’t the appropriate time to bring up that topic.)
* Assign seats using place cards.
* Set up smaller table arrangements throughout the house.
* Limit alcoholic beverages. Alcohol makes some people
braver and more confrontational.
Giving and Receiving
It wouldn’t be the holidays without gift giving, but
as families grow larger many struggle with how to handle
it. Olsen offers these tips:
* A grab bag. In this system, set a price limit and
have each guy bring a guy gift and each gal bring a
* A drawing. Each participant planning to attend the
event draws a name from a hat (or via phone or email)
and brings a gift for only that person.
* A homemade gift exchange. Crafts, food items and artwork
are good suggestions. This is for the family willing
to invest some time, but not as much money.
* A “time” gift certificate exchange. These can feature
anything from snow shoveling to babysitting services.
* A kids-only exchange.
* A collection of donations for the local food pantry
or group sponsorship of a needy family.
Finally, Olsen suggests forgoing the gift giving altogether
and replacing it with activities even more meaningful.
Modern Woodmen’s www.gatherings.info Web site offers
a host of tips for making your family gathering fun.
Aside from the standard board games and card games,
your family may want to try these ideas:
* Games and Activities
-- “Picture Lotto” – Make your own game using copies
of your family pictures.
-- “Frosty” – Use some toilet paper, construction paper
and family teams to have some family fun in this interactive
-- “Unwrap the Gift” – This game uses a bag of candy
or small gift items, a multi-layer-wrapped gift box
and some music to create fun for the very young, as
well as the adults.
* Scrapbook, photography and video ideas
-- A Family Time Capsule – It can’t get much easier
than videotaping the festivities to save for posterity.
You can incorporate interviews with family members asking
them to share their favorite memories or a song.
-- Gathering Scrapbook – More than compiling a multifaceted
record of a gathering, creating scrapbooks can be a
rewarding. At your next family event have each family
create a page. Take pictures that day thinking about
each family, so you can get a representative sample.
When the film is developed, place the appropriate pictures
with that family’s page. Compile together and share
at your next gathering.
“The important part of gift giving isn’t so much what
you get, but prolonging the family time together,” says
Olsen. “Instead of a gift exchange, you can think of
activities or games to do together. You can sing carols
or look over photo albums. You can view family videos
or make a video heirloom. Any holiday tradition is an
opportunity beyond eating to spend time together. You
have a short amount of time together, but you want to
make it a good memory for the whole year.”
“That’s one gift everyone will appreciate.”
Courtesy of ARA Content