Take several groups of people: some weird, some reserved, but all generally nice. Mix. Add a dash of hot summer weather and some generous glugs of alcohol. Sprinkle in a bunch of dirty dishes, a few family skeletons, some screaming children, then simmer for a few hours until it boils over and explodes all over your kitchen. Serve immediately and enjoy your Christmastime family reunion.
It’s amazing how often a holiday that promotes love, generosity and togetherness results in screaming matches, backhanded compliments and renewed grudges.
Look, we can’t guarantee this kind of Christmas joy…
…but we can at the very least try to prevent family gang wars with our seven best tips to help you survive the holiday get-together.
1. Bring out your inner scout and be prepared
When writing your to-do list for Christmas, don’t simply limit your preparation to food, drinks, decorations and gifts. Oh, no, no, no. You’ll need to be prepared for a lot more than that when it comes to conversational taboos, family members to keep separated, skeletons in the closet, differing lifestyles, grudges, conversation cues for the people you don’t see all that often… need we go on?
To solve some of these problems, why not assign seating for the Christmas meal? Intersperse frosty aunties with the chatty people who have no self-awareness, and keep conservative Grandpa away from Leonard the vegan, leftist and very openly gay cousin.
A backyard game of touch, a musical performance from some of the kiddies, or some quaint lawn games are also great. You may not be able to control what people say, but at least you can try to distract them from saying it!
2. Do you have your exit buddy?
The most stressful part of Christmas with your family can be the fear that you’ll have to go through it alone. This is why everyone needs an exit buddy for all major family occasions.
Whether it’s sharing the workload, helping you avoid an awkward topic of conversation or run-in with a certain family member, allowing you to vent about said family member with as many expletives as necessary, or simply giving you someone to roll your eyes at from across the room, an exit buddy is integral to getting through the minefield that is a Christmas family reunion. If you don’t have someone in the room, make your exit buddy a friend to constantly text your stresses to!
3. Don’t be bossy; be the boss
In every kitchen you’ll find a ticking time bomb covered in sweat and tears, attempting to cater a beautiful Christmas meal for the ungrateful humans gathered in the next room. This Time Bomb might sometimes be referred to as Mum.
We’re of the firm belief that everyone deserves to share in the fun (or terror) of Christmas with the family. So how best to diffuse this bomb?
Firstly, scan the kitchen and party areas for ways to help. Instead of asking, “What can I do?” turn your question into “Did you want me to take care of the salad/hand out dessert/start the present-giving/douse you in cold water?” Don’t be afraid to delegate by converting these jobs into specific, easily achievable tasks and communicating them to your delegates (a.k.a. the slackers watching cricket). Try to do this in a way that generates sympathy for the Time Bomb and all the work they have to do rather than bossing people around like an uppity primary school teacher or a psychotic drill sergeant.
4. Stop, revive, survive
When it comes to Christmas family reunions, if you cannot take the heat, literally get out of the kitchen. And we’re not just talking about the literal kitchen where the Time Bomb is stressing. Chasing after kids, withstanding awkward family tension, and suffering verbal dissection of your dating life are all physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. As much as you want everyone else to have a great time, remember to help yourself before attending to others. Airline safety procedures know what’s up.
Make sure you are fed and hydrated throughout the day and find a quiet corner of the house to revive for a few minutes every so often. Whether it’s checking Instagram, texting your exit buddy or just taking a few deep breaths, do whatever you need to find some zen and make it last. Ask someone to take over the cooking for a little bit, keep your distance from a family member who is stressing you out, or just go ahead and open a Christmas present early. You deserve it.
5. Lighten up, babe
Yes, we know it’s painful and awkward to discuss your love life, job situation and general happiness with people you barely know, especially when they act as if such gory details are owed to them because they’re family. But it’s important to remember that awkward questions (“Why haven’t you got a boyfriend?”), remarks (“You’ve gained weight since I last saw you!”) and plainly wrong opinions (“That Chris Hemsworth boy just doesn’t appeal to me.”) often stem from a need for attention, insecurities, being purely unaware or simple social awkwardness.
We all have that annoying hellion of an auntie who insists on prying into our private life while making this face:
But no matter what’s been said, who said it, or how they said it, just allow it to bounce off you, be gentle and keep it light. Treat anyone making such comments as if English isn’t their first language and they didn’t mean to say such an awkward, borderline offensive thing. Take a big pause before responding and think about whether addressing this issue really matters. If it doesn’t, smile and move on.
The person who made the offensive comment will probably be relieved that their social gaffe didn’t get taken badly. If it does, try some deflective humour or gentle reassurance, e.g. “Don’t worry, Auntie Sharon, I’m just too much woman for most men,” rather than starting a confrontation. This will lighten the mood, keep everyone happy and relaxed and shut bloody Auntie Sharon up.
6. Think of the children!
On a crowded, overwhelming holiday like Christmas, the best tactic with the young’uns is to get actively involved with them before they tear the place apart. Think musical chairs, Duck, Duck, Goose, board games, a backyard game of cricket, Hot Potato, or touch football. Big group activities are a great way to get the family together, keep the children entertained, and help them use up some of that pent-up “I’m-so-excited-and-angry-and-hungry-and-mischievous-and-keen-for-presents” energy. Plus, it’s a great excuse to stay out of that “When are you going to settle down and have a family of your own?” interrogation.
When you sense the fatigue-induced rage/crying/delirium coming, plop them all down in front of a movie. What do you do if they don’t calm down? Palm them off to their parents and treat yourself to some wine. You’re not Mary freaking Poppins.
7. Steer into the skid
Despite all of our tips, it just wouldn’t be Christmas if things didn’t spectacularly fall apart sometimes. If, in spite of your best efforts, the food goes all over the floor, the little kids start World War III, the adults start World War IV or (shudder) the wine runs out, then simply take a deep breath, let things play out as they must and hope for the best.
Great family memories are often made when the family works together to pick up the pieces when things going wrong, so don’t feel too much pressure to make everything perfect. The best you can do is remain calm, keep up kind and open communication, and make the most out of seeing your loved ones.
… or just remain by the food table and let Christmas ham and prawns solve all your problems.
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