Surviving the family Christmas

Surviving the family Christmas. Oh my God! Can you believe it? We’re one third of the way through December already! Everywhere we look people are putting up their Christmas lights. Everywhere we go shop intercom systems are blaring Slade’s Merry Christmas on a loop. Hopes and expectations for gift buying are high, while at the same success rates for gift buying seem dismally low. As we move through the crowds we see a combination of happy Christmas smiles blending in with shoppers fighting their way through the throngs with gritted teeth grimaces as each of us prepare in our own way for the big day that is now only 15 days away.

But we haven’t really come to what for many is the hard part of Christmas. On the big day itself, or within a day or so either side, there comes a moment each year that requires some gearing up for – the big Family Christmas meal or event. You know the one… Parents (or parents in law) sit in your armchair struggling to hear everybody. Little Jimmy (your 13-year-old precious) has ensconced himself into his bedroom wearing headphones glued to his PlayStation. Either you or your partner are trapped in the kitchen cooking a massive meal that you feel is supposed to be an enjoyable process (but it’s not quite working out that way), while the other partner alternates between sitting in the front room trying to converse with deaf parents and dragging little Jimmy out of his room.

The family Christmas. For some (maybe even for many), this is a joyous day and the very best part of the entire Christmas experience. At a minimum, it is a day that many look forward to even if doesn’t always work out as well as was fantasised about. For others however, it is a day of dread. It is a day of false smiles, pretending to enjoy your brother’s (maybe brother in-law’s?) homemade beer, pretending not to notice your snooty sister’s (maybe sister in-law’s?) all too revealing glances around your home and her clear disdain at the odd stain in your front room carpet. Combine these things with granny’s vaguely (or not so vaguely) racist comments about certain contestants on Strictly Come Dancing and the whole thing becomes simply too much to bear.

So just how do we go about surviving the family Christmas? Well, if you are one of those who dread the whole thing, then the first thing that is important to do is to not deny your feelings about it – at least not to yourself anyway. Having said that, it most definitely isn’t fair to harp on about your impending misery to your partner, the kids or the rest of the family. No, this is one of those times when “To thine own self be true” really comes into play. Trying to pretend it is all going to be wonderful when you are pretty certain its not, doesn’t really work. Just be honest with yourself. Accept the fact that you have a day coming up where, for a period of about 5 or 6 hours, you are not going to be having all that great of a time. This self-honesty is critical. Most importantly however, this self-honesty is not then to be used as an excuse to be a miserable so and so on the day. The purpose behind it is so that once you’ve been honest to yourself, you can get on with summoning that place of inner strength within you that will enable you to fly through the whole thing like superman.

Now is the time to draw upon the concept that: Just for today, I can put up with anything that would kill me if I had to manage it for a whole lifetime. This is where we draw our strength. I mean let’s face it. If you find these family Christmases difficult, so too do everybody else there. Its just that nobody is saying it aloud. Each person in the house is probably finding it hard as well – each for their own reasons. Each person is more or less wishing they were back home watching Dr Who from the peaceful comfort of their own chair and not sitting on some moldy and rather rocky one you’ve drug out of the garage for the afternoon. If you are one of the two heads of your family, what you have here on big family Christmas day is an opportunity to really shine. Here is an opportunity to show your strength, your hospitality, and your ability to bring a family together. Here is an opportunity to be just that little bit bigger than your relatives – and doing so will pay big dividends, I promise.

Remember, the whole event will only last 5 or 6 hours and the clock starts ticking as soon as everybody arrives. So, be the magnanimous one. Get drinks, bring snacks, keep yourself busy. Offer to show Granny how to use her email, text or WhatsApp properly (or at least show her how to delete those dodgy political threads off her Facebook feed). Laugh at your brother’s joke (yes, even the third time round), and offer to help in the kitchen – even if that means staying the hell away! At some point, everybody will leave. If you’ve kept yourself busy, you’ll have hardly noticed the time going by. Your partner will think you’re wonderful, the in-laws will all feel somewhat indebted and inferior, and little Jimmy will have learned a lesson in being a grown up. It’s a win win situation. So, don’t worry about how to survive this year’s family Christmas, just keep reminding yourself that you can put up with almost anything for 5 ¼ hours that would kill you if you had to do if for a lifetime. In addition, remember that if you do it right this year, and put yourself aside to be the host(ess) with the most(ess), next year the big family Christmas will be held in one of their homes, and then they’ll have to live up to the very high hosting standards you set this year!