Monday 16 September 2019

Handy hints to surviving - even enjoying - your Christmas break

Christmas with family
Christmas with family

Mary O'Conor

For me hearing the Barry's Tea Christmas ad on the radio, with the mellifluous tones of the actor declaring "Santa will bring them what they want - this is from me" marks the beginning of the countdown to Christmas. For others it is when O Holy Night is played for the first time during the season, and then there are those who associate a particular film like Home Alone with Christmas.

It is a time of tradition, excitement, anticipation and much more. Watching a child for the first time when she or he gets to the tree and sees that Santa brought them exactly what they asked for is almost magical.

But for all the highs there is a downside to Christmas as well. As a nation we take a very long break at Christmas - apart from those who are working in the service or retail industries. When I tell American friends that the country almost shuts down until after the New Year has begun, they are incredulous as their biggest holiday, Thanksgiving, is spread over just one long weekend.

Our hugely long break means families are spending much more time together than they normally do, and things can get a little tense unless some thought is put into making Christmas as enjoyable as it can be. Also bear in mind that the actual Christmas dinner may include people who are not normally with the family and who may be feeling all sorts of differing emotions, from joy at being included to downright resentment at having to be there.

So here are some suggested do's and don'ts to help you get through the Christmas period and come out smiling.

If it is too late for some of them, try to keep them in mind for next Christmas - the holiday season seems to arrive more quickly with each passing year.

* Do

n If you are hosting then ask for help with the Christmas dinner. This can be difficult for some people because they feel that the guests should not have to do anything. However it is no fun to watch somebody being run off their feet, while all the time proclaiming that there is nothing that the guests can do. There are lots of things that have to be done, from answering the door to stashing the dishwasher or simply pouring drinks, that can make everybody feel they are doing their bit to make a success of the day. Children in particular love to be involved.

n Agree on a limit to spend on presents. People have different incomes so in advance agree on a budget of, say, €20 per present. Alternatively have Kris Kindle where, also in advance, names are put into a hat and one person is nominated to buy for one other person.

* I always find it great fun, and it decreases my workload, to give everybody who is staying in the household over Christmas, be they family or guest, one day when they are responsible for all the catering. So after Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day which is traditionally leftovers, the designated person looks after lunch and dinner. As they have only one day to cope with they often look on it as a challenge and have fun coming up with ideas.

* Be particularly mindful of those who have lost a loved one during the year, particularly if it was unexpected or at a young age. The first Christmas without them is a really difficult time and this should be acknowledged. Naturally there will be tears but that is good and natural and far preferable to people pretending it didn't happen and trying to jolly along the bereaved.

* Be careful with alcohol intake especially around children.

* Somebody may be bringing a new partner or a stepchild to the gathering who has not been to your home previously. Try to include them as much as possible and be aware that they might much prefer to be somewhere else rather than with you. They will have had their own traditions for Christmas up until now and may be finding it very hard to adjust to new circumstances.

* If you are invited for Christmas then lift the phone right now and check if there is anything specific they would like you to take care of, such as Christmas crackers or cheese which the hosts may have forgotten. This is far better than asking vaguely if there is anything that you can bring.

* Some of the old games, such as Charades or Monopoly can be great fun. So have a couple of them ready to go and give people a choice. They can be far more entertaining than everybody sitting looking at the TV, and hidden talents often come to the fore when playing them.

* Don't

* Don't talk about parents or in-laws as if they were commodities. I've heard from some mothers and mothers-in-law, particularly those who are widowed, who feel anxious at this time. They don't want to be a burden to their families, and when they overhear remarks like 'we had her last year, now it's your turn' among siblings they feel particularly vulnerable. Naturally this is not true for the majority of homes, but it is real enough to warrant me writing about it.

* Don't complain if a family member is not coming home for Christmas. If they have children they may want to start their own family traditions and children often prefer to remain in their own homes rather than go to a relative, no matter how much they love them. Skype and Facetime are wonderful in such cases.

* Don't buy presents for children without consulting with their parents.

* Don't stay indoors all the time. Get out, even if just for a short walk, each day. Cabin fever is a very real possibility otherwise. This in turn makes people jumpy and tense and can lead to unnecessary arguments.

* Don't leave it to the last minute to assemble flat-pack presents. It is no fun at all to be up after midnight on Christmas Eve with a very full day ahead trying to decipher increasingly difficult assembly instructions.

* Don't expect people to change. If somebody has always annoyed you and has the ability to rile you then it is up to you not to let them get to you this Christmas. Try a big smile when they are being particularly galling and you will find that helps. Then let it go - life is too short.

* Don't forget about yourself, particularly if you are the host. It is perfectly acceptable to take some time for yourself especially when guests are with you for more than a day.

* Don't allow the conversation to become fraught which often happens when politics, religion or some other controversial issues come up. Change the topic before it is too late.

* Don't ask a person who is single why they are not yet married! They know why they aren't, it's none of your business and you really don't need to know.

* Don't ignore the non-drinkers. There are some lovely non-alcoholic cocktails that require just a little ingenuity to make and result in the recipient being made to feel special because all they usually get is sparkling water.

Above all try to have fun.

May I wish all my readers and particularly those who have written to me during the year the happiest and most relaxed Christmas ever.

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