The ultimate festive survival guide
'Tis the season to be... maudlin. That's right, we're heading into an emotional perfect storm. Tanya Sweeney tells you how to survive the relatives, the excess, the hangovers, and all the other pitfalls that go with the territory
Christmas comes but once a year, and for many people once is more than enough. Amid the glitter, the gifts and the goodwill to all men lies a veritable minefield. Between family politics, maudlin memories and whether to have that 14th sausage roll or not, Christmas induces enough anxiety to make even the most level-headed of revellers reach for a cold compress.
So how to navigate through the choppy waters of what Andy Williams euphemistically described as the most wonderful time of the year? Read on...
How not to get maudlin
Some might say that a life without a spot of emotional Russian roulette is a life half-lived. We've all had a dark moment of the soul and taken it out on the nearest phone/ computer, with our drunken, teary confessions destined to float in cyberspace forever more.
Alas, Christmas, with its sense of heightened expectations and twee sepia tint, creates the perfect storm for sending the sort of text that should otherwise be locked in a vault.
Heed this precautionary take from New Zealand: earlier this year, 20-year-old Joshua Simon Ashby was jailed after posting naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend online in a 'drunken jealous rage'. The humiliating episode didn't stop there, as Ashby texted his ex and threatened to kill her. He pleaded guilty to distributing indecent material and six other charges.
Seems like a rather pricey drinking session, and yet drunk-dialling/ Facebooking is one mishap that befalls most people.
However, help is at hand. The Social Media Sobriety Test forces computer users to pass a motor-skills test before allowing them on Facebook or Twitter. Handy for anyone who gets trigger-happy after a few too many Drambuies.
How to handle the rellies
Christmas brings out the inner child in most people. However, there are relatives who take this somewhat literally. With the right spinster aunt around, we all become six years old again, right down to the selection-box gift and dogged requests to play the piano (or perform a similar 'party piece'). If you're single, this routine is even more acute.
However, there is a means of survival. Keep safe conversational topics, such as the weather or 'The X Factor', to hand. If you're hosting a shindig, ensure that the day is filled with enough activity so that there's little room for the pervy uncle or drunken cousin to veer off into idle talk/criticism/a 'loose hands' routine.
And ensure you have an ally around whom you can signal in case of emergency. Just make sure said ally isn't your pervy uncle.
How to survive an overnight stay in the family home
Difficult though it may be, please try to remember that you are an adult, with your own home and life, and you are, for all intents and purposes, a guest in your parents' home. Ergo: no guzzling milk directly from the carton, no remote-control hogging and no sitting in your room sulking into your iPod.
How to ensure your partner gets you the present you want
Dropping hints is so gauche, but, alas, something of a necessary evil.
Lay down the law by revealing that kitchenware, lingerie, gizmos (flatscreen telly, Xbox) or anything that might constitute a gift for both of you is a no-no. Holidays and mini-breaks are the one exception to this rule.
In some cases, it might be best to point your other half to a shop of your choice and let them have free rein on the actual choosing of the gift. Vouchers are dishearteningly unimaginative, but at least you'll end up with something you might actually use.
And if your partner gets you the same thing as last year, drag them right over the coals.
How to survive your time in a soup kitchen
You've had the early-December family bust-up, and in a fit of pique you've decided to devote your Christmas Day to helping the needy. It's a pre-emptive strike that seemed like a perfectly fine idea at the time, yet come the day you need to come good on your promise.
Once you've signed up, don't tell anyone about your hissy fit; as far as anyone on the job is concerned, you're doing it out of sheer altruism. And, believe it or not, the warm fuzzy feeling you'll experience inside from your good deed is way better than the one you'll get from all those glasses of mulled wine.
How to survive your boyfriend's office party
Much as your boyfriend loves you for your brains and sparkling wit, you are essentially being brought along as arm candy. Dress as sexily as you feel comfortable getting away with.
He'll be delighted to be able to show you off, and you'll also send a subliminal message to his female co-workers that you're not to be messed with.
Broadly speaking, you'll know next to no one at your man's office do. The upside of this, of course, is that your slate is completely clean.
What to say: "He's amazing around the kitchen. You should see what he did for me last night."
What not to say: "He's amazing in the bedroom. You should see what he did for me last night."
How to tackle hangovers
First things first. Contrary to popular opinion, the best way out of a hangover is not to keep drinking. You will need to face the music at some point or another.
