“Blood is thicker than water” is a common expression people use when talking about family. It makes it sound like the blood bonds we have with our families are the strongest and most important bonds in our lives. What many people don’t know is that the full phrase is actually “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” This means that the relationships we make by choice are stronger than the relationships we have with our relatives — something important to remember as the holiday season approaches.

Thanksgiving is around the corner and it is the quintessential family holiday (though it is important to acknowledge and understand the roots of the holiday, but that’s a conversation for another time). When I picture Thanksgiving, I often picture a warmly lit room and a big family gathered around the table talking, laughing and eating. While this Norman Rockwell-esque scene is a reality for some, for many others, it is not. In fact, WebMD has a page dedicated to treating holiday-induced stress. Regardless of your relationship with your family, there are the stresses of cooking, dressing up, traveling and, worst of all, having to answer questions about your future. According to a 2018 survey, 88 percent of Americans experience holiday stress, with much of this stress coming from gift shopping, including the financial burden and knowing exactly what to get your loved ones. With all the stress that comes with the holidays, is it really the most wonderful time of the year?

For some of us, Thanksgiving and the following holiday season is a brutal reminder that we don’t have that perfect, idealized family situation. I am writing this because I don’t think people say it enough: You don’t have to participate. When the people dating our friends are treating them badly, we immediately tell them to cut them off. Maybe it should be the same for family. You shouldn’t let someone hurt you just because you share DNA. That being said, you can’t exactly break up with your dad. Cutting off toxic family members is not always easy or possible, so I don’t mean to tell you to cut off all contact with the people you don’t get along with. Instead, I simply mean to say: Put yourself first.

This holiday season, it is important to remember that it’s okay to sit out the bickering and offensive comments. I am a huge proponent of avoiding things I know will make me feel bad. It is important to put yourself first and do what is best for you. All this being said, if you do participate in a stressful family event, remember that you’ll probably end up with an entertaining story about something your unusual aunt did. However, there are a number of things you can do to make surviving a hard holiday easier.

Something my mom always tells me is to take things from where they come. That just means that when someone says something that hurts your feelings, you have to look at the intention behind it. If your high school bully says “So, you’re still single,” they probably mean to make you feel bad. If your grandma says the same thing, she is definitely just shocked that someone as great as you hasn’t been swept off your feet yet!

Avoid talking about politics, if possible. The younger generation tends to have different political views from our parents, and especially our grandparents. In this political climate, Thanksgiving dinner is probably not the time to talk about who you’re voting for, seeing as there will most likely be many different views and opinions. It’s easy for everyone to get worked up, so avoid it the best you can. It’s also okay to defend yourself — learning to speak up for yourself is important. It’s hard and scary, but a necessity. People won’t change unless you show them what they’re doing wrong.

You should also try to focus on the good things about the holidays. Watch your favorite Christmas movies, find some funny Hanukkah songs, eat good food and spend time with that one cousin you love but never get to see. I think we all have small traditions that we can cling to and find enjoyment in. Remember that everyone has issues with their family, too. Scrolling through Instagram and seeing everybody’s cute holiday pictures, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one who is not having fun. That is certainly not the case. Everyone has issues they struggle with, even if they don’t show it. Despite what you might see on social media, no one has the perfect family.

In short, you should put yourself first this holiday season, do what is best for you and understand that not everyone enjoys the holidays — and that’s okay. For some, the holidays are reminders of the family trauma I think we all have. That being said, enjoy some turkey and make sure to report back to Binghamton University with your crazy family stories.

Sophie Miller is a junior majoring in English.