The official drinking guide to survive the family holiday functions 

The holidays are rapidly approaching, along with the anticipation and stress of family events. As I get older, I find it increasingly hard to make it through the family functions. I have to prepare for the annual invasive conversations with extended family members and political fights over mashed potatoes.  

In preparation of the family functions this winter, I’ve devised a list of alcoholic beverages categorized under the varying levels of comfortability in each potential scenario/conversation with family members. 

The following list is curated through a mix of my own family experiences, and what I deem as universal family experiences. The categories range from low-stress scenarios that require little-to-no alcohol to high-stress scenarios that call for several shots’ worth of any liquor, wine or seltzer that’s close to you. 

Happy drinking, and good luck out there. 

Level one: All fun and games 

This category is reserved for the favorite cousins and the fun aunts. These family members only bring the best energy, even if they’re somewhat problematic and radical. For these encounters, you’re going to want to be throwing back some Dirty Shirleys and Margaritas. These are the party drinks, and let’s be honest, this is the closest you’ll get to a party at your family function.  

We’re here for a good time in this safe zone, so indulge while you can in these sweet and fun drinks. However, this category only works if your favorite family members are drinking with you. You want to establish a balanced energy dynamic, so don’t double down on any maraschino cherries or salt-rimmed margs without your partner(s) in crime. 

Level two: Entering dangerous ground 

Level two is the beginning of the end, as we have the most anticipated and deeply dreaded conversations with family members whose names you can’t even remember. These interactions are bearable, but increasingly inconvenient after your third distant relative asks you what you plan on doing after college. (Bonus points if you’re in a major they deem as societally unproductive). You’re going to need a six pack of any chosen beer or seltzer on hand for these conversations. Nothing too crazy, but just enough to keep you from smashing your head into a wall. 

Level three: No end in sight 

By this point in conversations, we’re knee-deep in the danger zone. This category represents the political fights, specifically with your politically incorrect relatives who still think it’s ok to be sexist, racist and homophobic (the problematic trifecta). This scenario is always inevitable and completely unwarranted, making it harder to prepare for. A family member could just ask for your conservative uncle to pass the butter and next thing you know he’s telling everyone his opinion on gun control and immigration reform.  

Since the stakes are higher, it’ll require a bit more firepower on your end. You will need a full bottle of wine (preferably red, for the flare) at the ready at any given moment. This, of course, also requires a medium-sized bag or disguised compartment to avoid any confused or judgmental looks from relatives. Try not to share, because it’s better to be safe than sorry and you might need the whole bottle. 

If you can’t get your hands on a bottle of wine before/during the function, head on over to the liquor cabinet for some whiskey and indulge in a drink that is reflective of your traditional grandpa’s rigid views: the good Old-Fashioned. Usually, an Old-Fashioned calls for two ounces of whiskey, but depending on the severity of your situation, you can add up to 8 ounces for good measure. 

Level four: The sooner I black out, the better 

By this point levels of dysfunctionality will vary, and I can only hope you don’t find yourself this deep in desperation. While the previous scenarios focus on the extended family, this level will cover your necessary plan-of-action for any pent-up anger or resentment that immediate family members have decided to unleash on you/in proximity to you over family dinner.  

You will need as many shooters as you can fit in your purse/bra/shoe for these holiday scenarios. The setting of this situation is important above all else, because you first and foremost need to establish an escape route. Come prepared with a vague and quick story to excuse yourself from the given situation. Then don’t walk, but run, to the nearest empty room, fish out the desired amount of shooters that you deem acceptable for the occasion and pound them back as fast as you can. By this point, we are past the point of drinking for pleasure. It is strictly business now. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

Level five: forget the glass, give me the whole handle 

Level five-based conflicts at the family holiday functions are characterized in one simple phrase: “sh*t just hit the fan”. This represents a single defining moment throughout the event that somehow manages to piss off everyone. This conflict is often caused by the loose cannons of the family (iPad kids, frail, humble grandmas with anger issues, etc.). It could also be an offshoot from instances highlighted in level four, and a level-five scenario can happen between three minutes and three hours from the start of the function.  

This level is hard to navigate, because it just takes one wrong step in a whole minefield to trigger this scenario and launch it into reality. Also, after it occurs, you can guarantee that the whole night is ruined for everyone. 

If you find yourself in this tier of stress and anxiety, at this point my best advice would honestly be to just uber home and try to salvage some of your sanity while you still can. However, if you made a promise to mom that you would stay the whole night, listen carefully: all the previous guides and preparations for other conversations no longer apply. We have entered anarchy territory and you must do what you need to survive.  

Utilize any alcoholic substance you have on hand by this point and just start drinking until you forget why everyone’s mad at each other. If you don’t have anything on you, then start sipping from relative’s cups or try to scope out a whole handle of vodka or anything with an alcohol percentage above 15. We really can’t be picky at this point.  

While I don’t in any way condone excessive drinking, I also must live by the wise words of Rihanna herself during these trying times: “Don’t let the bastards get you down, turn it around with another round.” 


Megan Moen, a fourth year at UCCS and photographer for The Scribe pouring a glass of wine to help her get through a family function.