A builder, a teacher, a marketing guru, a graphic designer and web designer, an accountant, a journalist, a lawyer, a cake whizz and a well-travelled gran. What do these people have in common? They’re members of my family. And we’ll be celebrating Christmas together. Can we keep it sane?

First of all, let me tell you how much I love my family. All of them. Achingly and with all my heart. That said, we accept each other, warts and all. Unconditionally. But sometimes, in the manner of all families everywhere, we get on each others’ nerves. And it’s at times of family get-togethers such as Christmas, birthdays and other celebrations that emotions can get taut and strung out.

Celebrating family occasions is something that most of us look forward to, whatever our cultural background. Despite undulating relationships, getting together is always important. We interact more with each other, strengthen our ties, find out more about the individuals, make connections, foster relationships between the generations and learn more about what makes these people, whose link with us is unbreakable, tick. In meeting, we have the potential to create precious family memories.

The holiday season. Who needs it?

So why is it that the holiday season is the peak time for relationship break-ups and quarrels between partners and families? According to family therapist and lecturer at the Jansen Newman Institute of Counselling and Psychotherapy in the US, Jacqueline McDiarmid, the conflict often stems from our heightened expectations during the festive period. ‘The projected fantasy of Christmas with all of its magic, warmth and love takes us on a ride that reality doesn’t usually live up to,’ she explains. ‘In my experience, people who are stressed are usually stressed most of the year because of other circumstances like finance, work and relationship issues, but Christmas adds more fuel to the fire when family dynamics are at play.’

And not all people face the year-end with enthusiasm. Some actively dread the occasion because of the memories they bring back. If you grew up in a family dominated by an alcoholic parent or had abusive encounters with a family member, a gathering of the clan may simply serve as a reminder of all of the bad times you had together. An authoritarian father may still make you edgy, even though you’ve married and moved on. The rivalry between siblings lingers too, engendering entirely new aspects of competitiveness.

So, in a bid to help everyone enjoy a peaceful, cooperative family holiday, we’ve researched some tips that may make your events, whether you’re gathering for Christmas or any other cultural celebration, stand out as a peaceful, unstressed beacon in your memory.

1. Keep it simple.

ry not to plan the event so rigidly that people feel hassled and resentful. Try to keep food arrangements and timing as flexible as possible.

2. Don’t have expectations of how people should behave.

Suspend judgement when your nephew’s girlfriend walks in with yet another tattoo. It is irrelevant, really. Simply remember the reason you have all gathered.

3. Resolve previous differences.

It is not helpful to start the day expecting an apology from your cousin because she forgot your birthday or waiting to resurrect an old disagreement with your brother-in-law. Make a phone call, send an e-mail or a text to try to smoothe out any misunderstanding before the event.

4. Be yourself.

These people will love and support you no matter what. Relax and reconnect with them – they share your roots.

5. Look for the humour.

Deflect potential confrontations by drinking with discretion. Alcohol tends to magnify whatever emotion you are having and it can cloud your judgement. If Uncle Joe has had a tipple too many and looks prepared to misbehave, have a quiet word and replace his wine with ginger ale (if you can!).

6. Drink in moderation.

Deflect potential confrontations by drinking with discretion. Alcohol tends to magnify whatever emotion you are having and it can cloud your judgement. If Uncle Joe has had a tipple too many and looks prepared to misbehave, have a quiet word and replace his wine with ginger ale (if you can!).

7. Organise an event that creates a memory.

For example, create a family cookbook by asking relatives to donate stories or recipes to share with each other. Take pictures and make a photo album to share.

8. Consider asking a friend or acquaintance who is on their own.

They may not accept, but it’s a generous gesture to share your good fortune with others who have no relatives. Also, friends can offer a new perspective on your family and help create a more positive context.

9. Keep calm and carry on.

Don’t allow yourself to be baited into behaviour that is out of your character.

10. Have an attitude of gratitude

Always. Your people are precious. Be thankful you have them in your lives.

Above all, do not expect Christmas to be fantasy event. Be realistic – you’re far less likely to be disappointed. Finally, let Christmas just happen. Remember what it is really about – the celebration of life and love. So go on, get your party hat on! Have fun. I’m planning to. Oh, and Happy Christmas!


Acknowledgements & Photo credits

Article compiled for Flora Force by Judy Beyer.


  1. Holmes, L. Getting together with family: Avoid some of the holiday stress.
    About Health, Jan. 2013. http://mentalhealth.about.com/od/stress/a/holidsystress.htm
  2. Stress: Have a healthy and peaceful Christmas December. The Wolfe Clinic. www.thewolfeclinic.com/index.php/information-and-tools/dr-wolfe-article-archive/226-stress-have-a-healthy-and-peaceful-christmas-december
  3. Taylor, J. 10 Tips to Surviving Holiday Gatherings with the Family.The Huffington Post, Sept. 2011. www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-taylor-md-mph/surviving-holiday-family_b_1140346.html