This is a revision of a piece I first posted in December 2011.
Family gatherings are fun, pleasant and filled with love and respect, especially during the holidays. I offer the following suggestions merely as a public service for that small, practically non-existent, tiny group of people who have family they have to travel to go see, but would rather not.
1. First of all, become financially and emotionally independent of your family so there's nothing they can punish you with for not showing up.
2. If you have a job with vacation days, use them all up before the holidays and tell your family you have to work.
3. If you're flying, when they ask for volunteers to give up their seats, do it. Ask the stand-by person who's getting your seat to give you their best sob story so you can tell your family how their need was greater than yours. Then miss the next few flights.
4. Start volunteering with an organization that's active on Thanksgiving, Easter, etc. Commit to helping out on all the holidays and then tell your family it's Christmas and you can't possibly let down the children or the elderly or the botanical plants or whatever.
5. Start a serious, long-term relationship and divide your holiday time with your partner's family. Warning: this only works if their family is not as bad as yours.
6. Leave food out that is easily spoiled (mayonnaise, raw chicken, etc.). Eat it about 12 hours before you're supposed to leave. Call to cancel your visit when you're at the height of the food poisoning symptoms.
7. Establish a career in the restaurant industry. Even if your restaurant closes on major holidays, the crush of customers on the days right before and after will anchor you to the place. This also works with retail, medical and public service jobs.
8. Move to the other side of the world and don't earn enough to come back for visits.
9. For god's sake, don't have kids. Kids absolutely require you to show up at family gatherings or risk being described as someone who deprives her parents of their only grandchildren. Don't let yourself get trapped this way!
10. This is my favorite solution, but it's only for the brave and mature (like myself): tell those family members who you'd rather not see, exactly why you will not be visiting. This might include statements such as:
"Because you screamed all through dinner last year" or
"Because you're kind of a dick when you drink a lot" or
"Because I don't want to get another letter from you a month later telling me what I did that bugged you."
This won't be an easy conversation, but it will be honest and might help them look at themselves in a new way. Chances are they won't, but maybe they'll hate you and then your problem is solved next year when they avoid you. You're welcome.