Driving home for Christmas? For many, it’s a cause for festive fear — not cheer.
Every fourth person is dreading spending extra time with their families this December, one survey has shown.
And between grumpy grandads and nosey aunts, the comedy Christmas with the Kranks won’t just be on telly, it’s likely to be playing out in living rooms across the land too.
“We’re sold this perfect idea of Christmas from movies,” says therapist Tony Moore of Relationships Ireland. “The table is perfect, the turkey is perfect, there are no arguments.
“At Christmas, you’ve got all of these characters who normally don’t see each other. Suddenly, they’re all together and it’s supposed to be happy families.
“But I’m afraid nothing much has changed, apart from the fact that it’s December 25.”
From dealing with drunks to fielding questions about your love life, we asked the experts their advice on surviving Christmas with a cast of real-life cranks.
Here’s how to deck the halls — not one of your relatives — this yuletide.
From the wrapping of the presents to the setting of the table, meddling mothers-in-law are as synonymous with Christmas as turkey sandwiches. Happily, there is a way to avoid getting in a flap, and telling yours to get stuffed, according to Moore. “What a lot of the in-laws, particularly the mothers-in-law do, is they come in and they start taking over,” he says. “They say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing it this way — you should be doing it that way’. It is a bit of a diplomatic nightmare. Dads are not too bad because you give them a beer, sit them in a chair, and they’re OK.”
Avoid more drama than the EastEnders Christmas special by politely listening to your in-law’s recommendations — then doing it your own way anyway.
“Most of the time they’ve got good intentions,” says Moore. “They’re not deliberately trying to be horrible. My advice is to smile and say, ‘Great, thanks for showing me that’ — and then do your own thing once she’s out of the way.”
’Tis the season to be jolly — but there’s always one visitor who didn’t seem to get the memo. Faced with a grumpy grandad who’d make even the Grinch look like Buddy the Elf, give Amy Adams a run for her money at the Oscars by “acting opposite to how you feel”, says Dr Eoin Galavan of the Connolly Counselling Centre in Dublin. “Often what that person makes you feel like doing is giving out, or becoming Grinch-like yourself. So acting the opposite is a really useful way to keep a lid on those feelings — and keep the day going in the direction you want it to go in.”
Leave getting frazzled to the fairy lights by watching your tone of voice and language. “Being pleasant to someone, even when they’re being mean, is a really good way of stopping that situation getting worse,” says the clinical and counselling psychologist.
“It’s actually just about taking ownership of your own behaviour. We can’t always help what comes into our minds — but we can always help what comes out of our mouths.”
Lonely this Christmas? Standing under the mistletoe is nothing compared to sitting next to that inquisitive aunty at the dinner table, argues psychologist Joan Long of the Clinic Cuanín in Cork. “The same old questions are rolled out at Christmas,” she says.
“People pass comments like, ‘Who will you be kissing under the mistletoe?’ or ‘Will you ever give us a big day out?’ For people who are single, and don’t want to be, it can be very hurtful.”
Gift wrap your response in good time to ensure the only thing that boils over this December 25 is the Brussels sprouts.
“I always recommend having a few phrases ready to roll off the tip of your tongue,” says the expert, who also runs dating agency Grá Connect. “Even practise saying them out loud when you’re on your own so you know what the words sound like. Something like, ‘No, I’m quite happy and content on my own — but you’ll be the first to know.’ You just have to bat it off.”
Christmas with the clan wouldn’t be complete without the truculent uncle who criticises your carving skills before moaning about his mattress in the morning. Stop biting your tongue this year, and bite back, says Moore. “Sometimes I think we can be too diplomatic,” he says. “If you’ve invited someone round for Christmas dinner, and they’re being exceptionally rude, I don’t think they have a right to do that. If somebody’s there swearing or making cutting remarks say, ‘Hey, Michael, can I just have a quick chat in the garden?’, and tell them to lay off. If they don’t like it, they can make their excuses and go.”
And one too many mulled wines is no excuse for putting up with the real-life Bad Santa either, says the therapist. “You can say, ‘Oh well, it’s Christmas’, but if someone is getting drunk because it’s Christmas Day. Well, December 25 or not, I think you have to call it out.”
With all the family gathered under one roof again, the Ghost of Christmas past is almost guaranteed to rear its ugly head, as one sibling invariably behaves like they’re five, not 35.
“There can be a reversal to childhood roles,” says Galavan. “We almost never spend a lot of time with our siblings in this kind of intensified way. Between the alcohol and lack of sleep, it’s a recipe for unresolved issues to creep up to the surface.”
Christmas is not the time to discuss who decapitated your favourite doll three decades ago, says the psychologist, who suggests “taking a bit of space and laying off the sauce” in a bid to get on better with your brothers and sisters this festive season.
“A lot of the issues in themselves aren’t that important, but the emotional experience that goes with it really is,” he says.
“If something does arise with a sibling, how you handle that emotional experience is just as important as whether they’re right or wrong about whatever the issue is.”
Top five tips for surviving Stress-mas at home
- Dreading a visit from everyone except Santa this year? Stave off unwanted guests over the festive season by phoning them or by dropping in with a gift.
- Lay off the eggnog and get plenty of sleep to help prevent your blood pressure rocketing when Aunty Norah asks when you’re going to give her a big day out — again.
- Try to cut irritating relatives a little slack this Christmas. It is the season of goodwill, after all— and even Ebenezer Scrooge wasn’t all bad.
- Count back from 10 before saying something you’ll regret to that interfering gran or bratty godchild —just think of it as practise for the next family gathering.
- If it all gets too much, simply make like Home Alone’s Kevin McCallister and make it all “disappear” by going for a walk or by taking a long soak in the bath.