You know the drill. Your Aunt Agatha always has her holiday brunch and your presence is mandatory. Or you must attend the awkward office party that requires you to mingle with people with whom you have absolutely nothing in common. Or go to the family meal, which may include total strangers or totally strange family members. Whatever the case, the holidays usually mean you need to get together with people you might otherwise chose not to socialize with. It is incumbent on you to behave reasonably well. Not always an easy task.

Keep an open mind. You might learn something. A friend thought a woman was totally boring until she revealed she had been born in France. Which opened up all sorts of opportunities for questions and interesting conversation. Everybody, even the biggest dolt, has a story. It’s up to you to find out what it is.

Have a good attitude. You have to make an appearance. It’s mandatory and you’ve already conceded to attend a mind-numbing event. So suck it up and go. Decide that since you have to be there anyway, you might as well make the best of it. Then wipe that gloom from your face and be cheerful. You can do it.

Be prepared. People will ask you open-ended questions that may leave you stuttering and wondering what, in fact, you’ve been doing with you life. Questions like, “How’s it going?” Or, “What’s happening?” It’s tempting to say, “Not much.” But try instead to be prepared with some nugget about your life that might spark a conversation. Think of this before you go so you’ll be ready.

Stay away from politics. You’ve heard this advice over and over, but after a glass of wine or three, resolve weakens. After all, we need to have a conversation. We need to get to the bottom of what’s going on in our country, other countries, the world. BUT. You are at a holiday gathering where harmony is the watchword. If you must discuss politics, choose the right time and place. Your Aunt Agatha’s brunch is not it.

Introduce yourself. Be the adult in the room and make sure you meet folks you don’t know. Especially those who seem to be lost or alone. Go introduce yourself and try to put your new friend at ease. Find some common ground. After all, you both ended up at the same party. You both know the host or someone who knows someone who knows the host. Ask you new friend what connection he has. It’s a good starting point.

Have some topics ready. There are plenty of things in this world besides religion or politics. There are books, movies, music, television shows, art galleries, magazine articles, food, restaurants, travel, sports. And more. And if you’re at a Christmas party, for example, you can ask what your new friend likes best about the holiday. You might share your fondest memories of Christmas Eve. Or your family traditions. Find out what others’ are too.

So go forth and enjoy the holidays. Like anything, when you put a little effort into it, you get more out of it. You might even have fun.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: