Katie Byrne: 'Are you and your partner Christmas compatible?'
Lights are twinkling, carollers are singing and chestnuts are roasting. Well, that's the Christmas we'd all like to be having if we weren't sulking with our partners about their pathological inability to find cranberries in the supermarket...
Christmas is supposed to be a time of togetherness, but the truth is that it can be a trigger for lovers' spats and inane bickering. In fact, the couple's quarrel is so common at Christmastime that I'm surprised pre-marriage counsellors haven't added Yuletide-specific questions to their course curricula.
Those who were married in a Catholic Church will know that this mandatory course is designed to help couples broach hot-button issues around topics like family planning, money and the division of labour. What is missing, in my humble opinion, is an entire section on how couples plan to negotiate their first Christmas together.
The first question would get straight to the annual dilemma that most couples face each year: whose family will we spend Christmas with? The next question would look at gift expectations and the question after that would delve into the greatest festive debate of all time: is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
After the question round, the couple could move on to a team-building exercise which would involve putting up a Christmas tree and untangling fairy lights while trying not to kill one another. Of course, the counsellor should also talk to the couple about Christmas compatibility, while pointing out some of the gender differences that are likely to become a flash point during the festive season.
According to studies, women report more stress at Christmastime, largely because they are twice as likely to cook, shop and clean up compared to men. They are also more willing to buy expensive gifts for non-family members and more likely to attribute more meaning to a gift. In other words, the woman who unwraps a household appliance on Christmas morning will probably conclude that the passion has gone forever. The man who wrapped the gift, however, will probably be delighted that he bought such a practical present.
Like it or not, men and women are Christmas incompatible before they even get down to the brass tacks of shiny baubles and tree-toppers. After that, it's about personal preference - and the differences can be startling. What do you say to someone who wants to put up an artificial tree when you associate Christmas with the smell of fresh pine? How do you decline the offer to step into an animal-themed onesie and watch Love Actually? If you're dreaming of a stress-free Christmas, it's time to get acquainted with the couples who become intimate enemies every year:
The Scrooge vs The Big Spender
She wants to spend hundreds of euro on what she calls "table decor". He thinks "luxury Christmas cracker" is an oxymoron. She wants to fill the house with the delicate fragrance of €50-a-pop Diptyque candles. He thinks she needs her head examined. Things reach an ugly impasse when she point-blank refuses to buy the turkey in Lidl.
The Modernist vs The Traditionalist
She wants a classic Christmas dinner of turkey and all the trimmings. He wants to try his hand at Ottolenghi's roast poussins with blood orange and coriander seeds. She wants trifle for dessert - it's her great aunt's recipe after all. Her too-cool-for-Yule husband wants to buy a blow torch and experiment with creme brûlée. The inevitable flash point arrives on Christmas Day when he suggests that they play Bean Boozled rather than charades.
The Busy Bee vs The Coach Potato
He wants to jump into the Forty Foot on Christmas morning. She wants to stay in her pyjamas until 1pm. He wants to hike in the Dublin Mountains on St Stephen's Day. She wants to lie on the couch and watch Edward Scissorhands. Tensions flare when she texts him a turkey sandwich order from the bedroom.
The Grinch vs The Santa
He wants to stroll along Grafton Street, drinking hot chocolate and marvelling at the twinkling lights. She wants to hide away from the empty commercialism of the festive season with a good book and an iconoclastic attitude. Breaking point comes when she refuses to put reindeer antlers on the car.