Seán Moncrieff: Your family or mine? Christmas puts relationships to the test
If your relationship survives, you will spend every Christmas driving between houses
Christmas Day patterns change over time, and are vastly different when children are in the house
I bring you the gift of uninvited relationship advice. If you’re in a new and promising romance, it is crucial that you establish your new love’s attitude towards Christmas Day.
For some, the family conventions of December 25th are as difficult to move as a printing machine in Leinster House. Breakfast and dinner take place at specific times and consist of specific foods. The presents are always distributed on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, or after dinner. Because this is the way your partner’s family have always done things.
Under no circumstances point out that this cannot be true. Christmas Day patterns change over time, and are vastly different when children are in the house. There is no civilised present exchange at a pre-determined hour, but a screaming scramble down the stairs when the kids awake: usually in the middle of the night.
Like rabid animals they tear into the wrapped presents, ignoring all the conveniently located Santa-was-here evidence. The bleary-eyed parents may initially hope to sneak back to bed for an hour, but such hopes usually evaporate when the third bin bag has been filled, the hoover comes out and a parent has to assemble various bicycles and ray guns from the Lithuanian instructions. This can take hours more. I once put together a toy kitchen. I once installed a real kitchen. The second was easier.
But your partner has conveniently forgotten all this. They are thinking of the more recent, post-Santa Christmases, which have been pleasurably arranged for adults. So pleasurable, in fact, that it may not yet have occurred to your partner that in your house, you may do things differently.
Best not to mention that either. At least not yet.
The real potential deal breaker is Who Goes Where. Your partner may feel that the perfection of their family Christmas, mixed with your love for them, is an irresistible argument for you to spend Christmas Day there. Christmas Day with your family is out of the question. Ever. If that’s the case, then you’re in real trouble. The relationship may be dead already. Best to get out now. Even if you’ve already bought a present.
Obviously, the ideal solution is to alternate: except if one of you is an only child. If it’s you, and your partner has a healthy supply of siblings, you may need to renegotiate. After all, your absence from the family home reduces the family unit by a third or more. Your partner’s absence might result in a much smaller reduction.
Either way, it should be agreed that whichever family gets Christmas Day, the other gets St Stephen’s Day. Because these negotiations aren’t just about your relationship. It’s about keeping the respective parents happy. And parents always think the other parents have a much better deal. Just accept it. It’s a fact.
Accept too that if your relationship survives, you will spend every Christmas season driving between various houses, possibly on different sides of the country.
Not forever, of course. Things will relax after a few years. Until your first child arrives and the grandparents start competing to host the most authentic Santa screaming-around-the-house-full-of-sugar experience. They will deploy long silences, huffs and disappointment to get what they want.
And it doesn’t end there. Because by now you may have more than one child and you’re hitting 40 and you’re thinking: shouldn’t we have Christmas in our own house now, like grown-ups? Like all the other siblings did five years ago? But you can’t leave the parents by themselves. And so starts the yearly negotiations and resentments with your siblings and in-laws as to who will take them.
This will go on for some years more. And while you’re distracted by this, your own kids will have grown up, and one day you’ll hear yourself say to them: What do you mean you won’t be here for Christmas?