Sadly, we all have an extended family. Most likely, you see yourself as the family's "black sheep;" the lone tortured soul unable to find common ground with your relatives. You may be the outcast, relegated to the kid's table even though you clearly qualify for "grownup" status. There you will sit this holiday season, snacking on cookies while little cousin Bobby excitedly tells you about "Mr. Wigglebot," his morbidly obese, but hilarious imaginary friend. You can't imagine how you could be related to these strange people and insist, against all evidence, that you were adopted. There's uncle Kevin explaining to aunt Rachel how, exactly the aliens captured his cow and did experiments on it. There's grandpa Bill wondering if he should tell anyone about the "accident" in his pants. Why's he smiling? Because it was no accident, that's why. Finally, cousin Mary arrives with a fresh tattoo on her neck and about a gallon of gin in, and on, her body. Get ready for it because it's Christmas and your extended family is an inevitable consequence.

Try to think of it as penance. You were showered with gifts and affection on Christmas day. Dad got you the 40 Gig iPod even though you only wanted the 20 Gig one. Mom, for once, learned that gift cards are better than "elastic-waist khaki slacks." You kid sister, mercifully, declined to monopolize the phone calling her boyfriend on Christmas morning. Yes, Christmas day was lovely. But now you have to pay. It's time to see the rest of the family" the ones you see in baby pictures, but couldn't name to save your life. Allow me to help you navigate through the treacherous minefield that is an extended family Christmas party and, if all goes well, get yourself a seat at the grown up table next year.

The first step is identification. Luckily, someone in the family – most likely your Mom – will know your relation to everyone in attendance. "Mom," you whisper, "who is that old lady." "That's your great Aunt, Carol, honey. She was at your graduation party, remember?" No. But, armed with this new intelligence, you can confidently approach the brittle-skinned woman digging into the ginger snaps with a hearty, "Great Aunt Carol, Merry Christmas!" Now you have the upper hand and the burden of proof is on her. Watch with glee as her ancient mind scrolls through the thousands of names in there to locate yours. "Ohhhh, how nice to see you" Matthew?" She'll say. Point: you!

Once you have secured your mastery of extended family nomenclature, move on to minute details. You must gather facts about your distant relatives for the final stage of the mission. Again, your Mom will be invaluable for this. She will be able to list off every child birth, home relocation, new job, birthday, death, and rehab stint for everyone in attendance at the party. You can now take on a serious face and offer your condolences to third-cousin Roberta for the loss of her husband's grandmother. You can congratulate uncle Wendell, twice removed, on his new job at the fish cannery. Yes, you will be commander of the compliment" king of the condolence" .master of the minutia!

Now for the final push. To make sure that everyone in the family knows that you are number one relative, propose a toast. From down at the kid's table, where you have been seated, stand proudly. Offer a polite "ahem" and announce your intentions to make a toast. This is where it all comes together. All of your information gathering endeavors over the course of the evening can now be put to practical use. During your toast, make sure to address everyone who has had a significant event transpire over the year. Lavish compliments on new babies, pour over new jobs and new homes, and round it all out by wishing great-grandma Gretchen a late happy 91st birthday. Sit back down and wait for the applause for it will surely come.

To the kid's table, you will be sent no more. Next year, you will be welcomed by the family with open arms and accorded a seat at the adult table – next to Uncle Chris and his boyfriend. And from this seat you will see your younger cousin Martin – sullen eyed and angry – sitting in your former seat. His eyes hide nothing; he wants to sit with the adults, he wants to put on his headphones but, most of all, he wants to go home. Yes, Martin is like you once were: marginalized, angry, adrift in a sea of unfamiliar faces and unattractive sweaters. He will learn, in time, the tricks to surviving an extended family Christmas. Soon he will be as you are now. But till then, smile at his pain and watch as he tries to act interested when little cousin Bobby launches into thrilling stories about "Mr. Wigglebot."


*To any member of my extended family reading this, I was just kidding" I love you all (except you, Uncle Marty, you're a weirdo)