Like “Jingle Bells” and bad sweaters, “dealing with family” is a time-honored holiday tradition. And since Christmas is in a couple days, chances are good that you are currently in the midst of that dealing, or at least you will be very soon. This year, though, we can all do more than deal with our family. We can be our best selves and have a drunken blast with them instead.
I don’t mean that your family holidays should resemble a bachelor party or a dinner thrown by Cher, but by getting drunk together — fun drunk, not sad, depressing drunk — laughter, camaraderie, and hang-over-induced movie marathons should squash out awkwardness, judgement, and boring stories about your uncle’s most recent knee surgery. The goal isn’t just to get your parents and your siblings sauced (don’t just spike the eggnog); it’s to wrest control away from your alcoholic aunt or your passive-aggressive grandfather and get everyone onboard with the party plans. They don’t have to know the night will end with them taking part in a rousing, drunken rendition of Come All Ye Faithful (even though it will), but they’re only going to get there if they start the day with a willingness to have a good time. Your job is merely to encourage that good time by making sure everyone has enough to drink.
While every family is obviously different, and will require different levels of coercion, there are five foolproof tactics that will put you on the correct path.
• Lead by example: There are two parts to this. First, be drinking yourself and act really, really fun. Maintain a healthy buzz, but don’t push it too far. The second thing is to constantly be making drinks for other people. (Don’t wait for them to ask for a drink, just make something good and give it to ‘em — even your family can’t resist free drinks.) Is it morning? Whip up a batch of mimosas or Bloody Marys. A snowy afternoon? How about some hot punch? Evening calls for something more sophisticated: When was the last time your dad had a proper Black Velvet? Leave no hand without a drink and make sure to top people off at a regular clip.
• Avoid serious cocktails: Yes your latest mixological creation (sherry, Fernet Branca, possibly some overproofed rum) pleases cocktail nerds. Your Aunt Kathy and dear sweet old mom will be more amenable to margaritas or Champagne drinks. A truly excellent bartender plays to the crowd’s tastes — the holidays are no time for snobbery.
• Make things in pitchers, not coupes: Individual cocktails are a red flag for most nonserious drinkers. They’ll have one drink and call it a night. But if you whip up a batch of cocktails — martinis, the aforesaid margaritas — the communal aspect almost always makes people drop their guard and drink more than they should. This is what you want.
• Align against a common enemy: If Total Family Togetherness doesn’t play with your brood — certain rifts may never be unriven — use that division to your advantage. If you notice, for instance, your sister seething in the kitchen because your sister-in-law just won’t shut up about how much better her family traditions are, and how sad she is to be here instead of there, lend your sister a sympathetic ear … and a Bellini. Assemble the team of people you want to get drunk with, head to the basement or a never-used family room or something, and ice the other motherfuckers out.
• As a last resort, deploy the “Burnt Turkey Technique”: This is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. If your family is immune to the above tips, you’ll need to take drastic measures. Sloshed’s advice: Ruin something seemingly important. Burn the turkey that’s roasting for dinner, recruit your young nephew to “accidentally” knock over the tree, see that one stocking hung above the fireplace mysteriously ignites, whatever. Just when it seems like the holidays are ruined, come in with a tray of old-fashioneds and a classic “Well, what’s done is done” attitude. Christmas, you’ll say, isn’t about some dumb tree or a ratty old sock full of gifts. No — raise your glass at this point — Christmas is about this, right here, this amazing group of people being together.
Once everyone’s properly sauced, remember to keep a few things in mind. This is still your family, so there are certain activities to avoid: dancing (it’s Christmas, not a wedding), feats of strength (somebody will get hurt), hot tubs (ew), tattoos (either showing old ones or getting new ones), and any and all discussions of sex (it will seem funny at the time, but in the harsh light of morning you will learn that there are certain things you can never un-know).
Instead, stick to discussions of good times in the past; debates about favorites movies, books, and music (you may be surprised by how much your uncle knows about Sonic Youth); impressions of each other; or “safe” skeletons like long-held secrets that seemed important when you were a teenager but which now, in your thirties, you couldn’t care less about (like, for example, yes, Mom, I once tried to steal a pornographic magazine from the Tattered Cover in Denver and the clerk who caught me was cool about it and didn’t tell you and just let me pay $5.95 for it).
Use your judgment, but keep things light. Raise your glass and get to know your family as you know your friends: drunken and full of laughter.