Surviving the Family Drama of the Holidays

Christmas is coming! For some of us, it's a time set aside for joy and happiness and laughter as we are surrounded by loved ones. Yet for many, it's really a time of chaos, frustration, anger, and bitterness.

Why Am I Cranky? 

I’ve never nailed down why the holidays strain our patience with loved ones more than other times of the year. We can go the whole other eleven months with our family and all simply seems good, but once we’re closed in with each other and told to be “thankful” and even “jolly,” things tend to unravel. 

We sing songs we don’t want to sing and eat food we don’t want to eat There’s something about it that leaves us volatile, prone to short tempers, anger, bitterness, and raised voices. At the snap of a finger my patience can be gone, my anger can be internally released, my crankiness can be let loose upon the closest person to me.

Holiday My Way

The problem, as I’ve come to see and experience it, is that we all have ideas and notions of just how the holiday season is supposed to go. These ideas have a lot to do with what we have grown up with, what we want to have, and when we want to have it. I’ve been at other people’s homes (both family and friends) and even there I find myself thinking that “if we were at my house we’d be doing this better right now.” We'd be doing a better activity, or doing this activity in a better way. I want everyone to experience the best way to do the Holidays, which is, of course, my way. 


I can’t count how many times people have wanted to help and yet I shoo them away. My brain declares, "This is my home, my space, my planning, and don’t you dare invade, or give criticism, or thoughts and ideas!" Even now, as I write, I can sense my blood starting to boil! And to be honest, I really don’t know why. I’m thankful and grateful that I have people I care about surrounding me during this time. I’m even MORE thankful that they want to help--and while I know that I always shoo people out of my kitchen (I have a problem with people helping in the kitchen because that’s MY space), it seems like the holidays should be the best time for me to work with others and laugh and enjoy that space. And yet it feels harder.

Catch the big picture

Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia was one written to a group of people that were missing the big picture of the times. They were so stuck on the past that they were missing the grace of Christ and what that means now. Paul writes in Galatians 5:15 that, “if you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” In other words, if one person snaps and speaks harsh words then the other person is going to do the same – and soon enough both people will be angry and will be full-on attacking one another.

Discover patience and grace

I’m a big proponent of naming the issue and I think the issue here is the lack of grace and patience. We need to remember that the holidays are not about the food or the presents or the traditions--it’s about Jesus. Because of Jesus we come together to celebrate the people we are with, the thankfulness of the time, and the moments that we have together. 

Appreciate one another

There are people in my life that, while they may drive me to want to pull my hair out (and I’m bald!), I still cannot imagine them not being around. In the grand scheme of things I must always remember that they want the holidays to be just as special as I do, just in their own way. And I have to be sensitive to that. I need to listen well and tune in to the needs of others. It is a blessing to be sensitive to the concerns of one another.

Talk things through

As the holidays come near I’m reminded just how important communication is with my family and all those gathering together for this time. Talking about the food, the activities, the ideas and plans for our time together makes all parties involved aware of expectations. Hopefully that simple communication fends off the possible “biting” and “devouring” of people’s emotions and feelings. 

Roll with the chaos

I also fully realize that that doesn’t necessarily always work out as things happen and we just need to roll with the chaos. Challenges will still arise, people forget, food burns, activities flop, and some people simply continue to do their own thing regardless of the number of conversations we’ve had. Don't let those challenges steal your joy; let their drama be their own. 

Take a breath

In the end, taking a simple breather and stepping away from the moment usually helps me. The difficulty is that these issues are more than a single-person moment. All parties involved have to be willing to allow grace to come through and in-between us all. We cannot control the behavior of other people, it is outside our jurisdiction. It is not helpful to bite or devour, we have to leave enacting justice in God's hands. In the end you and I are accountable for our own responses and the ways we deal with our own personal emotions. God equips us with his grace and strength for dealing with drama. I personally find myself coming back to just breathing through the moment, for I know that this too shall pass. In my slow deep breath I remember God's gracious love for me that I did not deserve. As I exhale I see that showing grace to someone else is but a small shadow of this tremendous blessing that I have received.

About the author — Rev. Kelly Vander Woude

Kelly Vander Woude is always looking for something yummy to put on his smoker…and then getting friends and family to enjoy it with him. When he’s not smoking food he can be found playing and hanging out with his two kids, wife, and their dog, as well as preaching at Immanuel CRC in Fort Collins, CO. Oh…and he’s usually trying to learn some new musical instrument with the hopes of one day mastering at least one of them! You can find more of his writings at

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