It's the holidays, the season of giving, family gatherings, and coping mechanisms. So what's the number one way people traditionally survive the holidays? Alcohol. Which is great for many people, not so great for those who do not drink. Why you don't drink -- religious principles, health issues, heavy machinery operation, a previous life as a complete fuckup, that ankle bracelet, whatever -- is your business, not ours. You may not eat foie gras either, or have some weird, baffling aversion to ramen.
But nondrinkers need coping mechanisms too, since hanging out around the holiday punchbowl sober isn't quite as appealing as you might think. So turn the page for our list of 10 Holiday Coping Mechanisms for Nondrinkers. And if we've missed a few -- since you're probably not too drunk to read this -- please let us know. New Year's Eve, Superbowl Sunday and St. Patrick's Day are just around the corner.
10. Non-alcoholic beer. We know it sucks, but it's considerable more drinkable than non-alcoholic wine, which is utterly pointless. Some German breweries have even taken pity on sober people and brew fake beer that is surprisingly okay. Anyway, you look less like a lost Prohibitionist drinking a bottle of nonalcoholic St. Pauli Girl or Beck's than you do drinking O'Doul's, which is crap fake American beer with a crap fake American name and tastes worse than Coors Lite, if we remember correctly.
9. Conversational skills. Drunk people may think they're really brilliant, but the vast majority of them are not. Maybe a few novelists and Northern Irish poets, but probably not the people at your office. Instead of getting quietly annoyed when your companions lapse into repeating stories, monosyllables, or even total pre-blackout silence, consider taking over most of the dialog. You may get tired of listening to yourself talk, but odds are it will be vastly better than the alternative. Drink some coffee first (see #4).
8. Catch up on your reading. Okay, it might seem impolite to bring a book to a holiday party, but after a few hours of watching the otherwise interesting people around you descend into marginally functional idiocy, the complete works of Chinua Achebe will sound like an awesome idea. Even the collected Paula Deen can be pretty entertaining: think of it as a guide to the buffet table.
7. Designated driver quid pro quo. No, we're not suggesting that you bribe your friends, since the designated driver is a noble, tremendously worthwhile and even sometimes legally necessary role. But maybe consider doing some bartering. Unless you're highly self-entertained (see #9 and #8), waiting around at parties to drive your catatonic friends home is not exactly a riveting evening. Offer to take their keys and conduct them safely to their front door in exchange for something reasonable, a late breakfast the next morning (bacon donuts at Nickel Diner, maybe) or a ride home that you may need yourself someday, like from the mechanic or the dentist.
6. Work on your method acting. If sanctimony isn't your thing, maybe use the drunken holiday bash as an excuse to work on your acting skills. Enlist a friend or a bartender, and start doing shots of apple juice. You can act drunk, since no one will be able to tell the difference anyway, and you'll have lots of examples to pattern. Or you can take a different approach and impress the hell out of everybody. 15 shots of apple juice later, and you're still able to quote Farid Zakariah, to remember the lyrics to Eminem songs, to walk. You'll become legend. Of course, you might want to tell your close friends what you're doing, since it might freak them out. A Christmas party is not a good place for an ad hoc intervention.
5. Work on your foodie novel. The best novelists have a terrific ear for dialog, and not the crystal clear speech patterns of Oxford dons, but the nonsense that people actually say. The white noise, the stops and starts, the occasional Tourette's that are our frequently jumbled attempts at conversation. Bring a tape recorder and and pretend you're Truman Capote outside a jail cell. That's probably illegal, but hey, writers have to sacrifice for their art somehow. After Eat, Pray, Love, everybody's working on either a cookbook or a food memoir, so suck it up and listen to all those drunken terrible lovelife stories and troll for character development ideas. Have some cheese dip while you're at it. Maybe you can work a recipe into the plot.
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4. Coffee. Even more than chocolate, caffeine is a nondrinker's favorite substitute addiction. Mornings are perhaps best for this, as a few ristrettos in the early hours, when your drinker friends are still sleeping off their hangovers, can make the day a truly lovely thing. A serious caffeine high in the evenings, when holiday parties are mostly scheduled, can be problematic, but hey, you're driving, you're up anyway. Just make sure it's good coffee, not the crap you get in church basements or, bafflingly, in many of the better restaurants. Bring your own Intelligentsia or Stumptown and a French press if you have to.
3. Take over the bar. This may seem completely counterintuitive -- and not a particularly good idea for anyone whose sobriety is of the ankle bracelet variety -- but it's not unlike taking over the stoves instead of sitting on the couch with a bucket of wings. Making drinks is a kind of alchemy, and if there's a Bartender's Guide handy, it's awfully fun. And there's a lot of potential for the Martha Stewart personality type: decant some wine, pull a few espresso shots, make a pot of grog or nog or whatever. As with fruitcake, eggnog is something that is best studied from a distance. Make a vat of it and, almost guaranteed, you'll be happy you're drinking soda with lime.
2. Food, lots of it. Just park yourself near the buffet table and load up. Think about how many completely empty calories there are in booze -- beer, shots of Jameson, all that sugary crap in those fruity girl drinks -- and very time your friends order another round, help yourself to another piece of pie. Especially if you're at a party where the food is good -- cote de boeuf, Yorkshire pudding, chestnut-stuffed turkey, tamales, chicken with black mole, stollen, bûche de Noël, chocolate truffles, enough cookies and gingerbread to send Santa into a sugar coma -- consider the groaning table as your dominion, since you can't have the space at the bar.
1. Start smoking pot instead. Just kidding. We are in no way encouraging the use of illegal substances, even if you can get your hands on some good pot brownies, maybe made with Valrhona 70% or imported from Holland. See #2.