Recent experience has given me insights into how to make a bad thing worse. Others push fun, family and time-saving tips, but Hellish Holidays is all about keeping it real. Don't know how to have a Hellish Holiday? Here are some steps you can take:
1. Multiple Generations. Two generations can be grating, but it's hard to be hellish without a grandparent in the mix. In a pinch, aunts and uncles can raise issues thought to have been put to rest for decades.
2. Lowered Expectations. "Can't we all at least pretend to like each other this year?" In other words: let's not actually like each other, just fake it for a few hours. Sadly, even this dream can die hard.
3. Kitchen Disasters. The turkey caught fire, the oven died, the dishwasher broke — holidays with ruined food and hand-washing of service for 18 are classically hellish.
4. A Well-Placed Insult — and Its Riposte. "I always knew you felt that way! Now I can tell you how I really feel about your [significant other, relationship with Mom, personal cleanliness, Jello mold...]."
5. Inappropriate Escorts. Bring a date with full-body tattoos and an ankle monitor to Grandma's house and you're just asking for a memorable meal--and not in a good way. Ditto someone too old or young, too poor (no such thing as too rich) or too felonious.
6. Special Diets. "What do you mean, is the turkey organic? Of course not. You don't get a breast like that without hormones!" Watching someone load up on one food and bypass all the others gives the whole rest of the table something to mutter about.
7. Sports. Hours and hours of NFL as a soundtrack can fray nerves and build resentment as we flash back to the '50s when women slaved away in the kitchen while the menfolk sat around. The only thing worse would be hockey.
8. A No-Show. Your sister blew off the dinner? Dad ran to the store and never came back? While it's fun to build unanimity among those left behind by trashing the departed, missing relatives cast a shadow over the proceedings.
9. Physical Injuries. Someone slipped on cranberry sauce and had to go to the ER. Grandpa didn't make it up the stairs - so much for that new hip. Let's face it: when paramedics show up, the holiday goes straight to hell.
10. Special Announcements. "I'm going to be a mother--and there is no father." "I'm quitting my job to stalk Courtney Love." "You know, Rush Limbaugh has it all figured out." These kinds of comments don't just ruin dinner, they shatter lives.
Originally posted Thanksgiving 2007.