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How to share your favorites with loved ones — and have everyone go home happy

Remember: It's supposed to be fun.
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Remember: It's supposed to be fun.

Some of you have already had your biggest celebrations of the winter season, some of you are about to have them — and obviously, some of you don't have them at all. But if you've got gatherings coming up in the next week or so, maybe you're going to end up with a motley crew of people who don't always spend their leisure time together in one place. Maybe you're going to be trying to juggle some differing tastes as far as what to watch or read or listen to. There are plenty of best-of lists you can consult if you're just looking for some ideas, but I want to make a couple of recommendations about the philosophy of sharing stuff. Maybe something will come in handy.

Don't take it personally. I have friends who like things that I don't like at all. I still like them! I just don't like everything they want to watch. So try to keep the stakes low for what happens if you share something with your loved ones and they don't love it as much as you do. The affectionate acts are to share things, and to try things. They are not necessarily to reach the same conclusions.

The conversation you have about a thing is as important as the thing itself. ... It's the sharing that is communal, not just the agreeing.

Talk about it. It is the philosophy of my career, pretty much, that the conversation you have about a thing is as important as the thing itself. Even if you weren't super wild about the movie you just watched, maybe the bonding moment is the conversation about what you did and didn't like about it. Maybe you liked something, even if you didn't like everything. Not everybody wants to critique culture around the dinner table, obviously, but again — it's the sharing that is communal, not just the agreeing.

Know when to provoke and when not to. I know that certain people in my circle hate gory violence, or bodily function humor, or musicals. I try not to recommend things to them just secretly hoping that they will overlook those things. Instead, I say, "There are a couple of violent parts, but you'll see them coming and you can look away." And they can decide for themselves what to do. Holidays can be stressful enough without choosing them as the moment to disregard preferences you know about. That doesn't mean, though, that you can't suggest something that's off of someone's most well-worn path! You probably know when you're being hopeful and when you're pushing your luck by putting on a show or a movie you think won't be somebody's typical speed. I've sometimes been very pleasantly surprised when the hope pays off.

If you have a sneak-off person in your group, let them sneak off gracefully. It can save lots of heartache. Don't force it.

Take breaks. I hold a philosophical position that is not popular in many families, and it's this: Everybody doesn't have to spend the entire time together. Some people need to break off and go hide in a quiet room and read a book, or watch eight straight episodes of Friends, or whatever. Try to remember that if somebody sneaks off alone, as long as you're keeping an eye on them the rest of the time and making sure they feel loved and welcome, it's perfectly possible that they just got tired of sitting on the floor because there weren't any seats, or they're feeling stressed about something and they don't want to inflict it on everybody else, or they're just at their limit of noisy group activities. (I think a lot of people have seen their tolerance for noisy group activities drop in the last couple of years.) So if you have a sneak-off person in your group, let them sneak off gracefully. It can save lots of heartache. Don't force it.

Remember: It's supposed to be fun. I had a relative when I was young who used to worry so much about making Christmas perfect that it made Christmas really stressful. (I loved her dearly nevertheless; don't get me wrong.) Remember that you will have many holidays, you will hopefully have many times to be together, and nobody is going to remember exactly what was for dinner in 10 years. If you are responsible for the meal, or the decor, or making up the spare bedroom, or picking people up at the airport — give yourself a break. Only make a family gathering into a performance to the degree you enjoy it. After that, get a glass of wine or a mocktail or whatever makes you feel cozy, and resolve that you will consider yourself a successful host as long as you are welcoming and your door is open.

This piece first appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Linda Holmes
Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.