Julia Bueno M.A.

The Brink of Being

Bracing for Christmas?

With a bit of planning and insight, the festive holidays need not be stressful.

Posted Nov 29, 2019

Markus Spiske - Unsplash
Source: Markus Spiske - Unsplash

Christmas holidays are looming, and for many of my clients, they are not the happy times the media likes to portray—they may even be dreaded times. Christmas might mean spending time with tricky family members and therefore facing inevitable tensions, or even  arguments and tears. Or it might mean spending time alone, in the wake of estrangements. Grief can be especially acute at memorable times like Christmas too - the loss of loved, or perhaps the loss of a child that has yet to be conceived and would be dearly wished-for to be opening a stocking.

But with some planning, and self-care, it might be that Christmas becomes more bearable than otherwise imagined.

Contracting time spent?

Some people I talk to dread the "ritual" they seem to think they have to face—a set number of days spent in one place with a set constellation of family members, playing out a particular routine of meals, present giving or carol singing. If this means being up close with someone who consistently upsets you, it's worth having a think about how much autonomy you do have: do you have to follow "protocol"? What would be the fall-out if you decided to join festivities a day or two later, or left a day or two before usual? What would it be like to skip out entirely? It's worth examining what the "have to do this" actually means.


Of course, it may well be that you decide to spend time with others that you know will upset you—a critical aunt or an alcoholic sibling - because the alternative of not attending is too much to bear. I know of parents who would never forgive an adult child for not spending time with them at Christmas. If this is the case, some conscious self-care may help both to prepare you in advance, but also to recruit "in the moment" when tensions rise.

So for example, it may be tempting to fly off the handle when you are criticised—yet again—for making the turkey stuffing too salty, or the mulled wine too sweet, but what could make things different is for you to turn inwards and attend to your hurt. You may well feel anger as a defence to criticism, but this will be a cover for the hurt. Perhaps you've had a lifetime of criticism from a family member that has yet to be healed and that needs soothing too: in other words, the younger versions of you who were hurt. By turning to ourselves, we don't let the criticism "go," but we just don't feed the tensions caused.

Managing time

But also, if you know you will be criticised for anything you do in the kitchen, why not suggest to do things differently this year? Perhaps you could be the one to wash-up the dishes or drive everyone to midnight mass. If you also all know that a board-game after lunch always ends in tears, can you suggest in good time to do something different this year.

Can you help to re-write the script of an inevitable drama to one that is less dramatic?