Create a celebration that makes your family as uncomfortable as theirs makes you
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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.
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.
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? Now you can ostracize them by serving an alternative smorgasbord from SF's premier food co-op, Rainbow Grocery (1745 Folsom, SF; 415-863-0620, www.rainbowgrocery.org ). There's plenty to choose from here, including a full line of Tofurky products, organic cranberry sauce, and Tofutti brand frozen treats for dessert.
Even if your relatives don't mind taking a short break from their irresponsible eating habits, you can still piss them off by directly attacking their morals with an obscene cake from the Cake Gallery (290 Ninth St., SF; 415-861-2253, www.thecakegallerysf.com ), a hole-in-the-wall bakery that boasts the ability and desire to make "anything your demented mind can think up." Can the artists at the Cake Gallery make a dessert with a leather-clad transsexual peeing on the baby Jesus? You bet your family's asses they can.
With dinner out of the way, it's time to expose your family to a bit of real SF culture with some quality time for them and your friends. You'll want to invite an array of typical weirdos to rival your family's usual assortment of nerdy cousins, creepy aunts and uncles, and stoic grandparents; we suggest at least one hippie, a lesbian couple, a club kid, and a few snobby hipsters with neck tattoos.
If none of your friends are willing to flaunt their earlobe plugs or perform a contact improv dance number, you might want to put some effort into background noise. Downloading a raunchy playlist will work in a pinch, but if you really want to shock your guests, how about visiting Amoeba Music (1855 Haight, SF; 415-831-1200, www.amoeba.com ), which carries almost every holiday album ever made? Start with Run DMC's single "Christmas in Hollis" (Fedor Sigel, 1987), then move on to something more unsettling, like the heavy metal compilation A Brutal Christmas: The Season in Chaos (SoTD Records, 2003). Amoeba also carries chapters 1 to 22 of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet (Jive; 2005, 2007) and other parent-unfriendly classics like Wondershowzen (MTV2; 200506) you know, the music your friends will love as much as your folks will hate it.
Is everyone appropriately uncomfortable? Good. Now it's time for the postdinner activity. Rather than listen to Grandpa's drunken ramblings or watch Mom resentfully do all of the dishes herself, goddamnit, why not take the fam on a nice little trip through Yuletide SF?
If your folks seem to be planning a mutiny, you might want to appease them (i.e., ease them into submission) by booking a tour with Cable Car Charters (Pier 31, Embarcadero, SF; 415-922-2425, www.cablecarcharters.com ), which offers a holiday lights package, complete with blankets and a man dressed like Santa Claus. But if you're really out for blood, consider heading directly to the Castro Theatre (429 Castro, SF; 415-621-6120, www.thecastrotheatre.com ), whose December calendar boasts an appearance by Crispin Glover, a disco-themed Christmas party hosted by an exVillage Person, and six performances by the SF Gay Men's Chorus (415-865-3650, www.sfgmc.org ), who'll be paying tribute to Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, solstice, and Ramadan, all at the same time.
Congratulations, you made it!
You can still torture your folks with shots of Fernet back at your apartment as punishment for all of the fattening eggnog nightcaps you've endured over the years, but if you ever want to see them again, you might just lead them to their half-deflated air mattresses and bid them good night. After eight full hours of tossing and turning on your floor, maybe they'll be inspired to tone it down next time you come to visit or at least remember to add a plate of steamed vegetables to the slaughtered-animal spread. And if they're not, you can always bring a penis cake home with you next year. *