For many families Christmas is the only time of the year when everyone gets together under one roof to ‘celebrate’. Unfortunately, there’s often a very good reason for this gathering remaining just an annual ritual; sibling rivalries, past grudges and personality clashes abound. There’s more than a grain of truth in the old adage; “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family”!
However, Christmas is the time for goodwill to all men (and women and children) and it is possible for the day to be relatively harmonious if a little simple psychology is employed. Here are some tried and tested tips to help make your festive season at least peaceful, if not merry and bright!
1. Take a stroll down memory lane
It’s a common psychological assumption that the past was better in some way than the present. Summers were always hotter when we were children, Christmases were always white and school days were the best years of our lives.
You can capitalize on this often misplaced nostalgia by digging out old photo albums for everyone to pore over while downing a glass of mulled wine (or eggnog for the over eighties). Why not start a new family ‘tradition’ and encourage everyone to bring an album of their own. Now just sit back and wallow in the waves of new-found bonhomie!
2. The Devil makes work for idle hands …
Leaving people who don’t get on cooped up in a room with alcohol and nothing to do is a recipe for disaster; arguments will soon break out. Pre-empt problems by assigning those who are relatively able-bodied and still sober a few simple, non-taxing tasks. Uncle George could be dispatched to the garden with the kids to find a sprig of holly for the Christmas pudding and Auntie Griselda could perhaps be persuaded to put the Christmas crackers on the table. You might be best advised not to put the grandson’s latest Goth girlfriend in charge of the CD player though.
3. Movie magic
Before the big day choose a really jolly, feel-good family film to create a good atmosphere; something with cute cartoon penguins and the ‘ahhh’ factor usually works well. A good old classic with lots of snow and crooning (you know the one I mean) will get the oldies reminiscing and keep everyone relaxed and in a festive frame of mind.
4. Choose your menu with care
Make a list of everyone you’re catering for on Christmas day and double check for preferences, allergies etc. A row is guaranteed if you’ve forgotten that your niece turned vegan last year and her baby brother was diagnosed with a turkey allergy over the summer.
If dinner is likely to be delayed, make sure you’ve plenty of snacks within easy reach for guests to nibble on while their waiting. This also serves to soak up excess alcohol which should prevent a repeat of last year when Granddad insisted on trying out the kids’ sledge in the back garden and ended up in A&E.
5. Enjoy a festive stroll
If the weather is clement, and especially if it’s been snowing, suggest a walk after lunch. This not only aids digestion but also avoids arguments over who is going to wash up and will help anyone who is rashly contemplating a New Year’s diet to get a head start and burn off a few calories. And after an excess of sprouts, you wouldn’t want to be stuck inside in a confined space with Granny so the more fresh air to be had the better.
6. Suggest a sing-a-long
If conversation threatens to degenerate into disagreement, suggest a singsong or better still a karaoke game. Participation should be optional; don’t press-gang people into taking part if they really don’t want to. Just make it clear that anyone who insists of being a party pooper and refuses to join in with everyone else has automatically volunteered to do the washing up. This tactic usually ensures a pretty decent take-up.
7. Parlour games
Another fun way of avoiding arguments and encouraging interaction and participation is to play parlour games. Charades is a very popular one and can be played by young and old. Give some thought to this before the big day and write down some suitable book titles, films, plays etc on coloured cards. Maybe put aside a few suitable props too and perhaps buy a few small novelty prizes for the winners.
8. Quiet time
People very often find socializing with relatives tiring and stressful. Set aside a period of quiet time so that folk can relax with a book or newspaper. Noisy children and teenagers who might seek to disrupt the peaceful ambience should be banished out into the garden or to their rooms for a while. Now is a perfect time for them to try out that new Xbox game they had for Christmas.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.