A guide to surviving Christmas with the family

Posted by Bronwyn Douman on 18 December 2013

The festive season is upon us. A time for over-indulging on food, bubbly, and just about anything related of Christmas. However, this time of year can be stressful for those hosting and preparing the dinner or lunch feast. Whether you’re sweating the small stuff with to-do lists covering the fridge, or if you prefer a more carefree approach, here are 10 tips to help you stay blameless and stress-free this Christmas.

Avoid shopping on Christmas Eve

It’s tempting, I know. A frenzy of shopping – sales and specials, free samples and promotions, the allure of special deals on gift packs – who can resist? You can. Stay strong. Unless you enjoy struggling to find parking and standing in long queues waiting to reach the front of the line, then avoid Christmas shopping this eve because it’s a nightmare. Shopping at the 11th hour will make you anxious as you’re pressed for time, and you might not find what you are looking for because everything has been bought by punctual shoppers. If you’re going to be frantically searching for fresh cream, or nuts, or berries you’re going to cause yourself unnecessary stress and frustration. Don’t do it.

Gift-giving – set a realistic budget for presents

Presents on Christmas should essentially be about the act of gift-giving. Whichever end of the salary scale you fall on (or whether you’re a student) gift-giving should not be about breaking the bank to impress a family member (especially if you’re a new addition to the family). If your family is participating in the Secret Santa gift exchange then set a realistic budget for presents. Make it an amount, or price range, that everyone will be able to afford. If a child wants something that is beyond the budget, speak to them and explain why they cannot have it. However, it can be disappointing when you give a gift to a family member that is thoughtful and generous, and what you get in return is most likely something impersonal that you suspect has been re-gifted. The best thing to do is to politely accept it and think about those who are not as fortunate to receive a gift this Christmas.

If you are hosting Christmas

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t try and do everything yourself. Do delegate the responsibility. Make a list of what each person needs to do and then oversee it. If you like to be in charge then supervise but keep your distance – be helpful but not obstructive.  Even if you’re the host, you too deserve some R&R so treat yourself to a healthy dose of laughter, a refreshing drink and a relaxing bath afterwards. Allow other people to help you lighten your load and make this festive season one that is filled with happy memories and not begrudging ones.

Expect the unexpected guests

Christmas gate-crashers are a reality. During the festive season, over compensate and prepare for an influx of visitors as you open your home to family and friends. Always try to prepare some extra snacks, finger-food and desserts for those relatives who pop in for a quick nibble but don’t leave before they’ve managed to make a serious dent in your pantry.

Family squabbles

If a relative is getting on your last nerve and you’re about to explode, then give yourself a time-out and perhaps call a friend to vent. Better yet, keep calm and down another glass of bubbly. However, drinking too much champagne until you gather the bottle courage to confront this person in a drunken haze is not the best way to handle the situation. Remember to drink moderate amounts of alcohol and try to alternate soft drinks or water with alcoholic ones. Don’t drink and drive. Family gatherings during this time of the year are complicated – discussions become heated and things may get tense because of the family-time-overdose.  Avoid getting into, or involved in, family squabbles. Avoid serious discussions at the table especially about religion or politics. If someone says something you disagree with, just nod and smile. No argument is worth the trouble of spoiling this special day.

For some comic relief

Try to be funny, or at least interesting, and if that fails, gather everyone together to watch a holiday feel-good movie. Kid-friendly movies (ones about that are sure to soften up even your most grumpy relative) are a great idea to squeeze out a few hearty laughs from young and old alike. Pick a cute animation with the ‘ahhh’ factor. Comedies are also great way to lighten the mood. Family videos are always a good way to bring the family together. Take a stroll (or speed walk) down memory lane by telling family stories to the children or flipping through old photo albums.

The dreaded Christmas clean-up

It’s only fair that the host should not have to clean up after slaving away over a hot stove to prepare the Christmas feast (that’s unless everyone pitched in to make the food). Pull up your sleeves and offer to clear the table and do the dishes. It’s a messy job but someone’s gotta do it. This not only aids digestion but also avoids arguments over who is going to wash up. If you’re eager to escape the awkward pauses in between conversation or tension after an argument, make sure there is always a dish or plate left to wash as this ensures a great excuse for an early exit.

Do something good for others

There are several charitable initiatives to help the disadvantaged this time of the year. A great way to teach your children to be charitable is to lead by example this Christmas. Deliver food to a shelter, or hand out food parcels or hampers yourself, or participate in a party for hospitalised children, or the elderly. You could ask your family to donate money to a charity instead of buying you a gift. A selfless act of charity not only contributes to the benefit of others, but will bring you a greater sense of pleasure than receiving a material gift.

You can’t please everyone, don’t let criticism get you down

So the food is under or over-seasoned, you didn’t follow grandma’s special recipe down to a tee and that is why the dish or dessert flopped, or you’re out of drinks (well… that might be a real problem). It’s important to remember that you won’t be able to please everyone. If you get a few raised eyebrows, glaring glances or pursed-lips from the odd relative, just shake it off. Don’t make a scene. Swallow your pride and just smile and nod. Sometimes the criticisms may be more harsh than constructive, just take it with a pint of salt.

The important thing is to enjoy your company around the table

The best place to be during this time of year is at home with those most dear to you. But if your Christmas’s are usually tense, bring along a new friend to keep everyone on their best behaviour or someone whom everyone can bond over disliking. This will distract relatives and give everyone something new to talk about.

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