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Set The Table, Then Let Them Work It Out: Surviving Holiday Family Drama


SIA: (Singing) Ho, ho, ho. Bring a bottle of rum...


Time now for Help, I'm Hosting, our advice series to help you out with the holidays. And it wouldn't be the holidays without a little or sometimes a lot of family drama. We've all been there. And who better to ask about how to lighten up those tense family situations than a comedian?


MEGAN GAILEY: My dad is a drunk.


GAILEY: He's such a good drunk. He's successfully avoided going to rehab for 30 years based solely on bribing us with presents. Like, every year on Christmas, they have those car commercials. And someone gets a brand-new Mercedes with, like, a big, red bow on top of it. I'm always like, aw. Their dad's a drunk, too.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Megan Gailey. She's a stand-up comic who's been featured on Comedy Central. And she joins us now from our studios at NPR West to talk about how she makes it through the holidays and past those awkward family gatherings. And yes, it includes self-medicating, which I understand. Welcome.

GAILEY: (Laughter) Hello.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So where are you spending Christmas this year?

GAILEY: I will actually be in the most beautiful, wonderful place to celebrate the holidays, Las Vegas.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: Actually, I bet you Vegas must be nice at Christmas.

GAILEY: It's not. But that's very kind of you to say. It is warm. But it is still - there's people coming there to do dirty deeds in dark corners, as I will take from "Love Actually."

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) All right. So we actually have a question from one of our colleagues Gemma Watters, who is a producer here at NPR. Let's listen.

GEMMA WATTERS, BYLINE: This Christmas, I'll be going to my sister's ex-husband's house. My sister will be there, as will her new boyfriend and the kids and my mum. How do I make sure things go smoothly? And when it comes to buying gifts, should I spend the same amount on the ex-husband and the new boyfriend?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sounds like a fun family gathering.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how would you approach this situation?

GAILEY: This is wild. I come from a family where I had divorced grandparents. And we would have to go to four Thanksgivings because the other side of the family was estranged from each other. So I actually like that they're like, listen. We're all getting together. We don't want to be commuting. I would say you don't need to spend the same amount. But also, I wouldn't buy one something really, really grand and one something really, really cheap. Just keep it lovely.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Here's a cashmere sweater from Armani. And here's a bottle of Old Spice - no.

GAILEY: Exactly. And the boyfriend may be fleeting. You don't know if you're going to see him again. So find something that you all have in common. Stick to that. If all else fails, put on - ooh - a classic Christmas movie and then sit down and drink some wine.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Hallmark Channel.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: You can never argue over the Hallmark Channel - I mean, seriously.

GAILEY: And no one's upset if you're interrupting it because it's like, the content's not that great.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you just know how it's going to end. So...

GAILEY: Exactly (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...There's going to be a chased kiss, and snow's going to fall. So if you miss something in the middle, you're OK. All right. We have another sibling-related question - you can see a theme here - from Cindy Martin (ph), whose sister has invited herself to stay at Cindy's house a day earlier than she'd like on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day, when the rest of the family arrives. And she writes, quote, "I know there is an expectation that I prepare a holiday meal for her and her husband, no kids. I could use Christmas Eve to finish wrapping and prepping for the overnight arrivals on Christmas Day. How do I tactfully refuse my sister on Christmas Eve without starting a family war? And by the way, neither of my sisters ever host family gatherings - never. Thank you, the youngest sibling."

GAILEY: (Laughter) OK. Wow. I worry that this question seemed a little loaded. I would suggest...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, you think?

GAILEY: Yeah - never. I would suggest just very clearly laying out what is going to happen. I know that you're coming in on Christmas Eve. That obviously works better for you. Here is what I am going to be doing. And you need to figure out what you're going to be doing. Just make it very, very clear. I'm not cooking for you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. All right - so I have a question.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm having a sort of motley crew of friends over for the holidays. And I just found out two friends had a bit of drama. They were once close, but they haven't seen each other since the fight. So thoughts? Keep them apart? Push them together immediately? What do I do?

GAILEY: So I had this similar experience very, very recently where I had invited a group over. I contacted both of them ahead of time and said, hey, I know that something has gone on. I do want you to know that they're going to be at the house. I sort of let them set whatever boundaries they felt comfortable with. And then the one whose side I was on I took into my room and told her so.


GAILEY: So you don't have to do that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No. Taking sides early - I feel like...


GARCIA-NAVARRO: I feel like that's a recipe for disaster.

GAILEY: It is. But I think - don't force them together. You see this on "Real Housewives" a lot. And people are like, I'm ambushed. Let them set whatever they feel comfortable with and really hope that the holiday spirit takes them over, and they go, let's put this behind us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, so I'm not supposed to force them into a room and film it?


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Megan Gailey is a stand-up comedian based in LA. Thank you so much.

GAILEY: Thank you so much.


SIA: (Singing) Ho, ho, ho. Bring a bottle of rum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.