Updated: Dec 15, 2017
8 tips to help you navigate through the holidays with less drama!
Christmas is one of those occasions that weaves into our family stories. Where we recount to each other, “remember the year when … (insert antidote/drama)”
At this time of year you may be starting to feel stressed with the mere thought of travelling home for Christmas, anticipating the dramas! We may have lived away from home for years, have successful careers and our own kids, but somehow as soon as family gets together we regress to our past behaviours before we left ‘home’! From your brother wondering why on earth you would risk starting your own business, or your mother critisising your outfit, or your father-in-law telling you you've put on weight, or the cousin who is always cooler than you, Christmas can sometimes feel like something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
If you’re anticipating your Christmas won't not look quite like one in the movies, here are some tips to help you survive with your sanity intact!
Check Your Expectations:
You will NOT be able to please everyone! And everyone is trying their best and probably are not trying to offend or upset you on purpose. Remember your family wants to create special memories with you too. So when your family are being experts at pushing ALL your buttons, take a deep breath and have another snowball cocktail* instead of reacting and saying something you may regret later.
*Snowballs are made with 1 part advocat and 3 parts cream soda and they are the best Christmas drink! (Closely followed by Baileys or Champagne)
Check who are getting presents and who do you need to buy for. Set up a WhatsApp group chat with all the family members and start the conversation. Decide whether this year to start only buying the kids presents, or a secret Santa arrangement, or only one present each. Also check who are buying stocking fillers or the little ‘extra’ presents rather than make assumptions.
Instead of having precious suitcase space taken up with gifts, that will have your perfect wrapping destroyed by security, ask if you can get presents delivered there instead. If everyone is on the same page then there is less chance of resentment over who got what.
It is blooming expensive hosting Christmas! Not to mention the planning and logistics required to cook for a large group. Even if you have paid a fortune to travel to visit family for the holidays, don’t assume that you will have all your meals cooked and paid for. Offer to contribute in some way, whether it's bringing the wine, making the Christmas Pudding, offering to cook some meals or pay for some of the groceries.
Watch out for some cultural or family sensitivity around this, which can be tricky to judge especially with the in-laws! But generally offering to be helpful by doing the washing up, rather than sitting on the sofa drinking Baileys goes a long way to reduce any tensions that maybe simmering under the surface.
Yes, you may have spent a small fortune travelling to be together, and suffered through delays at the airport with tired grumpy kids, while sitting on the runway for hours waiting for your plane to be being de-iced, but that does not mean that you should expect your family to be your personal taxi service during your stay. If you think you might want to travel to see other friends from ‘home’, then consider hiring a car to reduce the stress. You won’t feel like a burden and you will have some freedom to get space if required and the driver won’t feel taken advantage off. Talk about this in advance and make it clear what your intentions are for getting about while you are there. If it is expensive to hire a car, suggest paying to be on the insurance for their car so you can drive them.
If someone has offered to drive you around during your stay, show appreciation by offering to pay for petrol or take them out for a coffee or buy a drink. Even if they turn down your offer, at least you will help them feel appreciated.
At home you may have a great routine that works and control over how much sugar they have. Forget it! Your father-in-law will give them chocolate biscuits just before dinner. Your cousins will start karaoke just as you try to get the baby to sleep. Your mother will tell you how you’re doing everything wrong and undermine your authority at every turn. As long as there are no life or death issues, your kids will survive a few late nights. And eating chocolate for breakfast won’t be something that will continue once you get back.
So chill a little and join in with the fun and focus on creating memories and sharing the traditions you loved as a kid, rather than forcing them to eat brussel sprouts!
Your idea of a perfect Christmas maybe watching Elf, playing monopoly and going into a food coma, after a Christmas Lunch that has taken all day to make and eat; but this might have to be balanced with older relatives ideals of Midnight Mass, playing classical Christmas hymns and watching the Queen’s Speech. Ask which traditions mean the most to each family member and try to fit them in. Spending time together is the aim of the game.
But, if you’d rather eat a bag of raw brussel sprouts than sit through another 3 hour Christmas Mass, ask if you could be in charge of preparing the turkey instead. When they get back do something together, like play their favourite game.
If you are spending Christmas away from 'home' for the first time without your extended family and feeling there is a gap, why not create and develop your own traditions. Try mixing your favourites from your own childhood and add new local traditions you enjoy. Whether it’s drinking gluhwein (Mulled Wine), going to a Krampus festival, or making mince pies or gingerbread houses, embracing local traditions can help make your new country feel more at home.
Friends and Extended Family:
Even when you have travelled 100’s or 1000’s of miles, there can be a lot of pressure and expectation to “do the rounds”. As much as you want to catch up with everyone, it is exhausting. Also they may not appreciate how busy your schedule is and get upset that you don’t have time to see them. Or they might not make the effort to travel 30mins to meet you in an easier location, or even cancel at the last minute throwing your whole plan out the window.
Breathe and have another Snowball and eat a mince pie! Instead set up the expectations as early as possible, say what days and times you have available for visits. One idea would be to organise to meet your friends together for an activity, whether for a meal, visiting a Christmas Market or a winter walk. For extended family and in-laws you may develop a pattern of spending Christmas Eve or Boxing Day with the in-laws or visit them on alternate years if they are far apart.
Keep Calm and Carry On:
It’s the disasters, like the year the oven breaks while you’re cooking the turkey which has to be cooked on the BBQ, or when you drive home through a snowstorm, or the year your husband decided to have a pull-up competition with your cousin's boyfriend that ended in a trip to A&E, that become the funny stories and memories that form YOUR family story that you will be telling and laughing about for years to come. So as long as no one gets seriously injured try to embrace them and look at the funny side. (It was only a dislocated little toe in case you were interested) And yes all these (and more) happened in my family!
What are your tips for a harmonious family Christmas? Do you have any Christmas disaster stories? I would love to hear them in the comments below!