Christmas is not a drinking holiday, per se (we have Saint Patrick’s Day and the Super Bowl for that), but it is the holiday that presents the strongest reasons to drink: family time, shopping madness, end-of-year ennui, sweater parties, cookie swaps, hearing "The Little Drummer Boy" for the fourteenth goddamn time in one day. The only sensible way to navigate the Yuletide gauntlet is with drink in hand.
But just as you (probably) shouldn’t give your grandma a gift subscription to Dear & Deer Hunting magazine, you (definitely) shouldn’t just break out the eggnog and go wild. Instead, you’ve got to match your drinking to the particular holiday situation.
Visiting Your Family
As you grow older, Christmas at home becomes less about waiting until you can finally open that Sega Genesis you just know is under the tree and more about unwrapping something else: family dynamics. Add to that the trifecta of seasonal stress — travel, sleeping in someone else’s house (or your childhood bedroom), sitting around for hours on end with nothing to do but stare at a fire. To top it off, your family’s booze selection probably won’t be as good as yours.
Here’s the move: Get your own small supply of decent stuff (either travel with it, or pick up a few bottles at the nearest liquor shop — doesn’t matter) and anoint yourself bartender. In other words, take over. Delayed flights, forced interaction, and your sister-in-law’s newfound veganism are all out of your control; your cocktails will not be. If you’ve got similarly aged siblings, enlist their help.
Every day at five o’clock, make some classic drinks to go around. I tend to stick with martinis, but anything in the cocktail canon works. Offer to make things for any adult who’s nearby. You’ll be surprised by how happy they are to oblige your offer. "So fancy," most of them will say, before no doubt telling you, "Gosh, I hope this doesn’t go straight to me head." Be the classy relative, but don’t overdo it. Being buzzed with your family is fine; being hung-over with them is unbearable.
Hosting Your Relatives
You retain control over your booze in this scenario, but your house will be full of other people fucking up your stuff. "Uncle Matthew, where is the glue?" your brother’s 6-year-old kid will ask, innocently enough; "Well, that’s an interesting way to clean the counter," your mom will say to you in the kitchen while your dad struggles with your TV’s three remote controls in the living room.
You’re going to have to get loose. Breaking out the barware at five sharp is too aggressive (also, do you want your family drinking up all your booze?). But pouring two fingers of some whiskey for yourself on an as-needed basis is a fine solution. Use a nice solid tumbler that can be easily set down on fireplace mantels, the carpet where puzzles are being put together — wherever. Drink slowly and get just lubed up enough that it won’t bother you too much when your nephew glues your bathroom cabinet shut.
Office-party drinking is its own beast (head here to help tame it), but you’ll also probably need to navigate a cookie swap or general holiday party in the next few weeks. The strategy here is simple: only accept invitations to parties you really, really want to attend (you’ve got the perfect excuse to decline anyway: “Ah, I’d love to but you know, the holidays are so busy!”). Treat any party you do go to the way you’d treat any night out with your friends.
The fly in the ointment is eggnog. Surely you will be offered some at some point and you will need to make a decision, fast. Here is the Official Sloshed Eggnog Policy: If it is fresh-made, from high-quality ingredients and a real recipe, there is no more appropriate thing to drink on a holiday evening. But if the ‘nog’s pedigree is in any way questionable — it came from a carton or jug; the friend who made it owns neither a bottle of rum nor a bottle of brandy — stay away or you will later regret a misguided effort to be festive.
Flask and backup flask. You don’t know how long you’ll be out there.
You do not need a drinking strategy because if someone can convince you that caroling is a good idea, you’ve probably had too much to drink already.
This task would be bad enough if it only required tricky surface-area calculations and copious amounts of tape. But you also have to do it alone, hiding from everyone so as not to ruin the surprise of giving them exactly what they requested. Depending on your seasonal role, you might only have to wrap a couple of presents, or you might need to be behind closed doors for hours at a time as my poor mother was when my two siblings and I were growing up.
This is a wine bottle situation. Grab it by the neck, get a glass, and head upstairs to do your dirty work. While the 750-milliliter wine bottle is often said to be the perfect size for two people to share, it also happens to be the exact right amount for a single person cutting patterned paper and writing fuckloads of "To: and From:" cards.
Decorating your (or your family’s) house for the holidays falls into two camps: ladder activities, and everything else. Start your day with the ladder things (light-hanging, wreath-adjusting, mistletoe-placing) and do so with nothing more than a Thermos of cocoa.
Move on to ground jobs and booze-drinking after. Go for a real hot toddy here. Tree-decorating — everything, really — is better when you’re feeling jolly.
Matthew Latkiewicz writes about drinking and other subjects at You Will Not Believe. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Wired, Time.com, Boing Boing, and Gastronomica. Follow him on Twitter.