Joys of the Season: The Inevitable Wacky Family Gathering


Sophomore Claire Davison demonstrates how to avoid crazy family members during the holidays. Photo provided by Claire Davison.

Written by Annie Gilbert, Ryan Wright, and Claire Davison

For those fortunate enough, the beginning of each holiday season marks an impending family reunion. Once the temperature dips below 60 degrees, there are some characters that nearly every family has the joys of encountering. 


Estranged Uncle:

Uncle Fester guarantees an awkward interaction. He never arrives on time, and his eccentric wife in tow waves a semi frozen box of Bagel Bites as their contribution toward horderves. It’s been merely a few months since your last uncomfortable run in at the grocery store with Fester, yet he still doesn’t recognize you. He’s quick to boast of  his new self-discovery journey through yoga, but just as quickly loses his zen as soon as the other uncles arrive. You’re not really sure why he’s estranged, but the arguments between your uncles seem to be mostly about the rent his mother still pays for him.

Suggested gift: Homemade soap (parabens, sulfates, and fragrance free!) to counteract his spiritual guide’s claim that bathing is a “gross, societal standard.”

Gift to expect: An unusable gift card from Noodles and Company that expired in 2012.

Topics to avoid: The estrangement. Obviously.


Glum Grandpa: 

He shuffles in late because he wanted to take the scenic route. You hardly see him throughout the evening since his wife, Nutty Nana, commands center stage, but he is wearing the exact same sweater vest and khakis as last year. Even if you’ve had no physical change since your last family gathering, Glum Grandpa never ceases to be amazed at how “big you’ve gotten.” He won’t hug you, but he’ll give you a firm handshake and consequently critique your form. You might start to feel bad for him and try to make conversation, but no matter the topic, it will always end with him ranting about, “Kids these days…” After a night of being pestered by Nana about eating too much pie, Glum Grandpa can be found in the recliner in the living room where he will spend the rest of the evening snoozing and watching 60 Minutes. 

Suggested gift: A Putt-putt golf toilet game in honor of his progolfing dream that never came to fruition.

Gift to expect: Whatever Nana chose for you, but with his name on it. 

Topics to avoid: Nothing, he doesn’t care about what you have to say anyway.


Nutty Nana:

Her clanky heels and screeching voice make for a dramatic entrance. The teased hair and leopard print fur coat are staples in any Nutty Nanna ensemble. Known for her passive aggressiveness, she will criticize every attending family member at least once on either their appearance, relationships, or some other oddly specific detail, like how your freshly done nails are “garishly” sparkly. Due to her hearing loss, Nana’s preferred means of communication is screaming in a New Jersey accent, even though she is from Toledo. As a result, everyone else will have sustained hearing damage by the end of the evening as well. Your sense of smell isn’t safe either. Surprisingly, the excessive, nose burning, floral perfume she swam in is actually a brand name! Nutty Nana, also referred to as Guiltrip Granny, gifts everybody with feeling sorry about something.  

Suggested gift: Fake tattoos (for Nana’s wild side) or a Costco membership for more unnecessary kitchen accessories. 

Gift to expect: Riches on riches in the form of fat checks. 

Topics to avoid: Do not feed into her guilt trap when she uses the old, “I’m going to die soon,” to get you to bring her another piece of pie.


Bad News Betty: 

Bad News Betty struts in with a favorite family recipe, and the main ingredient is drama. This dish will undoubtedly end up being a conversation piece that feeds the lack of attention from her childhood. Betty never fails to put a damper on the evening with her perfectly, horrible timing. While you scoop mashed potatoes, she’s offering the inside scoop on cousin Bob’s divorce or Aunt Sally’s terminal illness. Betty balances the bad news with her good news: the delusion that her painfully average children are prodigies, as evident by her incessant praising of her son’s tenth chair position in their children’s community center band. 

Suggested gift: Any Le Creuset cooking ware to add to her illusion of a perfectly aesthetic kitchen.

Gift to expect: A video copy of her son’s concert at the community center last fall. There’s a reason no one showed up when you invited us, Betty. 

Topics to avoid: Anything from the past, like how her father let her fall off her bike when she was eight years old… she still hasn’t let that go.


The “Cultured” Cousin:

You don’t dread seeing her at the family dinner, but you’re not necessarily looking forward to it either. Upon her arrival, the Cultured Cousin sets her Whole Foods vegetable platter on the dining table. It will remain untouched. She casually diagnoses family members with her psychology degree while dodging the fact that she is just interning as the receptionist at the local clinic. She mingles in conversation with the adults, even though she sat at the kids table last year. To further establish the validity of her adulthood, she reminds everyone how she contributed to her mother’s famous pie, when in reality, all she did was preheat the oven. Nutty Nana and Glum Grandpa, consistently forgetting any details about Cultured Cousin, are newly enamoured by her old stories from when she studied abroad in Europe three years ago, which at this point, everyone else is tired of hearing. Additionally, the Cultured Cousin enjoys boasting about her newly found love for Soul Cycle and her enlightening health journey, making everyone else feel like they aren’t doing enough with their lives, even though she still has her mom book her doctor appointments.      

Suggested gift: A new office planner to help organize her messy life. 

Gift to expect: Claims she ordered you something, but it just hasn’t come yet. 

Topics to avoid: Don’t bring up her career choices or her toxic relationship with the supposed boyfriend that she has been seeing for two years, even though no one has met him.