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Surviving the Festive Season

Ever noticed how your adult siblings and your parents suddenly revert to patterns of yesteryear once they are all gathered in the one room for an extended period of time? Or perhaps it’s you who regresses to that little child of years ago. Christmas time is a time famous for family squabbles, depression, domestic violence, and even suicide. So what’s going on and how can we survive and even enjoy the festive season?

It can be a challenge to maintain your sense of adulthood when you are suddenly thrown into the deep end with your family of origin over the Christmas holiday period. For 364 days of the year you may be master of your domain, but it’s easy to feel like you’re ten years old again when you see your brother or sister receive a gift from your parents that you perceive as being better than the one they gave you.

Your family of origin will bring up all your old wounds if you have not yet done the hard work of resolving old hurts. So for Christmas after Christmas, you may find yourself becoming angrier, or more depressed, or any number of negative emotions as you strive to survive the tree trimming, the present unwrapping, and the Christmas dinner ceremony.

Not getting the right present off a parent can revive ghosts of Christmas past, no matter how old you are now. When people feel vulnerable, gifts have the power to hurt others or to raise their spirits. In one family I know, the younger daughter has spent hours each year trying to find a present that her older sister will love and appreciate. And every year, she receives a check in return from that same older sister.

After years of trying to please her sibling, the younger sister became increasingly angry at the time and effort she was pouring into the Christmas relationship, only to be presented year in, year out, with the same old gift: a check. She finally decided she would do the same, and gave her sister a check for the identical amount of money. And so, that Christmas, the two sisters merely exchanged checks for the same amount.

The younger sibling decided that the situation was not only ridiculous but beyond hope. She told her sister that it would be best if they ceased to exchange gifts. Their mother then told the younger sister that she was hurtful and mean to her older sister by ceasing to “even buy your sister a Christmas present.” With these sorts of dynamics happening around the Christmas tree, is it any wonder that many people dread Christmas like the plague?

However, the younger sister has been able to let go of the rage she felt for most of her life at her older sibling. She has even managed to make something positive out of a negative situation. Instead of giving her sister a gift, she gives the money instead to her favorite charity. That way she feels that she’s still giving, but gets a warm buzz instead of a sense of futility and sadness.

I have a very strong feeling about gift-giving at Christmas. If you don’t know what to give a person for Christmas it means one of two things:

1. You don’t know the person well enough to be giving them a gift in the first place and are just going through the motions because you feel you “have to.”
2. You have not taken the trouble to stay close enough to the person to know what they need or would like for a gift.

The remedy is simple for both cases. Stop giving gifts to those who fall in the first category and make a resolution to give your precious time to the friend or family member with whom you’ve lost touch with to the point that you are completely unaware of what they desire. Perhaps you could just give them the gift of your time, which is, after all the greatest gift of all.


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