I suspect that Whitney Otto, author of “How to Make an American Quilt”, was thinking about a Christmas spent at home when she said “No one fights dirtier or more brutally than blood; only family knows it’s own weaknesses, the exact placement of the heart”.
And this time of year brings families together, both for good and for bad. Words they speak, or do not speak, a look that could freeze the blood of the Chief Elf, siblings in a power struggle – they all combine to make a trifle of terrible tiffs. Comments that wouldn’t register if anyone else said them, now loom large and carry knives because it comes from someone who spent the entire car journey sitting on your head during the summer holiday of 1989.
Now add a barrel of alcohol, lock them in the small space for a few days and watch your nearest and dearest descend into a more familiar version of Lord of The Flies.
We don’t need the research to confirm it for us, but a new study has shown that two-thirds of families get into a spat on December 25th. In fact, one in ten exchange words before breakfast. And the research shows that the idea of being on your best behaviour wears off at precisely 3.18pm, and that’s when it descends into all out warfare.
It’s completely understandable. Family dynamics are created and reinforced over many years. Then we spread our wings, leave the nest and become somebody else entirely. But when all the original cast members are reassembled on the family stage, how do we know what characters we are playing anymore? It is often easiest to revert to playing your usual role; the lines trip off your tongue and you know the marks that you are supposed to hit.
But then comes 3.18pm and you think, to hell with it, I’ll just be me now. And it’s no wonder that this character switch throws the entire play into disarray.
And there are other assorted minstrels in the new Family Festive Tale. Entering stage left, we have the in-laws, Grandaunt Maura with the hairy mole, Simon the creepy second cousin twice removed (forcibly both times) and the Billy Barry niece with the melodramatic jazz hands and the precocious, non-endearing habit of foot-stamping.
But despite the strops and stress, it really CAN be the most wonderful time of the year. Learn to navigate the stormy sibling sea and parental pressures, and you’ll create memories that you can take out and dust off in years to come. And they will be more precious to you than any wished-for gift.
So here are my top three Christmas survival tips:
- Remember, and accept, that you don’t have free will. No one has free will here, people. It’s all about compromise.
- Make sure the workload is shared. Cook the sprouts, clear the table, serve the food – everyone has a job. And please note that neither martyrdom, nor sleeping on the couch while balancing a slice of cake on your lap, actually count as jobs.
- Bite your tongue. When the comment threatens to crush your very soul and you want to scream “NO, I DIDN’T GET THE JOB / ENGAGEMENT RING / POSITIVE PREGNANCY TEST / FIRST CLASS HONOURS IN MY EXAMS”, followed by a silent “WHY DO YOU SMITE ME, OH LORD”, breathe and imagine you are just a character in a play. Because in a way, that’s exactly what you are.
And remember, it’s the family who thinks they are normal that are the most abnormal of all.
Whitney Otto had a point. But I prefer to take my familial cues from George Bernard Shaw, “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
What is your house like on December 25th? Will there be full on fisticuffs or will peace reign on your residence? Share with us in the comments!