Consider dark rum the great appeaser. It can be mixed and matched until you have a drink anybody in your family will be able to enjoy.
The holidays are a stew of confusion. Not only do people of differing faiths, ethnicities, and creeds vie for something as simple as a greeting, but within families there is seemingly every type from the ecclesiastic (even the hamster needs a stocking over the fireplace) to the escapist (off to Aruba).
Despite one's religious affiliations or lack of them, the real problem is, What can we all agree to drink? At best, alcohol brings us together and lets us peer into the eyes of those who have likely fared as poorly or worse than we have this year and greatly exaggerate our accomplishments or deride others for their lack of them. In a word, family.
But there are different kinds of drinkers in each family. To paraphrase Tolstoy: Every sober family member is alike; every drunken family member is drunk in a different way.
Take, for instance, the occasion drinker, the person who will probably never know that the kids are pinching from the booze cabinet and replacing the liquor with water. Mostly because the collection is merely ornamental, involving various flavors of schnapps and a half-full porcelain bottle of Jim Beam in the shape of a bass trophy. This is the person who drinks one glass of white wine (although filled more than once, it's still one glass) and is to me what Jack Sprat is to his wife. (I would add that drinking white wine outside of dinner is like wearing a Christmas Cosby sweater or plugging the new Duran Duran record -- hopelessly 1980s.)
Then there are the normal folks: social drinkers, who have their preferences but are generally open-minded. They'll probably be three sheets to the wind by night's end, but with no dramatic confrontations involving broken furniture, hurt feelings, or awkward moments among the cousins. I might recommend this path as the "golden mean." Fortunately, this group is agreeable enough, so you may skip their suggestion for overpriced brands of Bourbon.
There are also those who embrace the pagan origins of the season and drink with an unusual gusto. This may involve willful destruction of property, licentiousness, and potential human sacrifice. I've always advocated ice water in this case. But should you keep these people from drinking, you risk their draining rubbing alcohol from your medical cabinet.
Dark rum is a great appeaser here. First, it sometimes tastes like rubbing alcohol. Second, it can be mixed with cans of cola or ginger beer. For something better than expected, you don't have to spend a lot of money either. Flor de Caña or Chairman's Reserve are two of my favorites (and don't taste like rubbing alcohol, for the record). The mixer is key here, because without some other liquid as a barrier to dipsomania they'll be visiting "one porcelain bowl" during the Twelve Days of Christmas.
My grandmother has a solution that has rallied our family in times like this. Great matriarch that she is, she used a simple mathematical formula applied to the traditional holiday bowl: 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. She misread the recipe for eggnog that called for "Whiskey or Brandy or Rum," and replaced the "or" with "and." This led to a rather stiff cup but also greatly improved familial relations.
It also pointed the way to the true spirit of spirits for this holiday season: inclusivity, embracing all drinkers and their liquid proclivities. Despite one's strong feelings against flavored vodka, cream sherry, or even boxed Chablis, this is the season of tolerance of other's tolerance levels. So, gifts or not, white wine or rubbing alcohol, even peppermint patty Martinis -- ack! -- I wish you all a very merry whatever you celebrate and whatever you drink.
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