Spending time with your family over the holidays can be difficult. Are you a vegetarian atheist with carnivorous, God-fearin' folks? Are your grandparents racist? Then you know what I mean. But these special occasions don't have to suck. Step one? Stop playing on their turf. Why spend one more holiday giving them the home-team advantage, biting your tongue to make them feel more comfortable? Instead, tell your relatives to get their asses up to San Francisco for a good old heathen's ball. It may sound counterintuitive, but think about it for a minute: you'll be in charge. It's the perfect time to have the holiday you've always wished you'd had ... or to just get even with your folks for all of those miserable dinners you've gritted your teeth through all of these years. The businesses listed below have everything you'll need to either gently ruffle some feathers or send your folks screaming back to their safety nooks. How far you choose to take things is up to you and your childhood trauma.
DECK THE HALLS WITH PAGAN ALTARS
If your parents' wholesome holiday decorations are inherently offensive (even the average gender-"appropriate" angel ornament can seem oppressive to a student of gender-continuum philosophy), you can beat them at their own game by picking up a few things at Under One Roof (549 Castro, SF; 415-503-2300, www.underoneroof.org) in the Castro. Most of the holiday knickknacks you'll find there, like rainbow-cloaked Santa Claus decorations and muscle-man bottle openers, will do little more than raise a conservative's eyebrow. But they'll provide valuable ammunition when the conversation turns political: just watch how Dad reacts when you counter his homophobia by pointing out that the cocoa mug he's using comes from a boy-town volunteer organization that donates all of its proceeds to HIV-AIDS research.
If that doesn't work, try riling your folks by jabbing at their spirituality with holiday decorations. They force you to stare down Christianity at every turn? Then shove your lack of belief down their throats this year by shopping in the Mission, where a cluster of small boutiques carries everything you'll need for an offbeat or damn near demonic holiday party.
Start your spree at Paxton Gate (824 Valencia, SF; 415-824-1872, www.paxtongate.com), where you'll find an assortment of unconventional home decor options, including carnivorous plants and a large collection of vaguely satanic household accessories. Although you might score some unwanted points with your hunting-aficionado brother with a few of taxidermist Jeanie M's dangling mice angels, you'll certainly lose plenty from your born-again aunt, whose collection of gruesome Jesus-dying-on-the-cross sculptures offend you as much as your ornaments will her.
After grabbing some choice roadkill art, you'll want to head to Yoruba Botanica (998 Valencia, SF; 415-826-4967) for some Santeria-style pagan altars, spell candles, and heretical oils and scents, then to Casa Bonampak (3331 24th St., SF; 415-642-4079, www.casabonampak.com) for some Latin flair. A wreath made of chile peppers, some Virgin of Guadalupe party streamers, and a few discounted Día de los Muertos items will add a little subversive color to your thoroughly confusing collection of holiday decorations.
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY TOFU
If you've lived in the city for more than two years, you've probably adopted a cruelty-free diet and grown weary of your family's annual flesh-eating parties. You know those relatives who always "forget" you don't eat meat?