Friday 20 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: How to survive your family at Christmas

Christmas with family
Christmas with family
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Following on from last week's definitive guide to the Christmas drinking, which was an irresponsible article about drinking too much at Christmas, many of you have asked me to produce a definitive guide to Christmas in general. To give some tips and rules and general wisdom on issues like eating, family and gifting. So here goes with my inaugural, and possibly only ever, definitive guide to surviving the festive season:


Christmas is all about the eating really. It's about eating beyond your capabilities. It's about eating until you can take no more and then eating again. My expert advice would be that you just go with it to some extent. Just take time out from whatever dieting regime you are doing and just roll with the gluttony. You will, at several times over the season come to a point where you say 'enough', and you will decide that you are never going to eat again, or that you are going to just eat toast and boiled eggs, or salad, for the rest of the season. But that won't happen. Because the appetite, much like the liver, has miraculous regenerative powers. So one minute you're lying on the couch, sweating, unable to move and swearing off food, and the next minute, you're making a sandwich with ham, turkey, stuffing, sprouts, sliced roast potatoes, a bit of mash, and crisps. My advice? Heat the sprouts and the potatoes slightly in the microwave before you put them in a sandwich. It makes them more receptive to the butter.

The main thing is to put a hard end date on the eating and don't go past that date. January 6 is reasonable. I always feel you can lose weight in the same amount of time it takes you to put it on. So if you've been eating heavily for four weeks by January 6, then you should be back in shape by early February. There is no scientific evidence to back that up.


Family at Christmas is much like food at Christmas. There's too much of it, it makes you sick, and you've had enough very early in the season but there's still loads more of it to go. A few simple rules should help here: Similar to the eating, you should have a hard end date on family. Again, January 6 might be an idea, but it's down to whatever you feel you can do. For some of you, Christmas Eve might be the cut off point. Whatever works for you. Once you have some deadline where you know that, after that date, you will never see these people again. Of course you will have to see them again, next Christmas being the most obvious time, but don't think about that for now.

Another easy rule for families is that you should ignore everything any of them say, because none of it is going to help, and at worst it will drive you around the twist. The wearing of headphones is probably taking it a step too far, but if you have discreet wireless ones you might think of wearing them and listening to a calming audiobook while pretending to engage with relations you see only at Christmas. Trust me, they won't even notice whether you are listening or not.

Immediate family is more of a problem because they may live with you, which can make it difficult to get away from them. In that situation you just have to assume that they want to get away from you as much as you want to get away from them. They say kids just want your time. And that's true to a point, but they also want you to go away and leave them at their devices. A family in which each person is in a different room plugged into a device may not find favour with the feelgood gurus of parenting, but it is a family that will survive Christmas.

I would also recommend feigning a meditation habit. This is paying huge dividends for me and it's disguised as self-improvement so no one can criticise you for it.


If in doubt, for a lady, give her a very over-priced candle. This will be handy in the event of a powercut over Christmas. For a man, maybe consider a torch for the same eventuality, or else a book. In my experience men know what they like in socks and prefer to buy their own. Also I should warn you it's wrong to buy a woman lingerie these days. Especially if you are not in a relationship with her.

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