It's that time of year again! The weather is frightful, Christmas music is everywhere, and you're stuck with your family without a school bus or a work commute in sight. There's nothing better than spending some extra time with your loved ones (it's what the holidays are all about, after all), but even the closest kin can get testy when they're together for days -- or even weeks -- at a time.
To help temper your ire when family time makes you feel almost homicidal, we'll take a look at what five of our favorite Christmas movies can teach us about handling family-related holiday stress. When your older brother polishes off the last Christmas cookies or your mother-in-law criticizes everything from the space she's been afforded in the guest room to the size of your TV, watching these holiday classics might help you remember why you're glad these people are in your life. And if that doesn't work, at least you'll get a genuine laugh, unlike the polite chuckles you've been forcing out for your sister's annoying new boyfriend.
How might a skull-faced protagonist, Old Saint Nick and the foreclosure rate relate to your Christmas? We'll start our countdown of holiday movie lessons on the next page.
5: Remember That You're Not Santa Claus
We all want to give good presents, but don't take the gifting too far! Jack Skellington, the skeletal protagonist of Tim Burton's cult Christmas classic "The Nightmare Before Christmas," kidnaps Santa so that he alone can dole out Christmas joy.
Now, we're not implying that you have a vendetta against the big man in red, but it's important to remember that there's only one Saint Nick, and it isn't you.
There's nothing like seeing surprise and joy spread across a loved one's face as he or she opens that perfect gift, but in these hard economic times, you don't need to take out a second mortgage to finance your family's holiday. Christmas is about spending time with family members, not spoiling them rotten.
Forget Mr. Skellington's stop-motion motivations and only give what you can afford -- you'll be happier not just during the holidays, but for the rest of the year.
4: Don't Let Family Members Visit With Their Pets
Sure, you want to be the perfect holiday hostess, but making concessions for four-legged houseguests can be more trouble than it's worth.
Even if you're an animal-lover, it's not normally a good idea to allow visiting relations to bring their slobbering pooches or long-haired, allergy-inducing cats when they visit. Besides the unavoidable disruption the interloping visitors will cause to your home (and super-formal Christmas Eve dinner), there are any number of things that can go wrong with furry friends afoot.
A certain scene from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" sticks out in our minds -- you know the one we're talking about, right? If not, just know that the electric lights on your tree and nibbling kitties don't mix.
3: Be a Sport About That Ugly Sweater
We've all gotten that gift.
You know the one -- the tacky Santa-suit sweatpants your uncle gave you, or the ridiculous Rudolph sweater your grandmother knitted. Part of putting up with family during the holidays means donning atrocious clothing every now and then.
But we recognize that there are limits. In "A Christmas Story," Ralphie's Aunt Clara gives him a custom-made, full-body pink bunny suit, which is probably the worst gift ever put on celluloid.
Bear your hideous holiday attire with a begrudging smile this season, even if the outfit keeps you blushing from embarrassment well into the New Year. Just try to remember that unless you're forced to dress as a pink rabbit, it could be worse. And we promise not to breathe a word to anyone if you "accidentally" spill an entire dish of cranberry sauce (or something else that stains) on your sweater, effectively ruining it for next year's holiday season.
2: Make Room for Everyone in Your Family
We all have an oddball relative, but at the holidays, you should make everybody feel welcome.
In "Elf," Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a 30-year-old man who grew up at the North Pole believing that he was one of Santa's elves. Let's just say that his ever-festive attire and childlike demeanor don't go over very well with his real father, or virtually anyone else Buddy meets in New York City.
Sure, it's a ridiculous premise, but it reminds us that it's important to love all the members of your family for who they are, no matter how different (or embarrassing in public) they might be.
1: Remember That You Are Loved
You've seen "It's a Wonderful Life" every Christmas since you were 7 years old, but have you ever really thought about its message? James Stewart is so distraught, he'd rather be dead than deal with all his problems and money woes. What's more, he believes his family would be better off without him.
These plot points are pretty grim for your tinsel- and cookie-filled holiday, but they're what makes this movie worth watching each year. "It's a Wonderful Life" reminds us how important each one of us is to our loved ones. So, if you're ever stuck with a bad case of the Christmas blues, pop in a version of this classic (or catch it on TV), and remember that you're not trying to survive the holidays with your family -- you survived the whole year because of them!