Your first task is to replace the liquids and vitamins (B and C) that have been sapped from your body after a drinking sesh. Sports drinks replace lost fluids and salts faster.
Many swear by a greasy breakfast; others prefer something less demanding and more simple, such as toast. Wholegrains are thought to be a good choice; carbs will provide energy, while cereals are packed with vitamin B.
Other slightly more out-there solutions include drinking pickle juice (a favourite in Poland) and burying yourself up to the neck in moist river sand (an ancient Irish remedy). Paracetamol is also thought to be a shortcut to normalcy, but bear in mind that your liver is already under considerable stress after a night of drinking.
Alka-Seltzer contains a small dose of pain relief and, as it settles the stomach, it may be a better option than paracetamol.
How to work the office party
Strike a balance between showing your true personality and still looking a little mysterious and demure. Resist the urge to show everyone what they're missing by sexing it up; instead, try clingy but covered- up in a sexy wiggle dress or a prom dress in a statement colour.
If you want to wow your superiors, find some sort of common ground with them instead, such as books or travel. If there's anyone you're under an obligation to meet/ schmooze/plámás whatever, do it early on, while you're fresh and they're sober enough to remember.
How to be a great gift-buyer
There is one very simple, failsafe rule associated with being a good gift-buyer: listen. In the past 12 months, you'll no doubt have had a conversation with a friend about their love of The Script/'Come Dine With Me'/pink socks. Show that you were paying attention to them by buying them something related.
That giggle of recognition you'll hear when someone opens a present that you've thought long and hard about is priceless -- eBay is your friend in this instance, replete as it is with esoteric, hard-to-find memorabilia.
How to get the best out of the st Stephen's Day sales
With no end of bargains looking for a good home, St Stephen's Day shopping becomes less a fun expedition and more an endurance test. In all, the sales are a great chance to spruce up your wardrobe and secure key investment pieces with limited funds. That is, if you know what you're doing.
Preparation is key to a successful expedition. So, for a successful day on the high street, forget about enjoying a night on the tiles beforehand -- sales and hangovers are a lethal combination.
Come the morning of sales day have a high-fibre, low-GI breakfast (think muesli, yogurt and smoothies as opposed to chocolate muffins and lattes). If your blood-sugar dips in the middle of the Brown Thomas Luxury Hall, consider yourself a goner.
Another rule of thumb is not to go a-hunting with a pal who is the same dress size and has a similar style. Expect plenty of frosty exchanges if you set your sights on the same bargains. Go solo, pack an iPod and turn the volume up if you need respite from the madding crowd.
Also, have a very clear idea of what you want to buy. Seasoned pros believe that one sort-of expensive piece will always trump five items you've found on the €5 rail.
How to avoid it altogether
Of course, it could be that, amid the family tensions, present-buying pressure and the mince pies, you want to sidestep the whole shooting match altogether. Short of converting to Judaism or Islam, there are ways of surmounting the season.
Invest in an 'escape fund' that allows you to eject yourself to somewhere where Christmas is not an unending orgy of consumerism.
You could, of course, sit at home and pretend the whole thing isn't happening, but where's the fun in that? Search among your social circle to find a kindred soul, and have an 'anti-Christmas' get-together, with an embargo on mince pies, puddings and crackers.
How to avoid the remote-control wrestling match
Nothing marks a family Christmas quite like the tussle over the TV guide and remote control. Rather than get frazzled, treat the entire debacle as an inescapable part of any Irish Christmas. Similarly, the soaps are part and parcel of the family Christmas package.
Anyone, however, who wants to watch musicals such as 'Oliver!' and 'The Sound Of Music' deserves to be smothered. And if you really want to see something on the television and can't wrestle the remote from your mother's vice-like grip, tell her Craig Doyle will be in it. Any. Minute. Now.
How to curb the calories
There's no need to undo the good work you've put in for the rest of the year. But how to stay food-smart without being a killjoy? Ahead of any party, eat a healthy, filling meal at home.
Load up on proteins, which will make you feel fuller for longer. Low-GI foods and complex carbs (brown rice or pasta) will keep your blood sugar stable. That way, you'll be more likely to resist the temptation to graze mindlessly at the buffet table.
