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Ochristmas-hell.jpgkay, so you’ve stocked the fridge with your favorite egg-nog/Kalua/wine/beer/depressant of choice, and bought presents for your parents, ex-girlfriend, and family dog, and made extra sure to make Paypal donation to Network for Good. What else is there for you to do to make up for all the naughty, naughty things you did the other 11 months of the year? Answer: A lot. And if you’re not careful your bid to get your karma fixed could end quicker than My Name is Earl. But don’t worry, we’re here to get you through what is arguably the worse time of the year second only to April 15.

Here, in brief, are a few tips to make sure you get through the next few weeks, sans Valium:

1) Decorations. What is it with all this emphasis on decorations? Seems everyone’s in a war to out fancy, out tinsel, and out Christmas each other. It’s like Survivor, only minus the island. Thanksgiving is barely in the rear view mirror, and already Debbie Travis and Martha Stewart are busy telling us how to make our trees “a beautiful thing.” With so much shi—I mean, stuff to get done, the last thing anyone wants to do is hang some crappy ornaments their grandma bought from the Hallmark store on a tree (that’ll probably break because they’re not Pyrex). Not to sound like Lewis Black, but there’s an easier, simpler way to do it than getting a workout going up and down the stairs as you lug heavy boxes of whatever, and maybe risk a hernia while you’re at it.

Our advice: get an ornament set at Target. The cheapest cost $13 (okay, $12.75, but you’re going to pay sales tax anyway). Buy maybe three of each color, and for Christopher Lowell’s sake, please don’t get the gaudy ones. Every time someone buys a gaudy ornament set, Santa’s rent boy cries.

2) Food. Let’s face it–you’re going to have people over, unless you’re a shut-in, in which case life sucks. But if you’re fortunate not to be an American hikikomori glued to a computer screen, this is probably going to be one of the more diplomatic issues you’re going to have to face. So channel you’re inner Hillary Clinton and try to be well…diplomatic.

If you’re from a small family, congratulations, you won’t have much trouble finding something to fix. But if you’re from a big family (as some of my fellow Racketeers are), trying to find the one dish everyone will enjoy is like trying to get the five voting members of the Security Council to agree on sanctioning Iran. Sure, you could try. But everybody knows what a BS move that is.

Our advice: have a little bit of everything on the table. Stick to the foods everyone (and I mean everyone) enjoys. Spiral-baked ham, turkey, and maybe even some chicken pot pie. It’s like Thanksgiving, but it’s not. It won’t matter anyway—your cuzzes and uncles will be too tired and grumpy and wasted to care. Don’t deviate from schedule for whatever reason. Even if your great aunt from Jersey requests chicken cacciatore, don’t do it. Christmas dinner is like the Super Bowl party: some things shouldn’t be messed with.

3) Presents. Now here’s a Gordian knot fit to be tied. You buy the wrong present (even if it’s a knockoff), Aunt June and Uncle Gus will hate you for an entire year and maybe write you out of their will. It’s even worse with little kids. Trust us dudes and dudettes, we were all tykes once. There isn’t nothing worse than a 10 year old going all Damien because he isn’t getting his Yu-Gi-Oh! action figure. Avoid the horror: if possible, ask or email the family in your contact list and get them to forward some ideas for potential goodies.

If you got some picky adults in the crowd, they’ll probably want something specific, like down to the make and model year. Make sure they get it to you in writing, because unless you’re Doogie Houser, you’re not going to remember jack. And if they don’t, it’s their damn fault they got a Jerry Garcia tie instead of the Black and Decker cordless drill they’ve always wanted.

If they’re not as on point as you like, get them gift cards. That way, they can buy whatever they want and you don’t have to bother with the headache. This is especially true if it’s someone who’s low-maintenance. Low maintenance people are cool.

4) Parties. Yeah, there are cool ones once in awhile, but the vast majority…well, suck. Family reunions like Christmas can suck even worse if you’re not in the right “mood.” And we’re not talking about sex (unless you live in Alabama). If by some grace of Jove you’re the life of the party, you’ve won a box of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat. For the rest of us who are as awkward as Robert Carradine in Revenge of the Nerds, here are some helpful hints that if taken to heart, may get you through the night:

A) Try to find someone of like mind. This can either be easy or extremely difficult, depending on your age and interests. While this is true of any occasion, those involving family can be a little difficult, because you’re stuck with family and sometimes family can be real awkward to relate to (Yeah, I know). Do you know someone in your family that likes sci-fi? Friend them if you haven’t already. Fashion yourself a lit-nerd? Let your inner Shakespeare shine.

But if you’re one of those rare nerd birds like some of us (political junkies, recovering political junkies, drama geeks, anime nuts, etc)…good luck. You’re going to need it.

B) Try, try, try like hell to stick to topics people understand. You may want to discuss Elizabethan literature, but here’s a dirty little secret: most people don’t. No one is under any illusions you can hold on Michael Vick’s five yard pass, or the current lineup of the Tar Heels. But it would help if you could hold forth on something other than, say, the finer points of Naruto. We’d tell you to stick to current events, but frankly, people hate talking about the news, so our advice would be to stick to pop culture. Watch TV for a week (The Soup helps a lot in this context). When you’re able to describe the play-by-play of each episode of Jersey Shore, you’ll be surprised.

C) If for some reason you can’t do any of the above, try to stake out a spot where you can chill and pretend to be asleep or something. You don’t have to actually be in bed, but then again, the last thing you want is to be sandwiched between your drugged out cousin once removed and the annoying frat guy who does nothing but chase tail and farts. And the last thing they want is to be seated next to the irritable, annoying bookish guy who frankly, hates their guts. Look at it this way: you’re not going to see them again for another 11 months. Why make a scene? Besides, with your father’s heart condition, the last thing he probably wants to see is a suburban version of Jerry Springer.

D) A word on drinking. We all know you’re going to be self-medicating anyway (that’s what the holidays are for). Promise us one thing. Don’t overdo it. The only holiday memories anybody wants are snapshots of you sitting by the fire opening presents. Your car, wrapped around a tree, is not that image. And for Santa’s sake, don’t make an ass out of yourself. The only thing that makes his rent-boy Jesús cry more than people who think its 1975 and they’re living in Key West, are idiots who act a fool and kill themselves. So, um, don’t do it. Also: drugs are bad, ‘kay?

That’s basically it, homies. Remember to drink a cold one for us.

–Jack Winn