Not everyone is nuts about Christmas with the folks

Dreading those days spent holed up with a bickering family? Virginia Ironside offers some advice

For everyone who looks forward to Christmas with a sense of excitement and longing, there's someone else who approaches the celebrations with dread and foreboding. Christmas is by no means always a time of happiness; more people commit suicide over this period than any other time of the year; calls rocket to the Samaritans and Relate, the marriage guidance organisation, and police look forward to an increase in domestic disputes.

For those who come from, to put it fashionably, dysfunctional families, Christmas can be a time when the strains in family life appear to be boldly marked out in highlighter pen, the hatred and jealousy hanging in streamers of resentment over the underdone turkey. Cracks that can be easily papered over during snatched family get togethers during the year now appear far more clearly.

The general stress of Christmas is designed to put a strain on even the happiest family, and women in particular. Present-buying, card-sending, lunch-organising, tree-decorating and stocking-filling nearly always fall to the woman, and though the actual Christmas dinner is one of the easiest in the world to cook (anyone who thinks otherwise should try making a Thai curry for six) it is the general hoo-ha that makes Christmas a trial for a woman, particularly if she's already spaced-out by working at a job. Added to this, it is the school holidays and the adult Christmas holiday itself can go on for at least two weeks; two weeks when a couple who may have only seen each other for fleeting moments through the past weeks if they're both working suddenly find themselves in each other's faces during a stressful time.

"If things have been swept under the carpet during the year, they come to the surface at Christmas," says Zelda West-Meads, a Relate counsellor whose book, The Trouble with You, (Hodder and Stoughton, pounds 6.99) is just out. "Another problem is that if you're having people to stay, you have two or three whole generations of people in the house with completely different needs. You're in between trying to please the older generation and trying to please the younger generation and if you're at each other's throat as a couple you wonder why Christmas can't be cancelled this year."

More than one television, organised walks,endless jigsaws for loners, and clearly defined chores for everyone can all help to make Christmas more bearable, entertaining even. And although no one wants to be forced to do things they don't want to do, there is nothing more scratchy-making than the feeling that there is nothing to do but drink.

"Establishing the time of arrival and time of departure in advance can take some of the stress out, too," says Ms West-Meads. "Three days is usually long enough, particularly as people feel trapped not only with not being able to drink and drive, but also because there is so little public transport."

It's worth, too, taking a little time to dash your expectations before they crash down your ears. So often we imagine a story-book family Christmas with everyone sitting round the table laughing, putting on paper hats, and loving each other. The expectation only highlights the problems in our family life despite the fact that nearly all normal families have feuds and difficult relatives.

A more stressful Christmas scenario is when you're on your own. As this is my first Christmas alone for about 20 years I know that it's important to accept every invitation on offer. Not only am I spending Christmas away, but I'm driving back to town on the day itself (to another invitation) giving myself three hours in the car, an excellent place to spend a lonely Christmas. On Boxing Day I take off for the sun.

Christmas in a stepfamily can be full of emotional pitfalls, too, particularly for the visiting child. Perhaps your stepmother doesn't understand about stockings, and uses pillowcases instead; perhaps the rituals are all quite different from the ones you know at home. "When I was with my father at Christmas," wrote the journalist Candida Crewe, recently, "I desperately missed my mother, and vice versa. Tearful telephone calls would ensue. One year I drew a chart with the day's hours and seconds to go before I could return to whichever parent it was that I wasn't pulling the crackers with."

If both parents want to see their children opening their presents they should try to organise a short Christmas truce which involves them smiling and joking in the same room. (Not something Charles and Diana have managed this year, sadly, a poor model for other separated parents.)

"If a child does spend Christmas in a stepfamily it's important that the traditions aren't entirely unfamiliar so that new traditions are forged in a new family. Children from both families should have a choice in how to celebrate Christmas," says Zelda West-Meads.

Another way to spend Christmas in a stepfamily is to spend it on territory that's completely new to everyone - perhaps a night at a hotel.

Finally, there's the guilty Christmas when you and your partner have decided to make a break from it all and spend it away on your own. It's possible to assuage the resentment at home by doing more than is expected of you. Two phone calls rather than one; perhaps neighbours could be persuaded to hide a large bunch of flowers which they could drop in at lunchtime to the family?

Christmas takes real emotional effort. But with that effort it can become at least tolerably happy, maybe, even, a time when lonely people can find company, modern confused families can reform, and the in-laws, the uncles and the aunts can put aside their differences and behave as if they love each other.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager

    Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

    IT Manager

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London