Who's Coming To Dinner - Understanding the Roles We Play at Holiday Feasts

Do you know who’s coming to your family holiday feast?  Sure, you invite the usual relatives, single friends or a work buddy, but these people may not actually show up.  They might hold back their true selves and put on a party face, reserved just for these type of occasions.  

thanksgiving disaster

Each of us has a belief about who we are, what people expect of us and what we need from others.  Our party face can start out with the best intentions, but if we’re not careful, it will show our darker side and push everyone’s buttons, ruining yet another Thanksgiving.

What role do you play when you attend a holiday feast?

The masks that we wear during the holidays, are not who we actually are, but who we think we need to be for others.  We wear masks to hide our hurts, insecurities, and failures.  However, by the end of the meal, our family members have probably pushed our buttons enough that our real selves show through.  

Here are some of the guests who end up at my dinner table, whether I think I invited them or not.

The Jester

This is the the guy holding court in the living room who always has a story, seems to be able to captivate the audience.  They make everything in their life seem like a fun adventure.  Too fun actually.  It’s this type who often pokes fun of others.  They may trigger your sense of inadequacy because your tales seem less grand in comparison.

The Enforcer

You’ll find this person in the kitchen on any major holiday, in charge of the whole operation.  Its hard for them to trust that someone else can properly fold the napkins and fluff the stuffing, and often times, their hypercritical nature can seem belittling to others.  The need for control over-rides actually enjoying the day, and they explode after all that self-imposed work.  No wonder no one volunteers to help them with the dishes.

The Overachiever

This guest is the one at the dinner table who always reports on their perfect life.  They will let you know how well their investment portfolio is doing, talk about work accomplishments or brag about how great their kids are.  They’ll even tell you how much better the food is at their house.  You kinda end up wishing they would choke on a lump of mashed potatoes just so you don’t have to hear how great it is to be them.  As a result you feel inadequate and small, hoping no one notices.

The Golden Child

You can’t help but have a love/hate relationship with this person, usually a former football star, homecoming queen or other nausea inducing relative.  They will burst in moments before dinner is served, and immediately all the attention goes to them.  Everyone assumes that this person is happy and successful based on past achievements and expectations, and they are put on a pedestal.  Or at least they don’t sit at the kids table, and no one would think of asking them to do the dishes.  They’re out the door before dessert is served - off to be fabulous someplace else, leaving you feeling insignificant and a little bit jealous.

The Whiner

There is always one person who has to be the downer.  They might seem nice and quiet through dinner, but they’ll probably lurk around the kitchen for a sympathetic ear while the coffee is brewing.  Everything in their life is a tragedy, and they will tell you all about it if you let them.  In an attempt to fill their seeming empty, hopeless life with a little sympathy to go with their java, they might attempt to evoke a strong sense of pity from you, but it ends up making the football-snorefest in the living room seem like a darn good idea.   You end up feeling drained by them and avoid further contact until next year.

awkward thanksgiving

No one in their right mind would show up for that gathering, but ultimately, all of these roles are false. You end up feeling upset, because others see you in a limited view and you don’t think you can break free. You feel flat and unappreciated, and that the only thing you’re grateful for is that its over and you don’t have to do it again for another year.  Pass the pepto, please.

While we certainly can’t control who shows up for the annual family feast, we can control who we are, and how we interact with our families.  Stay tuned for my next blog where I’ll show you how to handle every guest, and smooth out this holiday like whipped cream on top of fresh pumpkin pie.