Like Rudolph, Frosty, and a cripplingly depressed Charlie Brown, there are certain characters you can't avoid during the holidays... especially at dinner parties. Year after year, tradition dictates that you enjoy/endure relatives, family friends, randoms, and coworkers while trapped at an eggnog-stained table stacked with "traditional" dishes you either crave or dread all year.
Here are 12 of the people you're likely to see: one for each of the days of Christmas, spelled out in that classic holiday song you secretly hate.
The Eggnog Pundit
It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle he’s on, everything at the party is a gateway into an uncomfortable political talk. A kid got a G.I. Joe? Let’s learn more about gun control laws! An infant threw up? Let’s debate Obamacare. Somebody’s late? That goddamned FDR should have thought the New Deal out better to get the roads in shape. Talking to him requires a drink. But don't get your hopes up for any eggnog... he drank it all, and now it's time to talk about farm subsidies.
The Relative Whose Name You Don’t Remember
For the past 30 years, you’ve grown up in front of his eyes, and he remembers every single thing about you. All you remember about him is that he’s always there at Christmas, eating all the meatballs that you wait all year for. Thanks a lot uncle/cousin/whatever Dave/Steve/Bill/Carl.
The Pretty Girl Who May Or May Not Be Your Cousin
She hasn’t shown up in years, and now she’s reemerged, and she’s grown up. She’s “Aunt Betty’s kid”, though you’ve always been unsure of whether Aunt Betty is an actual relative a few times removed, or your Mom’s college friend. You also don’t know what to make of your interactions with Betty’s kid. Is she flirting or just hand-feeding you ham because she’s known you forever? More pressing: why did she give you that copy of Flowers in the Attic as a gift?
The Kids'-Table Hero
The parents are all exhausted and just want to relax, but there are a dozen amped-up, sugar-snorting, Santa-stalking kids dying for attention. Luckily, this guy becomes the de-facto babysitter. He sits at the kids' table, cracking Dad jokes and shoving mashed potatoes through the gaps in his teeth. He knows all the cartoons they like. He even knows their favorite video games, and can sing the entire score of Frozen a capella. Has he been drinking Scotch all night? Who cares?! His future headache is every parent's current aspirin.
The Mistletoe Trapper
Seriously, dude, we get that you like to get kissed. But you do realize you’re related to, like, 97% of these people? By blood? Have you read Flowers in the Attic, by the way?
The Last-Minute Gifter
He bursts in at the last minute -- the faint smell of a mall-based Applebee’s bar floating behind him -- and runs immediately upstairs with gigantic bags full of last-minute gifts to wrap. And while nobody really wanted an iDog, or a stocking full of all the change in his ashtray, or even a “refurbished” Snuggie, he’s the most exuberant of all the gift-givers. Plus, he’s also gonna hook you up with one of the leftover appetizers he crammed in his pocket as he rushed out the door.
The Santa Ruiner
“You don’t believe in Santa anymore, do you?” he asks an unsuspecting 4-year-old between snorts of whiskey. Not anymore, Uncle Greg. Not anymore.
The New Significant Other
“Will this be my first Christmas with this family, or my last?” he asks in his head as he wonders whether he should say “yes” to the Last-Minute Gifter and sneak out for a cig with him. He doesn’t even smoke, but he wants to fit in... maybe the Gifter doesn’t smoke either. Is it a test? When he gets back to her parents’ house and has to choose whether to sleep on the couch or with their daughter, things are going to get considerably more stressful.
The Aggressive Traditionalist
We open presents at 6pm sharp! It’s been that way since we were kids, after all. Is there cheddar in these cheesy potatoes? Because Grandma always used Velveeta. When the dishes are done, the kids put on their jammies and we'll watch White Christmas. Now move! Also, she only married into your family last year, and never met Grandma.
The Overextended Host
You really want to empathize with this sweaty, fake-cheery bundle of stress, but then you realize it was their fault that they insisted on making a turkey, a ham, a goose, a turducken, three batches of sugar cookies, homemade bread, gingerbread cookies, and enough cheesy potatoes (with the wrong cheese!) to feed the whole of Ireland. But they won’t accept help, so it’s kinda hard. The bag of Doritos and Sam Adams variety pack you brought to the party are making them extremely angry.
The Pity Invite
There he was, that weird neighbor from down the street... alone at the store, buying a pot pie and looking sad. So some kind soul took pity on him and invited him to join up. He spends most of the time quietly sitting among the revelers, saying very little. Until he's suddenly engaged with the Eggnog Pundit in an argument about Bigfoot and the Illuminati. That's when you realize there’s a reason his traditional holiday companions are Jack, Jim, and Betty Crocker. And maybe Bigfoot. BECAUSE HE EXISTS, DAMMIT!
They are the embodiment of holiday spirit. They make sure that everybody at the party feels at ease, is well-fed and hydrated, and is happy. All stress slides off their shoulders. They gladly dole out mistletoe kisses, play with the kids, and help with the dishes. They acknowledge that Bigfoot exists, and will write a thank-you note for that last-minute gift of a Yankee Candle and a packet of Rolos. Because, dammit, it's the holidays, and everybody needs love. The Angel is made of it.
Andy Kryza is a senior editor on Thrillist's Food & Drink team, and firmly believes that even the most cynical holiday story should end with a little bit of heavy-handed sentimentality. He also loves his Mom very much, because she's an Angel. Follow him to discomfort underneath the mistletoe via @apkryza.