TheConfidante In the Media
Christmas Day is approaching! A time of love, of compassion, of togetherness … and very often, of barely constrained arguments. The stress of getting everything organised is rising and the expectations to deliver a great day are high. It can be bad enough for people to deal with their own families some times, but throw in the partner’s family? That’s where the real nightmares can begin.
Despite Christmas being something most Australians celebrate, we all do so differently. Everyone has their own traditions, quirky rituals and beliefs. They become our culture since childhood, and for most people, these are the only traditions they know until adulthood.
Then you meet someone, fall in love, and spend Christmas with a completely different family for the first time.
Sometimes it’s fine.
Sometimes it’s fine for a few years then… it’s not.
It might be something small, like when the main meal of the day is, or when presents are unwrapped, or how to decorate. But it can also be big, cultural differences where the very nature of the day seems very strange and foreign.
Any challenge to our existing beliefs, whatever they may be, can be a bit hard to take. But Christmas? Christmas is one of the biggest events of the year! Being confronted by, and learning to accept, a completely alien way of celebrating can be a pretty big challenge.
Keep in mind, we’re not just talking about catching up with the in-laws for lunch or dinner. We’re talking about spending time with the whole family of eclectic people you'd never choose for your inner circle. It's also about being completely submerged in a different way of celebrating the big day.
So how do you survive? How do you make it out alive without starting an argument you’ll inevitably regret? Read on for my top tips for cheerful and harmonious festive season:
1. Keep the Old, Embrace the New
One very simple way of negating any real shock is to try to have your cake and eat it: celebrate Christmas your usual way, then celebrate it the new way. Or vice versa.
Many people achieve this by splitting Christmas celebrations over two days, or splitting the day itself in half. They’ll spend Christmas with one family, then the other. By doing this it doesn’t feel like their traditions are being replaced. Rather, the new approach becomes an extension.
Set your intention to enjoy something new and different, rather than a jarring departure from your norm. Seen this way, it’s a lot easier to accept celebrating Christmas differently.
This is a particularly useful method for people whose partner’s family lives overseas. If you make a habit of visiting them — or them visiting you — every year, you can try to arrange a “Christmas” celebration to coincide with the visit.
It might seem strange, but just remember Australians regularly celebrate “Christmas in July” so as not to melt on the actual day! The 25th of December is a special birthday however why not celebrate it again on another day? How’s November or January for you?
2. Develop a New Tradition
When you pair up, you aren’t just married to that one person for better or worse. You’ve married into the family and become part of it. Likewise, they’ve become part of your family.
So why not marry your respective Christmas traditions as well?
Every Christmas day is made up of big things and little things. The big things are those set-in-stone traditions you can’t live without. The little ones are those habits that have been developed over the years you could take or leave. Why not try to combine what you can of the big things and see what remains of the little ones?
And even if you can’t marry the traditions, there’s always the option of starting completely new ones. As a couple, you get to create your own culture! It doesn’t have to be something big. Maybe you eat a certain meal on Christmas Eve, or you all open your presents together at the same time every year.
Putting everyone on even footing removes the issue of people feeling like “their way” is being brushed aside for someone else’s. Everyone starts fresh, and everyone gets a say in how things should be done.
3. Learn to Appreciate the Nature of the Holiday
Sometimes separating the Christmas traditions isn’t possible. Sometimes merging or starting again isn’t possible, either. It’s arguably the worst case scenario, but it’s not the end of the world.
We get really, really wrapped up in how we do Christmas. There’s pressure and stress on ourselves to make it so perfect because for many, it’s a long awaited break. So very, very often, we forget that the heart of the season isn’t about being in control, or putting on the best display. For many it’s about celebrating the birth of Jesus, being together and loving one another.
It shouldn’t matter how things are decorated, or when dinner is served, or what food is served. Honour your beliefs, but don’t get caught up in the dressings for a chance to relax and be happy in the company of loved ones and leave it to the neighbours to make it picture perfect. You could always ask to borrow their table setting shots for Instagram and Facebook?
Sure, you’ll probably meet some family members you don’t get along with. Argumentative cousins, loud drunken uncles, and we won’t “box in” the Mother In Law for this one. In those cases, just do what you’d normally do — take a few deep breaths to calm yourself and/or politely excuse yourself until the tension dies down.
Christmas is a big time for you and your partner. Don’t make it any more stressful than it needs to be, and ask yourself: is it really that important if it’s a star or an angel at the top of the tree?
So sit back, relax, and enjoy Christmas and any holidays you might be fortunate to enjoy.
Now to recap:
Joanne Wilson is a Sunshine Coast professional Counsellor and Psychotherapist with a keen interest in relationships and pre-marriage therapy. She is often found contributing through guest speaking invitations and has also produced her own books, Pearls of Wisdom from the Thriving Thirties, The Relationship Rejuvenator E-Book and presented a series of relationship seminars.
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