Ahh… the winter holiday season is here. It’s time for parties, festive entertainments and gatherings with family. Many of us will be blessed with loving, supportive families with whom we will gather. If you are one of these people, congratulations! Feel free to stop reading now. If not, stay with me!

For some of us, holiday gatherings with family are an emotional minefield. It might be because of our sexual orientation, or our gender identity or something completely different (such as politics). It may simply be the particular dysfunction in our, or our partner’s, families. Whatever the reason, if you dread the thought of going “home” for the holidays, welcome to the crowd. You have plenty of company! But take heart: there are some relatively simple means of Defense Against the (Emotional) Dark Arts. I humbly suggest these five rules:

Rule 1. Decide in advance how much hassle is too much to put up with, and make an escape plan. This is especially important for couples. Let’s say that your family of origin disapproves of you, but expects you to come to Christmas dinner all the same. You may have grown a thick skin over the years… but the partner who is meeting them for the first time may be more uncomfortable than you. Respect the one you brought with you, enough to politely withdraw from the event when they have had enough.

Rule 2. Decide whether or not to engage in those pesky religious arguments. Sometimes, when a family member asks, “But what about where the Bible says…” they really want to understand your faith journey. It may be a good time to educate them, to expose them to a different point of view. On the other hand, you can probably sense when the person asking the question has already decided what they think. Continuing the discussion will probably be as wise as trying to teach a pig to sing; go to Rule 3.

Rule 3. Learn how to not engage in the argument about your sexuality or gender identity or whatever. Candace Chellew-Hodge’s book “Bulletproof Faith” is a great resource for dealing with religion-based hostility. It is set in a Christian context, but you can adapt it to your belief system as needed. She recommends simply saying, “I don’t agree.” Say it politely, respectfully, lovingly. Repeat as needed. (And if it doesn’t succeed in changing the subject, consider Rule 1.)

Rule 4. Spend time with people who love you, just the way you are. When I visit my hometown, I always drop into the local MCC, where I know I belong and where I will see people I’ve known for years. Your place of beloved-ness might be a church, or a bar or another hangout. It might also just be a video call; that’s why God created FaceTime and Skype and the like, so we can talk face to face wherever we are. Be loved!

Rule 5. Always, always, remember that you are a precious being in the image of God, a cherished child of the Universe. I believe with all my heart that our differences are gifts — not just to us, but to the whole world. So give thanks for being who you are, and keep on being you!

Whatever holidays you celebrate (or not), may you have safe travels, and a time of peace, joy, rest, and relaxation!

The Rev. Dr. Joan Saniuk is pastor of Sacred Journey Metropolitan Community Church (MCC Sacred Journey) in Hendersonville, N.C.