Relative Serenity – Advice for avoiding festive fracas!

Relative Serenity – advice for avoiding festive fracas

“You can choose your friends, but not your relations.” It’s an old adage and a true one, and never more so than at Christmas when stress, and often alcohol, come into the mix to create a potentially icy (or even toxic) atmosphere. If this sounds like what your home could look like on December 25th, think ahead – because with our suggestions, below, you may be able to avoid unpleasantness erupting in the first place.

Make a window

Too much of a good thing is never healthy for anyone, especially those who face the prospect of spending too much time with those they don’t gel with. If you’re hosting Christmas at your place, define the hours in which the festivities will take place. Whether you issue the invitation by phone call, text message, or email, make it a simple: “Looking forward to having you all at ours on Christmas Day. Kick-off is at 11, and we’ll wind up at 3pm sharp.” Relatives who don’t always get along will have a better chance of controlling emotions if they know their entrance and exit times are defined.

Give ’em space!

It’s perfectly possible to avoid those whose company we don’t enjoy, without ever giving offence to a host, even in the confines of a small house and section. If your Christmas guests prefer to keep their distance, help them to do it by dotting chairs and small tables at various mini-gathering spots such as under a tree in the garden, on the deck, in the living room, under a sun umbrella. Further divide up space with games such as quoits or petanque. Delegate a ‘neutral’ guest to offer nibbles, and top up glasses so those who wish to avoid contact can stay in one place. Even Christmas dinner doesn’t have to be enjoyed at a central table – a buffet style meal ensures folk can serve themselves when the ‘coast is clear.’ When it comes to gift giving, send children around with baskets of gifts to hand out rather than seating everyone in a circle.

Keep them busy!

Allow less time for ‘idle hands’ (and mouths) by running a well time-tabled day. Know what you’re serving, and when, and have a specified time for gift giving. Plan two or three structured children’s games (such as a Christmas-themed gift hunt in the garden or a ‘pin the hat on Santa’) – watching the fun will keep the adults occupied. If the day is wet and cold, have a family-friendly movie up your sleeve.

Minimise alcohol

Nothing ramps up emotions more than alcohol. Sometimes, trying to get others to minimise what they bring to the celebration can be more difficult than simply taking charge, yourself. First and foremost, if you decide going ‘cold turkey’ is best, let this be known well in advance (that way, potential guests can politely decline if alcohol means that much to them). And, no, you don’t have to offer any ‘excuses’ for your decision. Instead, counter enquiries with a simple: “We thought we’d go for a change, this year.” If you do decide to include, but minimise, alcohol, bite the bullet and let it be known you will be the only one supplying it. If this is the case, welcome adult guests with a delicious bubbly or beer, then follow up with alcohol-free beverages only (check out these great alcohol-free cocktail suggestions). Pop corks and tear tabs again when dinner is served, but only enough to provide everyone with a glass to accompany the meal. If you’re feeling flush, a liqueur with coffee and cake can be a pleasant conclusion to the day. Providing these drinks are served over the space of several hours, calm should be maintained.

Divide and rule

Christmas celebrations centre around dining – but there’s more than one meal in the day. If you have family that doesn’t gel, split the day into two gatherings – brunch (10.30 until 1, and dinner from 5.30 until 8). This leaves plenty of time for guests from each function to disperse, and for you to have a break in between shifts!

Early wind up

Even the best laid plans can go awry, and if trouble is brewing and can’t be avoided, don’t be afraid to wind up the festivities early. It doesn’t have to be a big deal if you blame the sudden conclusion on your own situation, rather than on those who are soon to be at loggerheads. Plead a migraine, if need be, and don’t feel awkward about asking guests to leave – you’ll be remembered for saving the day rather than allowing what was shaping up to a serious altercation, to take place.

While Christmas should, and can, be one of the most enjoyable days of the year, it’s not so easily achieved for every family. Plan ahead so your festivities run smoothly.