by Cara Gardner

The holidays have a strange effect on just about everyone - they incite shopping riots, compel people to make enough overly sweet treats to feed small countries, possess otherwise un-annoying friends to decorate with tinsel and sing J-Lo' s remixed Christmas carols. For many, the Grinch is lurking behind a very thin veil of tolerance. It's a well-known paradox: While the holidays are the happiest of times for some people, they are the worst of times for others. So for those of you who aren't putting on knitted reindeer sweaters or dusting off old caroling albums, this one's for you. Making it through the season can be navigated with a few quick tips.

1. Switch religions

There's no time like the over-commercialized American holiday season to delve into Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism or any other religion that doesn't include long gift-wrapping lines or fruitcake.

2. If you've had more than three drinks, keep your mouth shut

This is really a matter of employing some common sense. Take a look at the perfect storm: the extended (and many times estranged) family is together; people have been cooking all day, spending precious cash throughout the season and possibly traveling from afar. One mention of "unmentionable" family issues could destroy the precariously balanced equilibrium.

3. Find joy in the small and subversive

Whether marveling in the miraculous efficiency with which every retail outlet, from Starbucks to K-Mart, can transform all product packaging into holiday themes, or investigating who actually purchases Christmas socks and Santa ties, there are plenty of opportunities to revel in the small and subversive. Count the screaming children, the arguing couples, the bewildered husbands in lingerie departments. Or, on a positive note, notice the cheerfulness and joy people exhibit; count the good deeds you witness. The holidays make for great people watching.

4. Drink copious amounts of sweet booze

Disclaimer: Heed survival tip #2. Also, be wise: no driving, no hitting on cousins or co-workers. And remember: Eggnog may taste good going down, but it's a nightmare in reverse.

5. Give gifts with benefits Think: "Can I borrow this someday?" while doing your shopping. Nothing says smart giving like a return on investment.

6. Come prepared If you're going to be a guest in someone's house, bring a small token of appreciation. Keep in mind there is a moratorium on holiday decorations (no wreaths, no potpourri, no Americana angels). Bring something people can use or eat.

7. Memorize a few football phrases and repeat them throughout any game, no matter what's happening on the field If you could care less about 300+ pound men in spandex slamming into each other over a pigskin ball, and find yourself suffering through bowl game after bowl game, pour another spiked eggnog and have some fun with it. Here's an example: "Wow, he's got great inside speed." Next play. "Look at 89! He's got great inside speed." Or this: "Check out the bubble screen on the blitz!" Or make up your own! Who knows, you could find yourself creating a whole new game.

8. Be contagious

The holidays don't offer a lot of privacy for many people. Either the guests are all over your place or you're the one sleeping on the futon. However, if you come down with the Bird Flu or a bad cold, chances are you'll have your own room complete with hot toddies, a heater and the blissfully sweet sound of silence.

9. Hide behind the video camera Yes, we all cringe at the camera-happy, in-your-face memory maker. But if you're the designated camera man/woman, you get to ask inane questions ("Hey, Sam, are we having fun yet?!") but you never have to answer any of them. Plus, you can make comments that won't be heard until weeks later.

10. Avoid additional stress At this challenging time of year, don't make it harder than it has to be. So, no pregnancy tests, major engine repairs, the GRE, or coming out of the closet.

11. Somebody's got to talk to Great Aunt Maddie At your family's big gathering, it's all a numbers game, my friend. You can get her over with early, or you can use a strategy familiar from childhood games of hide-and-seek: Stay in the corners, stay in the shadows, and stay mobile.

12. Stock your medicine cabinet At any given moment, about 80 percent of Americans are on some kind of medication. This is not the season to be shirking your patriotic duties, either: Excedrin for stress headaches, Pepto-Bismol after meals, and Pedia-Lite for hangovers. (It works!) And don't wait until it's too late. Nobody wants a spoilsport hanging around with irritable bowel syndrome. n

Publication date: 11/25/04

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