A Survival Guide For Christmas And Other Family Gatherings

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Whether online or in-person, family gatherings can be quite challenging, full of intrusive questions and misleading assumptions. Here are four tips to help you feel at ease and playful at the Christmas table. Yes, it can be fun!

Since Christmas celebrations usually follow the same pattern within a family — even on a special year as 2020 —, it is easy to anticipate and get ready. If you are aware of what might happen, you can choose how to respond to it rather than being the victim of the situation.

Sometimes it is good to do something we don’t really want to do just because we know it is going to bring so much joy to a loved one — like watching for the tenth time in a row the same cartoon with your little cousin because she is so excited about it. But if you find yourself engaging into something that you profoundly dislike, that is going to harm you or that goes against your values, maybe it is time to pause and think.

What is the benefit of doing something just to please someone else when you don’t get to enjoy it all? Maybe you are afraid of disappointing them. But shift the perspective for a second: how happy would it make you feel to know that the person who is sitting next to you came here just to please you or to avoid upsetting you and is in fact suffering in silence?

How happy would it make you feel to know that the person who is sitting next to you came here just to please you or to avoid upsetting you and is in fact suffering in silence?

What? Brunch, dinner, breakfast, apéro dînatoire? If you know you don’t eat meat at all and the menu always consists of turkey, politely remind your parents that, no offence, you will not eat meat and please let things be easy in order to avoid having the conversation when the dish is proudly brought to the table.

Who? This one is probably the most important. And first of all, who is the “you” people will meet this year? There are certain members of our family that we see only at Christmas — who were you last year, who have you become since? You have probably changed, a lot or a just bit, and who do you want them to see? How does the person you want to be in front of them act and speak? They might have changed too. Even if you are convinced that they cannot or don’t want to change, give them a chance, be curious about who they are, who they have become. Maybe you will discover some interesting things (or the confirmation of what you suspected, but be curious first). Also, consider who is not present. How is the memory of those who passed away honoured? How are those who could not travel included in the celebration? By reflecting on those questions in advance, you can make better-informed decisions regarding how you want to show up.

Even if you are convinced that they cannot or don’t want to change, give them a chance, be curious about who they are, who they have become. Maybe you will discover some interesting things.

Decide on a new course of action. What would happen if you replied differently? What would happen if your nephew behaved more bravely?

° It is not about you, it is about them. When someone addresses you a reproach or a nasty comment, it tells something of their own insecurities. Breathe and get curious: “I see that you still don’t like my long hair, is there anything that upsets you in seeing a man with long hair? Why is it important to you that I cut my hair?”. If your interlocutor is just a tiny bit willing to engage in the conversation, you might discover wonderful things — and often from the person you would have expected the least!

° Resentment is wasted energy. If someone did or said something to you last Christmas that upset you, leave it there, in the past. Resentment is using up a lot of emotional and physical energy and somehow it lets the other “win” because you are still focusing on the incident (remember this one too: what we focus on is what grows) rather than moving forward. It doesn’t mean that people can be disrespectful, it is about saying that you disagree or feel upset and do not want to continue the conversation and then peacefully move on to something else, something more interesting that feeds your joy and makes good use of your energy.

° It is not because it is addressed to you that you have to answer (the wise person who told me this will recognise themselves). You can pretend you didn’t hear or you can say you don’t want to have this conversation now or something like “If that’s your opinion”, “If you think so”, “Maybe that’s how it is, I don’t know”. We are as equally free to ask questions as to not answer questions.

° Reply to a question by a question or question the question and have fun! Take a look at Kasia Urbaniak’s work to dive deeper into the topic (watch here): when you ask back, you shift the focus on your interlocutor and that is when you get your power back. You are not on the spot anymore, you can start thinking again and decide what to do or say next. Examples range from: “Where did you buy this tie?” to “Did you just ask why I still don’t have children?” to “Do you think you are informed enough of what is going in my life that you can allow yourself to ask me such a question?”. ANY question does the trick.

° Be curious and interested. As said, it is not about you so get curious. If you explore the other person’s reactions, questions, and comments, you move from a feeling of pain to an attitude of discovery. Maybe you will realise that your suffering meets your interlocutor’s one or that you actually stand for the same values.

Christmas is a celebration of joy, the light returns after the Winter Solstice and we exchange gifts to show our love and appreciation. Join the table well prepared and, even more importantly, with the sincere desire to look for the good and the beautiful in everyone — you included.

Merry Christmas! Enjoy and be well.

Personal Coach. Enjoys coffee, dark chocolate and whisky. Loves meeting people, exploring life, sharing. Needs mountains, friends and travels. noemipoget.co.uk

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store