Christmas always drives me crackers
If every Christmas brings the same old story of you playing host, being chef, waitress and referee, well then read on
Stop the stress: how to take the pressure out of hosting the big day. Photograph: Getty images
Q I am getting really stressed about Christmas. Every year I have my husband and our two kids, both sets of parents (who don’t get on) and an uncle who invites himself and never lifts a finger to help and always ends up arguing with my dad.
I feel like I am doing too much thinking about everyone else and I just can’t wait until it’s all over. It’s the same every year.
I end up slaving over everyone and everything and crying with self-pity in the kitchen when I am washing up the dishes. I want you to grit doctor the experience for me.
How can I make it less stressful and make myself really enjoy Christmas again?
A People everywhere will relate to your letter. It is unusual for Christmas to be a stress-free zone in anyone’s home: most families have at least one social hand-grenade of a relative who holds the power to make or break the day for everybody else.
Difficult relationships and/or old deep divisions are easily resurrected when you chuck in copious quantities of alcohol into a room full of people who get together only once a year and have a life’s worth of grievances to unleash.
But hey ho, here are my top tips for dealing with it all, in descending order of grittiness:
Spend Christmas abroad: Better still, spend Christmas day on an aeroplane. Flights are very cheap on Christmas Day and you have the added bonus of having the entire plane to yourselves. Stretch out across an entire aisle. Get upgraded.
Those bold enough to do this often strike me as the happiest during the festive season, combining their annual holiday with missing out on all the Christmas stress build-up back home and they get some much-needed sun-induced vitamin D to help see them through January and February.
When you add up the cost of hosting Christmas for eight or 10 – the presents, food and booze, the stress (let’s put a price on it for once) – there is probably not much in it. Strike up a deal with your other half and the kids that the present to yourselves is the holiday and, bang, you are done.
For the super-assertive, ask for cash from your parents to pay towards the trip.
Yes, there is still time and plenty of last-minute deals knocking about. Yes. You. Can. No one will die if you call them up and say it’s off this year. They will all find someone else’s Christmas to ruin and will never again take you for granted. Go on, I dare you.
Run away from it all: To be taken less literally than number 1, but running over Christmas
– daily – is a very good idea. Not only is it a great stress-reliever, it also ensures you remain sober until at least afterwards, buys you some valuable me time which is incredibly difficult to justify over the festive period, and leaves you feeling calm and serene and energised to face the rest of the day.
Plus, it wins you guilt-free eating and drinking. No one is going to deny you a run in the cold (say you are training for a 5k in January if you need an excuse or, better still, actually enter a 5k in January and start training for it).
Game on: My mother always used to grab me or my sister after the trifle, pull us into the kitchen and say
“initiate a game”. Everyone will love it by the end of the first round. Pit those who get on worst against each other so they can unleash all that anger into winning the game instead.
Curfew times: Have a curfew on the proceedings and let your guests know it in advance. Or
if they are all staying overnight, consider not inviting them until the evening of Christmas Day for a supper rather than having them hanging around all day.
It is when folk are all left with plates of food and bottles of grog for hours on end around a table that the trouble starts. Plus, it will give you a chance to enjoy the morning and afternoon with just your immediate family. And plenty of time to prepare the food.
Make everyone sing for their supper: Nothing breaks things up and gets people in the mood for Christmas love better than a few carols or cheesy 1980s Crimbo number ones.
6Get out: Factor in some outdoor activity whatever the weather. A compulsory change of scene involving a walk outside, even if it is only half the party, will do wonders for everybody.
Delegate: Those not coming on the walk are on clearing, washing and drying up duty. This also extends to preparation. Give everyone a job to do and something they must bring to the table.
Your useless uncle can be in charge of cheese, get one of your mums to do the pudding, and so on. Activity of any kind is the antidote to self-obsessed nostalgic wittering and moaning – which usually starts the arguments.
Take turns: Make an announcement when you break open the crackers that next year it’s someone else’s turn. Make the decision right there and then who it will be and so enjoy the dawning of a new era.
Once you know it’s your last time hosting for a while, you will enjoy yourself a hell of a lot more.
Get to church if you can: There is nothing like the sight of Baby Jesus in a manger, a glowing Virgin Mary and a dose of God to make you want to be kind, bury the hatchet and enter into the spirit of forgiveness. Even if you don’t believe in God, it gets you out of the house and out of your own head, forcing you to remember those less fortunate.
Simplify wherever you can: If you are questioning whether you need to make devils-on-horseback or how you are going to find the time to make the stuffing or beat eggs for fresh custard for your trifle, stop yourself right there. Cut corners and simplify wherever you can.
No one will thank you for having made the custard from scratch, nor will they notice the subtle difference to their alcohol-addled palates of homemade as opposed to shop-bought stuffing.
The Grit Doctor says:
No one gives a s*** about the napkins or the table decorations, so focus on the details that do matter: clean glasses and crockery, a turkey that isn’t dry, food that is hot and tasty, and conversations that don’t end in tears.
Ruth Field is author of Get Your Shit Together and Run, Fat Bitch, Run