Whoever decided that the holidays are the most wonderful time of the year has a very generous pharmacist. Yes, there are sales on everything, and seasonal ice cream flavors, and you are encouraged to wear sweaters and watch stop motion specials and eat anything that contains butter, cinnamon, or gravy. These things are indeed glorious.

But along with the latkes and cheese balls comes the emotional minefield of returning to your hometown. Family is the great social equalizer. We all have the body shaming cousin, little-bit-racist grandpa, or that one aunt who keeps trying to fix you up with “Caleb.” You remember Caleb, he untied your bikini that one time at the club pool thirteen years ago and you haven’t spoken since, but he’s a dermatologist now and doing very well.

And then, there are the high school reunion parties. These holiday soirees come in many regional flavors, including but not limited to Holiday Light tours, wine tastings, baby showers, happy hours, and drunken bacchanalia at the former quarterback’s family home.

They are often planned by sadistic former student council members, because what better time to see your old friends and arch rivals than when you’ve spent the last month hibernating and skipping hot yoga to bake cookies?

It matters not if you’ve already maxed our your credit card on gifts for the exponentially growing list of nieces and nephews. This is your shining moment to shed those high school insecurities and reveal yourself as the beautiful, 401k having, self actualized butterfly you truly are.

To keep awkwardness at a minimum, it is essential to prepare yourself.

Find an outfit that shows you are supremely comfortable with your adult life, whether that means a body conscious party dress or an androgynous suit. If you spent high school as a wall flower, work a bright red lipstick. You are so not the closeted baby goth anymore.

Don’t forget your game face, because there will be people you hate. Be honest. Second to the adolescent crush you’d only admit to your cat, keeping score with your chem class nemesis is half the reason you’re here.

It is tempting to spend the evening cataloging their every flaw, but don’t waste your time. Chances are they didn’t put half as much effort into making your life miserable as you thought, and are perfectly average people who just want to top off their drink and find an outlet to charge their phone, just like you.

And keep an eye out for the former shy bunnies that blossomed after graduation. You could never remember their names when you were paired up as a group in class, and you can spot them now by looking for the priciest watch or the only girl pulling off an actual cocktail dress.

These folks may have started playing an extreme sport, made a lot of money, or spent a summer “experimenting” in Prague that put your hometown in perspective. Don’t be afraid to ask where they got their platinum dye job and new tattoo, or if managing your own startup really is all that great. These girls and boys will be more than thrilled to tell you about their new lives.

Then, there’s the guy or girl that invited you to this party, the real reason you’re here, and, if we’re being honest, the face you dreamed about the entire two hours you spent sitting in coach on the way home.

spoiler alert: he does not still look like this

Never, under any circumstances, spend the evening pining for the unrequited crush or the old flame that broke your heart. She is still straight, and he is still a jerk watching wrestling unironically. Closet makeout sessions are never, ever a good idea, and will make you feel worse than the inevitable champagne hangover.

Save them for wank bank if you can’t move on. Even if they don’t abandon you halfway through the party for the newly hot salutatorian, they will never live up to your hormone fueled dreams. Let this one go.

Finally, the only way to suffer through is with a killer pair of heels and the knowledge that this only happens once a year. When you’re done sleeping it off in your childhood bedroom, you can return to the city from whence you came knowing you put one more year between yourself and adolescence.

You made it, baby!