Jenni Ogden Ph.D.

Trouble in Mind

Family Festivities Are All About Family, Not Politics

Make the festive season a time to look forward to and remember with pleasure!

Posted Dec 20, 2017

Mark Russell/Sophie Reinholt Stuff NZ
Dark Sky Sanctuary: The Milky Way over Medlands Beach,Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
Source: Mark Russell/Sophie Reinholt Stuff NZ

The Christmas and New Year holiday period in New Zealand and Australia is possibly crazier than in the Northern Hemisphere because  it also marks the end of the school year, and the beginning of the long summer break. It has long been said of New Zealand that the entire country closes from December 24th until late January. Our cities become deserted as everyone piles into their cars and boats and make for the beaches, lakes, or rivers. Here on our usually quiet and peaceful off-grid island a hundred kilometres across the sea from Auckland, our biggest city, I must become used to sharing my beach with wandering surfers, camping families, and smooching couples. It is in fact lovely to see everyone enjoying themselves, especially families who one imagines have had exhausting years as everyone seems to do these days. Our own home fills up with family, our freezer is so full I had to take out the ice cubes, and on Saturday when our first family members have arrived there will be the traditional Christmas tree expedition to find the perfect tree (usually about five meters high!), cut it down, set it up in our lounge, and decorate it with decorations that are mostly older than our children, let alone our grandchildren.

In the Northern Hemisphere we see on the TV snow-covered cities, and think briefly that it would be lovely to have the turkey dinner when it is snowing outside, rather than sitting around the long table, most of us covered in sunscreen and sand. At night our skies are still one of the most amazing skies on earth, as here on our island there are no lights as we have no electricity! (Well, we do, of course, but it is off-grid and solar, so our countryside and roads are not lit up). This year Great Barrier Island became the world’s first island to be recognised as a Dark Sky Sanctuary, and that very recognition has renewed the islanders’ appreciation of the skies we see every night. Now there’s a New Year resolution; every day to be grateful for the good things we have—no  more of having to be reminded by others that our treasures are so special.

I suppose many of us make resolutions about what we’ll do to make the festive season celebrations and gathering of clans truly festive and not simply stressful. Like being determined not to get into discussions about politics or religion or that family member who transgressed twenty years ago and has never been quite forgiven, or whatever it is that  stirs your family up. Some of these issues are important to discuss, but there has to be some time in our lives when we put aside certain topics—however important and however passionate we are about them—for a brief period so that everyone can focus on and enjoy the good things about being together, and the warm and happy memories we all share. Of course we can’t stop others from getting into discussions that anyone with any sense would know will only end in tears, but we can try to deflect such conversations when they are still in their infancy, and at least not participate, even if it means encouraging as many in the group as possible to become involved in a game of charades!  Some families do manage to begin their joint holiday with a set of rules—no politics, no business talk, only one hour a day on devices, shared cooking and cleaning up—and even plans laid out in a schedule for daily activities so that hours won’t be wasted while everyone argues about the pros and cons of this or that activity. Usually these strategies only work when the hosts are the organized kind with exceptional social skills and the respect of all the family. Could be worth a try for some families, as long as there is a large dose of flexibility in every plan and schedule and the realization that there will almost certainly be a few hiccups along the way.

So wherever you are, and whatever special times you celebrate, I wish you a warm and loving time with the people who you care about, and a 2018 that is more peaceful and gentle than the year that we are leaving behind.