Sunday, December 13, 2009, 12:40
The term ‘extended family’ is often spoken of with a frisson of aversion, if not utter hostility.
It’s not only in dysfunctional families that sozzled uncles will carry a tatty piece of plastic mistletoe in their pockets, hoping to catch you unawares as they dangle it over your head and claim their prize.
Christmas is a time for joy and peace to all mankind. It is also a time for zinger migraine and jaws that ache from false smiles. Last year, righteous indignation gave way to teeth-clenching wrath when you realised this. But this year, it will be different!
1. Aromatherapy candles and/or essential oils diffusers will keep the atmosphere calm, and the air fragrant.
2. Be part of a support group of people who can connect via some device, without those present being aware of it. Alternatively, keep a journal.
3. Christmastide is an excuse to get rid of clutter. Give away what you do not use, and try and keep flat surfaces clear of what does not belong there. This gives you something to do rather than fidget.
4. Do not depend upon your hosts for entertainment – especially if you know they cheat at cards. Refuse match-making ruses unless you actually know who your blind date is, and you like them.
5. Food is an integral part of the festivities. Eat small helpings of what is available, rather than inviting comments about finicky diners. If you are the cook, don’t force anyone to eat; if they feel sick they will blame you.
6. Gifts may often be packaged revenge. Rise above comparing what you spent with the returns you got for it, and remember that charity shops appreciate donations.
7. If you are utilising the spare room, make sure that everything is ready, well before the guests arrive. That way you will not have to bustle about finding clean sheets and relatively new towels.
8. In most families there are bound to be different ideology, parenting, fashion, culinary and political beliefs, apart from personal ill-feeling. Be thankful that this, too, shall pass.
9. It is considered bad form to spend a visit with your nose in a book; but if you take some kind of handcraft with you, the attitude is different, since you can throw monosyllables into the conversation.
10. Listen to music or read something inspirational before you sleep, if your visit, or that of people inside your house, lasts overnight or more. Don’t rely on air-conditioned air all the time.
11. Never trust alcohol to relax you. It loosens the tongue, makes you over-eat, and gives you a hangover.
12. Pack gifts before you begin the serious cooking. You will have one less thing to worry about.
13. React immediately if you think people have violated your privacy. Specify that you appreciate a person’s desire to help, but insist, gently, that you will not talk about that particular topic.
14. Rehearse possible answers to embarrassing questions. You do not have to answer personal questions. Indicate this clearly.
15. Remember your trainers. When the implied or actual insults stifle you, excuse yourself politely and go for a walk.
16. Should you feel cornered, deflect people’s attention. A friend had a habit of spilling red wine on pristine tablecloths each time she was asked why she had not yet “settled down”. Nobody asks her that, now.
17. Take a ten-minute break of “doing nothing” each day. Focus on each part of your body, from the toes up. Feel the pressure, strain and anxiety evaporate from the top of your head.
18. Tone down your expectations, and remember that Christmas is actually included in the Holmes-Rahe Social Readjustment Ratings Scale.
19. When you are visiting, especially if staying over, make sure you clarify your E.T.A. and the day and time you will be leaving. Just make sure you have transport ready.
20. Whenever it’s your turn to entertain, make your own rules. Banish anyone who lights up out into the street. You don’t want to be washing curtains and quilts after you’ve just done them for the Season, because they reek of bird-cage bottoms.