If you do find yourself at a buffet table, stick with crackers and cheese spread, veggie sticks and hummus. Keep away from creamy dips: a tablespoon of sour-cream dip has a staggering 170 calories. Avoid deep-fried finger foods such as chicken nuggets, cocktail sausages or samosas too -- one tiny cocktail sausage can have more than 60 calories and 5g of fat! Vol-au-vents, quiches and other pastry-based foods are also high in fat -- remember pastry is usually 50pc fat.
However, nothing quite dampens a Christmas dinner quicker than someone harping on about how many WeightWatchers points there are in a spoonful of stuffing. You have been warned.
How to deal with annoying grandchildren
They are under the impression that you're grateful for their company; you just want a quiet life. Sometimes, even though their hearts are in the right place, family can feel overbearing at a time when you probably just want your own space.
If you want to avoid that pity party, tell your grandchildren that you have plans of your own and that you'll find it hard to squeeze them in amid your own schedule of parties and shindigs. Once they know that you're not needy and desperate for attention, your time together should feel less like a chore. Who knows; you might learn a thing or two from them. And vice versa.
Christmas and divorce
It's (nearly) 2011 and we're no longer in the land of the 2.4 children family, Toto. A divorce or separation can drop something of a political hot potato into your Christmas Day plans.
Ahead of the day itself, it's best to set out some ground rules about where to spend the day, and with whom. Will your kids be with you, or the ex? A good rule of thumb is to share children between Christmas and New Year, and alternate between the two each year.
You may feel under pressure -- from children, mainly -- to spend Christmas with your ex. Don't feel obliged to play happy families if you're not up to it; in fact, doing so might just create a false sense of expectation for your children that a reconciliation might be in order.
In the long run, it's best if they know in black and white that you and your ex are moving on, together but separately.
Top comebacks for the 'Have you got a man yet?' line of questioning
- No, have you?
- Do you not read the papers? I've just dumped Colin Farrell.
- I do! We're keeping in touch via letter as he's on Death Row right now, but I KNOW he's The One.
- Yes. His name's God.
- Take it from me, Granny, as soon as I get serious with any of them, you and my gynaecologist will be the first to know.
- No, my problem is that the seven guys I'm seeing say I've got commitment issues.
THE STUFF YOU CAN BLAME ON WINE
Hook-up dysmorphia: One minute you've got a glass of cheeky Sancerre in your hand, the next thing you know you're holed up in some corner with a new ‘friend'. It's only when the lights come on that you realise ‘Robert’ has suddenly turned into Robert De Niro (in ‘Taxi Driver’). Your bad. Or at least, Sancerre's bad.
Crying for no reason: You thought you were over that crush from First Year, so why are you sobbing on your friend's shoulder, wailing that you're actually a very nice person? She, meanwhile, makes a mental note to say she's washing her hair the next time you want to meet.
Making plans you'll regret: One thing that makes a hangover even worse than normal is the realisation that you've just signed yourself up for a two-week holiday with your in-laws, or you'll help your mate pack shopping bags in Tesco to Save The Meerkats. Suffice to say that you still have to put your money where your mouth is once you've sobered up.
Morning-after face: Forget panda eyes and puffy cheeks — how about them chin zits, stubble rash and busted blood vessels? Chardonnay — good for social lubrication, not so much for a problem-free face.
A newfound appreciation for ‘Two And A Half Men’: in the throes of a hangover, most of us aren't fit for anything except waiting for the Chinese to open and watching rubbish TV from the comfort of the sofa. And so another Saturday afternoon is lost forever.
Conversations that don't make sense: suddenly, and with the kind assistance of Shiraz, you're an expert on everything from astronomy to NAMA. Plus, you'll laugh at just about anything, including conversations on astronomy and NAMA.
HOW TO DEAL WITH CHILDREN THAT AREN’T YOURS
As in wider life, there are two schools of thought when it comes to children during the festive season: one believes that it isn't quite Christmas without the little mites; the other would like to see them all tucked up in bed and waiting for Santa — all week. If children are a necessary part of your own Christmas package, get them on side with a selection box or gift (nothing too flashy, mind — you wouldn't want to upstage Santa).
You might encounter an ungrateful child — if you do, simply say that if they don't appreciate your gift, you can always find a child that will. If you are genuinely anti-nippers, try to curb your curmudgeonly ways. Cast your mind back to your own childhood Christmases; was there a sulking family friend or surly aunt in the mix?
All told, you don't want to be that blot on a kid's festive memories. And if you are childless, at least take comfort from the fact that, as a non-parent, you've not been subjected that most quietly malignant of forces: pester power.