A wise, un-Googlable person once said it best:

“Christmas is great…if you’re not a musician.”

For the majority of Americans, the holiday season is filled with magic, joy, and the emptying of savings accounts in favor of materialistic desires. For musicians, it is the month you hope to survive physically in order to survive financially into the new year. Christmas Eve vigils are booked months in advance, holiday dramas keep the student loans at bay for a few weeks, and everyone and their uncle performs Handel’s Messiah so frequently that you actually wonder why every damn valley hasn’t already been exalted yet…

Musicians love and hate December because it’s grueling work that we desperately need. By the time family holiday celebrations roll around, we’re exhausted and ready for a day off. However, with this year proving to push the “us” and “them” mentality even further in America, it’s important to find a way to talk to each other, mostly because it’s too cold outside to run away (I live in Illinois, my family is in Wisconsin, and people die of exposure here; it’s a thing).

So for those of you norm-ies who have no idea how to relate to the musician in your family without getting a six-hour lecture on Bach, here are a few tips-ies.

1) Please, do not bring up the election

Even if you share the same opinions, for the sake of “peace on earth”, just don’t. With every election comes a wave of fear of how valued the arts and arts community will be considered in the public eye, and we don’t want to argue on our day off. Also if you choose to pick a fight with a creative person, you may win temporarily, but don’t expect them to apologize when they write you into their art. On top of that, they will know exactly how far they can legally go in their depictions before it warrants a defamation lawsuit. It’s more fun for everyone to aim to be thanked by your family in their Tony speech, not by the person who portrayed you.

SAFE BET: Pour them a glass of wine and ask them about their thoughts regarding “Hairspray Live”.

2) Be encouraging and supportive, and know the difference

Nutshell definitions:

Encouraging – be vocal
Supportive – show up

If you want to validate your artistic family member but aren’t sure how, this is exactly how to evaluate your behavior: To be encouraging is to speak positively about their art and career choice, but to really be behind an artist, you also have to be supportive. Aside from patronizing their artistic events as an audience member, which isn’t always possible depending on location, being supportive means truly respecting their art. “Showing them off” at your wedding is incredibly insulting if you’re not paying them like the professional they are. In the same way, grumbling through their 3-hour Salome performance when you’ll sit through a 13-inning baseball game is being supportive yet not encouraging. Artists see allies in people who do both and are more likely to say yes to people who show effort on both fronts.

SAFE BET: Pour them a glass of wine and ask which of their next projects is one that you could attend. They’ll appreciate the effort enough to give you the scoop on what you’ll enjoy and be honest regarding what you’ll hate. Even we don’t love everything we perform; we do it because it’s a job. Rent doesn’t care if the music you perform is good.

3) Don’t make them “sing for their supper”

A professional musician is strictly that: a professional. They seek out employment through performance, and they just spent the month working like a dog. Unless you have a specific family tradition of singing carols around a piano, don’t ask a musician to go out of their way on their day off to perform for your enjoyment. You would be mortified if people demanded that you create a useless spreadsheet or schedule a conference call before eating dinner – treat your artistic family members as equal professionals.

On the other hand, if you have a history of being supportive and encouraging (see #2), the musician will be more apt to respond to these requests positively. Personally, I’ve turned down paying gigs with high-powered musicians to spend time with extended family who have my back 100% and don’t ask me to be anything other than human when I’m around. To expect a performance from a musician is to devalue the small shards of humanity they have left and cling to on their day off.

SAFE BET: Pour them a glass of wine and start the drunken singalong yourself. If they join in, you’ve got a duet partner. If not, rock that solo act harder than Mariah Carey at Rockefeller Center.

CONCLUSION: Your artistic family member is coming to this gathering exhausted and ready to recharge. They would totally nap on Grandma’s bed if it wasn’t considered “antisocial”, even though everyone knows that Uncle Chuck is going to pass out in the recliner after he finishes his fourth plate of turkey. If you want your family to feel welcome, treat them like a human, not a commodity. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the reaction you elicit when you see the person first and trade second.

And a handy tip to remember – wine makes them forget to use the fancy Italian words they learned in music school, making them easier to talk to.

Happy Holidays!