Coping with Christmas & Family Gatherings (2)

Popular magazines abound with tips on how to survive Christmas. You’ll notice that they mainly deal with the practicalities of food preparation and gift selection, even so far as to give you an "Advent-style” countdown from December 1 onwards telling you what task should be achieved on each particular day. Naturally, they stay well clear of the BIG issues — in short, the difficult issues.

Today we’ll look at these very problems. How best to cope with a difficult parent, an impossible in-law, anger, rage, guilt (a biggie), and loneliness. And still have a Happy Christmas.

  1. Take a leaf from the magazines and be prepared. Make lists of both food and gifts, well before Christmas and purchase what you need as early as possible. Often, stressful situations are exacerbated by tiredness and irritability.
  2. Look after yourself physically in the lead up to Christmas. Eat sensibly, get plenty of sleep, and make sure to exercise regularly, even if it’s just a 10 minute walk each day. Make this a commitment to your own personal happiness – a Christmas gift to yourself, if you like.
  3. Plan something pleasurable to do on the day after Christmas. This may be as simple as watching a movie you haven’t had time to see, or catching up with a friend you want to see. The thought of this “reward” can sustain you through whatever the relatives may deliver (as opposed to Santa).
  4. Try to bear in mind the real meaning of Christmas. If you are not a Christian, focus instead on the beauty of nature. Try to find 10 minutes early on Christmas morning to be alone. Perhaps in the local park or in your garden. Be aware of the soothing effects of nature around you—the wind moving the trees, a flower, a leaf, a bird. Try to remember this image throughout the day. Better still, bring that leaf or flower home with you and place it in your pocket or on the dinner table. When your brother-in-law starts his usual hypercritical monologue, your mother nags you that you’re not yet married, your partner becomes aggressive, and the noise of the children gets you down, touch your leaf or flower or whatever. Even if it only breaks the cycle for a moment, you will know that the cycle can be broken.
  5. If you habitually come away from a Christmas family get-together feeling bad, then look at ways that you can make a difference to someone outside your family this Christmas. Our cities and towns abound with lonely people. Find time to reach out to them and offer them something of yourself this Christmas. It may be a small inexpensive gift, a card they wouldn’t otherwise receive, a visit, a meal. By looking outward at the greater world, you won’t get caught up so much in your own family world. Plus you’ll feel good about yourself.

Stay tuned for dealing with the big issues—abusive family members, old hurts, guilt, and loneliness.

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