A grinchess' guide to surviving Christmas

10:18 pm on 23 December 2018

First person - Christmas Day is supposed to be about family. But for a lot of us, family is not entirely happiness, joy and twinkling stars.

A scene from the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

A scene from the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Photo: AFP

Some are grieving the loss of loved ones who won't be sitting at the Christmas table for the first time this year.

Some are alone and far from family.

Single parents often find themselves negotiating a tricky path to share fun times with the children on the biggest family day of the year.

And some just wish they were a long, long way from a hot lounge crammed with relatives who make political fanatics and old-timey circus freaks look normal.

The people we love the most are sometimes the people who sledgehammer our rawest nerves the hardest.

Maybe there's an uncle who finds it funny shoving raw steak in the squeamish vegetarian's face.

Or the sister studying commerce who has to tell you you're wasting your life writing a doctoral thesis on indigenous folklore.

So how do those of us who don't adore every moment of Christmas survive it?

Personally, I think it's perfectly acceptable to avoid a celebration that is neither fun nor meaningful for you. If that feels right, make it your Christmas present to yourself.

But if you simply can't shake the chains of family obligation, go easy on yourself.

That means keeping it short, because the less time you spend with relatives who are hard to relate to, the less chance there is that an argument will heat up.

A simple, relaxed approach to celebrating could also save tears.

Presents can be homemade or each person can buy for one family member only, or just for their immediate family. If no one actually needs anything, consider making a family gift to a charity.

No one should ever go into debt to try to keep up with gift-giving that exceeds their means.

Sometimes that means finding clever ways to please the kids, like buying the things they need as presents. Shoes, swimsuits and schoolbags can be perfect gifts that are also kinder to the environment than toys to throw on the pile.

Meals are often happiest when everyone pitches in together to prepare food. That means no single person has to sacrifice themselves slaving over a hot oven for the cause every year.

An alcohol free celebration might sound like hell, but it also might take fuel off smouldering fires of family discord.

Varying the venue, maybe even moving it outdoors, can also ease that 'here we go again' tension.

And most importantly, keep it kind.

Christmas seems a fitting day to be as caring, compassionate and angelic as humanly possible.

That means smiling at that elderly aunty who talks non-stop even with trifle falling out of her mouth, and accepting that cousin who needs to tuck a towel into his collar and lay another on his lap to protect his clothes from possible food spills.

But sometimes angels are honest - they set boundaries and gently but firmly tell the people they love that they are getting close to crossing the line.

Angels don't tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia or any other form of nastiness just to keep the peace.

The festive season can be more peaceful for single parents if both parents agree to a plan to spend part of Christmas Day with the kids, and reverse the plan every second year.

Those who are alone can gather with friends, attend a community Christmas event, or just do something they love for the day. Take the chance to enjoy the beach before the Boxing Day crowds descend.

Starting rituals that feel meaningful for you and your family is another great way to deal with the other type of big C.

Our lives are sometimes only as happy as our imaginations allow.

Imagine your happiest Christmas period ever - then plan how you can make that happen.

Can we start by banning Christmas carols?

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