For many of us millennials, the holidays are a time when we take off from work, pack up, and visit our parents’ houses. Our parents’ homes are usually our childhood homes, nestled right in that memory-filled neighborhood you grew up in. Going home for the holidays is much more than a simple seasonal trek. It is akin to preparing for war. You have to learn how to survive your hometown during the holidays in order to make it out alive. And, luckily for you, I’m a pro at it.
Surviving your hometown during the holidays is no easy task. You’ve got all kinds of hurdles standing in your way, waiting for you to trip up and fall into an awkward conversation with your 10th grade biology teacher. Maybe it’s not like that for everyone, but I think I can speak for all the others who grew up in a small town when I say that awkward encounters are just part of the package deal. Let me paint a picture for you…
You grow up in a small town. You vow to yourself that as soon as you graduate high school, you are outta there, never to come back again. And for the most part, you make good on that vow. You go away to college, preferably somewhere nobody else from your hometown would go, and you make new friends. You create a new life, a new “you.” You are finally out of that box your close-minded hometown built for you, and you are feeling fabulous. But then, the holidays come along.
Your family is eagerly awaiting your arrival as you step into the threshold of your childhood home, clad in clothing that’s not sold within 200 miles of your town. You’ve got a whole new look going on and a whole new life, right? Wrong. See, a place as nostalgic as your hometown has a way of bringing out those parts of yourself you tried to bury. Because when everyone else returns home for the holidays, the same friendships and relationships pop back up as if five years hadn’t gone by.
It can be difficult to navigate the labyrinth of your hometown during the holidays, so it’s smart to have a map handy. Here’s how to make it out alive.
Know Where Not to Go
First on the list is complete and utter avoidance. There are likely some spots in your hometown where you should not even step foot. I, for one, try to avoid the grocery store like it’s the plague. As much as I love Publix (and trust me, I LOVE Publix), I cannot step foot into the local Publix in my hometown during the holidays. Why? First of all, grocery store traffic increases exponentially during the holidays, no matter where you are in the country. It’s just science. Thus, in a small town, everyone and their mothers (I mean this literally. I go with my mom.) head out to Publix for some last-minute grocery shopping. The result? A calamity of stop-and-chats that are so painful they are proven to be worse than most torture techniques.
A stop-and-chat, as explained by Larry David (and something I hate just as much as he does), is when you’re walking and someone you know is walking straight towards you. Though it might be polite to stop and ask how one another is doing, it’s completely unnecessary. There is no real conversation. It’s just pleasantries and fake chit-chat that wastes your time and makes you uncomfortable for approximately four minutes and 36 seconds. For this reason, I know not to go to the grocery store when I’m home for the holidays, no matter how much I enjoy perusing the aisles at Publix.
It turns out the things you love can be the ones to hurt you the most (I’m sorry, Publix).
Know Your Safe Zones
Once you make a list of places to avoid, it’s then time to go over the places you can go. To give you some ideas, below I’ve compiled some of my favorite safe zones where I know no stop-and-chats can occur.
- Home. Stay at home and don’t go outside. It’s dangerous out there.
- Your room. Or as my mom likes to call MY CHILDHOOD ROOM, “Guest Room #1.” Don’t leave the confines of your room in the case a jolly neighbor pops by to say hello.
- Your close family’s house. Though this is a bit risky, it is a decent option if you want to leave your house for a couple hours.
- Your backyard. Hide underneath a large tree to ensure no one can find you out there.
As you can see, there are plenty of safe zones offering shelter for your survival. It is imperative that you don’t venture too far away from these qualified safe zones if you want to avoid stop-and-chat and countless other awkward situations. What other awkward situations, you ask? Oh, you poor, naive soul.
Prepare for Every Possible Awkward Situation
If you want to survive visiting your hometown for the holidays, you have to be prepared for everything that might come your way. One time I was unprepared for a chance run-in with a distant high school friend, and it knocked off a few years from my lifespan. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
Start imagining possible scenarios that could occur while you’re home for the holidays. Now, think of the worst possible scenarios. Though you think these worst possible scenarios are just for shits n’ gigs, you’ll be thanking me later when each one of them happens.
You need to prepare for:
- Old friends
- Past teachers
- Your pastor
- Family friends
- Past enemies
- Past frenemies
- The uncomfortable feeling of being in the same place you grew up in with the same people you grew up with, except now it’s years later and you have a broadened worldview and heightened sense of self that these people do not expect from you because they still see you as the 16-year-old idiot they once knew.
Scary, I know. That’s why it’s good to have some pre-conceived escape plans in the event that you are caught in one of these untimely incidents.
Escape Plans to Survive Your Hometown During the Holidays
I have developed some escape plans that have worked in my past during awkward situations such as those outlined above. I am feeling particularly generous being that it’s the holiday season and all, so I’ll share these tried-and-true tips with you. Please use them wisely and understand that I’ve had to undergo grueling conversations and stop-and-chats to develop these plans. Luckily, I was only mildly emotionally harmed in the process and was able to come out on the other side much more enlightened and able to share them with you today.
Plan#1: The Full Drink
Success Rate: 88%
The Full Drink mandates that you become extremely concerned with the level of liquid in your cup. Should you enter into an uncomfortable situation, begin to look down at your cup and swirl your straw around, insinuating your concern for the amount of liquid that remains in your drink. If you have a full drink at the time of your awkward encounter, swiftly chug half of it. Anytime your drink hits halfway, you are granted an exit to go get another. The only moments when this plan fails are when the person you’re trying to escape also needs a drink and offers to come with you for a refill. In which case, employ the next plan.
Plan #2: Ghost
Success Rate: 64%
In the event that you have a straggler walking with you to a) refill a drink, b) go to the bathroom, or c) go anywhere at all, a ballsy plan is Ghost. As you may be able to guess, Ghost is your disappearance, leaving no trace behind. The trick to successfully pulling off Ghost is to spot a small crowd of people or a large display of items. It works best in a dimly lit atmosphere. You need to slightly fall behind your counterpart while walking, slowly vanishing from his or her peripherals. Then, when you reach the crowd of people or watermelon display, make a quick dash for the opposite direction without breathing until you are safely out of sight. This escape plan clearly favors the bold, but it is sure to cut all ties.
Plan #3: Duty Calls
Success Rate: 100%
Last but not least, I present to you my failproof escape plan that is to be used minimally to preserve its impressive success rate. If you use Duty Calls too often, it will become obvious, and you will get trapped. The stakes are high with this plan, but with great risk comes great reward, as I always say and no one else has ever said. When in an uncomfortable situation, simply interject the conversation with a “Hm,” and a quick glance at your phone. Be sure to accompany this action with a perplexed and possibly annoyed expression. Say it’s your mom or grandparent needing you to do something. You don’t have to go into detail; just use the holidays as an excuse, with a rhetorical “amiright?” as you turn away and never look back.
Celebrate Your Survival
Once you have successfully survived the holidays in your hometown using my tips, don’t forget to congratulate yourself. It’s not an easy task, but it’s doable. Open up that too-expensive champagne your mom thought she hid well and toast to yourself. You made it another year without getting sucked into old high school drama, and for that, you deserve a badge of bravery.
I commend you for your courage in this vast undertaking.
Godspeed, my fellow, level-headed soldiers. Godspeed.