A Holiday Survival Guide

By Henrike Kattoll

The hol­i­day sea­son is a unique time. We go through the full spec­trum of emo­tions with­in a span of two weeks only. We con­stant­ly have to deal with fam­i­ly mem­bers and guests; we eat way too much while telling our­selves we’ll be going on a diet next year; and we tend to get over­ly emo­tion­al, espe­cial­ly on Christ­mas and New Year’s Eve.

Since it’s such a won­der­ful­ly stress­ful time, I chose three top­ics to help you through the last few weeks of the year.


How to Hol­i­day Safely:

  • Remem­ber: “Hap­py Hol­i­days!” is the safest state­ment because not every­one cel­e­brates Christmas.
  • Don’t stress before­hand! Guests have a ten­den­cy to do that for you.
  • You can’t please every­one, so just roll with the punch­es (NOT LITERALLY)!
  • Don’t for­get the grand­par­ents! You don’t want to miss grand­pa take out his teeth.
  • All presents are good presents if pre­sent­ed as such. Just be convincing!
  • Know your white lies! San­ta just acci­den­tal­ly used the same wrap­ping paper you did.
  • There is no such thing as “Christ­mas fat trap” – you’re just well-padded for the remain­der of the month!
  • Don’t set the Christ­mas tree on fire and/or keep the cat out of reach!
  • Last­ly, watch this safe­ty video to avoid accidents:
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The Gift Exchange: Tra­di­tions in the U.S. and Germany

As a native Ger­man, I grew up with Wichteln (or Secret San­ta). I feel it’s a part of Christ­mas by now. In the U.S., my ‘Amer­i­can fam­i­ly’ (they’ve basi­cal­ly adopt­ed me) intro­duced me to the left/right gift exchange dur­ing Christ­mas, which could have a dif­fer­ent name depend­ing on your home state. It was so much fun that I intro­duced it as a Wichtelnalter­na­tive to my friends and fam­i­ly over here in Ger­many. Now, we use a mix of both.


Left/Right Gift Exchage – U.S.

Wichteln [Secret San­ta] – Germany

Price of the gift

$5 — 10

€5 — 10


Make sure each guest knows to bring a gift for the gift exchange. It needs to be suit­able for almost every guest in the group. Find out who is par­tic­i­pat­ing and throw their names in a hat. Then, have every­one draw a name (ide­al­ly not their own!) or ran­dom­ly assign names. Then decide on the ver­sion you want to play.

Be cre­ative and thought­ful about the gift – how good the wrap­ping looks is of sec­ondary impor­tance. Each gift needs a name tag.


Sit in a cir­cle and put the gift you brought in front of you. Some­one reads the sto­ry aloud.

Each time the words “right” and “left” are read, guests pass their gifts to the right or left.

At the end of the sto­ry, each guest either keeps the gift or agrees to swap with anoth­er guest.

For simplicity’s sake, I’ll stick to the basic ver­sion: All gifts are col­lect­ed in a pile. Then every­one search­es for their own name. Alter­na­tive­ly, you can decide on an order before­hand to avoid chaos. Now, the fun begins as every­one unwraps their present and peo­ple take turns guess­ing who their Wich­tel (Secret San­ta) is.

Oth­er ver­sions of Wichteln:

Schrot­twichteln (White Ele­phant Gift Exchange): The gift should be espe­cial­ly worth­less as long as it’s not trash.

Räu­ber­wichteln (Thiev­ing Secret San­ta): The dice is thrown and – if it’s a 6 – play­er 1 picks a gift and unwraps it. All play­ers after play­er 1 decide whether to steal the gift or open a new gift until all gifts are distributed.

Zufalls-/Wür­fel­wichteln: Names are ran­dom­ly assigned before open­ing the gifts. A dice is thrown and – if it’s a 6 – a gift is unwrapped. 

Gedicht-/Geschichtswichteln: A gift has a poem/story attached to it instead of the name of the des­ig­nat­ed per­son. Now the guess­ing game begins of who the gift is for.


Game On: How to enter­tain every­one and avoid alco­hol poisoning

Some­times, the time between food and fire­works drags on for­ev­er. I actu­al­ly love a good board game to kill time, but I advise against Monop­oly (we don’t need a fight to start the new year). If you’re bored with board games, how­ev­er, I’d like to draw your atten­tion to a favorite of mine instead: the dic­tio­nary game (maybe you know it as Fic­tionary).

What? You haven’t heard of it?

The dic­tio­nary game can be played in teams or solo. All you need is a dic­tio­nary, pen and paper for each team/player, and a score­board (anoth­er piece of paper). And this is how you play it: Some­one ran­dom­ly opens a page of the dic­tio­nary and reads out a word of their choice WITHOUT men­tion­ing the def­i­n­i­tion of the word. Now, the play­ers all write down their own def­i­n­i­tion of the word. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, the per­son who chose the word writes down the actu­al def­i­n­i­tion. Next, each group hands their def­i­n­i­tion to the per­son who chose the word. They read out every def­i­n­i­tion, and each cor­rect def­i­n­i­tion gets a point. If no one knew the actu­al def­i­n­i­tion of the word, the per­son who chose the word picks their favourite def­i­n­i­tion (there are par­al­lels to Cards Against Human­i­ty).

This game doesn’t have a time lim­it and is hilar­i­ous because of the cre­ative­ly incor­rect def­i­n­i­tions. You can also use an online dic­tio­nary on your phone, tablet, or lap­top to pro­vide words if a dic­tio­nary isn’t at hand.

If this game doesn’t tick­le your fan­cy, try out Cha­rades, Who am I? or Taboo. They require lit­tle to no equip­ment and promise a fun-filled evening of enter­tain­ment. And that’s what we’re look­ing for at Christ­mas and New Year’s, right?

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