Apologies for double posting but I had to get on the laptop for this; the tablet doesn't let me format or correct anything, for some reason.
Now look, #glances around nervously and waves everybody to come closer#, #lowers voice#, this is not strictly etiquette approved, but it's all that's got me and a couple of friends through our respective family Christmases. And as long as you don't do it anywhere the other guests can see... Like it's not rude to think 'Cousin Angina is a sour-faced bigoted ill-informed old prune' even though Armageddon would ensue and you would be in the wrong if you said it aloud.
Bingo cards. The solution is bingo cards.
Every year I draw up a 5 x 5 bingo card. I have #counts# 61 possible entries listed and each of the players (me, friend in Ireland, friend in Scotland, 3 friends in the US) fill in our cards with random choices from the lists. Local variations are permitted (mention of Thanksgiving, religious dietary restrictions etc.) These are things people may do, or say. For example:
* trying to change all the arrangements without reference to the person who is hosting the event. (I've ticked that one off already for Christmas this year and we aren't even in the last week of November yet.)
* asking suspiciously 'what's in this?' while pulling some inoffensive foodstuff to pieces, and then refusing it, because it contains some totally out-there ingredient, like fresh herbs.
* arriving just as you put away the last spoon and asking insincerely if they can help with the dishes.
* bringing some foodstuff that they know perfectly well you always make yourself.
* bringing a hostess gift that requires immediate and lengthy attention.
* or equally, arriving to an event that lasts for twelve hours and several complete meals, and not bringing so much as a bottle of water or a tube of Smarties.
*asking 'did you not make any [some foodstuff that you have made religiously every Christmas since 1942 and thrown away untouched every Boxing Day because nobody actually likes it]'.
* asking at 9pm on Christmas Eve if Christmas dinner could be served at some completely different time (or indeed location) to what has been arranged with 20 people for 2 months.
* coming into the kitchen, getting in the way and trying to make a sandwich when the cook has just announced that dinner will be served in 15 minutes (anyone with a genuine health concern gets a pass on this one).
We make up our cards in the week before Christmas; shooting opens 9am Christmas Eve. Hits are announced to the group by email or text, just for the fun of it. Honesty in reporting is assumed; near misses are put up for group consideration and usually granted (wine intake helps with this - we're more generous towards the end of the day). No prizes except the knowledge that gibbering insanity has been avoided.
I commend it to the House.