“Well hello! Gosh… I think it’s been a whole year since we last saw you!” Up and down the country this is perhaps the opening line of many a Christmas, as well as being the standard greeting of extended family. It is a common saying that Christmas is the time to celebrate family. It is also a common saying that you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. So potentially, you might be in for a rough ride this Christmas. But, rest assured, there are methods you can adopt to ensure your household has more jingle than rock this Christmas.
Even the NHS is aware of family friction. In its Live Well section online, the NHS tells the reader of ‘Keep Calm this Christmas’ that the way to avoid the rehashing of old family feuds is to sit down and discuss them, to work through the long standing family problems. Christmas should be a time of moving on and strengthening family ties.
On average, there are no fewer than five family arguments in a household on Christmas Day. Research carried out by Travelodge, which surveyed 2,000 British households, found that the first family blow out tends to occur at 10.13am. Travelodge were prompted to investigate the typical British Christmas because they had noticed a curious increase in Travelodge bookings by people on behalf of relatives for the festive period. Britons were booking their ‘day-only’ houseguests into nearby accommodation. People were clearly anxious to check in relatives for one reason or another, and Travelodge got their answer, it was to take some fizz out of the already overflowing family household.
According to the research, it is difficult to draw a definitive explanation for the first family row. Taking place just before 1pm, the second average argument, however, coincided more tellingly with the average national completion of the present opening ceremony. Reportedly 38 per cent of children moan that the presents they opened are somehow “wrong”. Failure to provide a “correct” gift is construed as showing thoughtlessness.
The other cause of many Christmas arguments is generally anti-social behaviour, or more precisely, of anti-actual-people social behaviour. This action is achieved through the use of mobile phones and social media. To combat this, take a reality check. The notifications really aren’t coming flooding in. Instagram is abuzz with Christmas pictures, so why not make your own memories rather than oggling at those of people you have never met.
The next argument to take place is more temporally varied, flaring up over the course of dinner between 1 and 3pm. Often they are caused by the fact that Dad has slightly overindulged in day-drinking and Mum is unduly stressed over the dinner.
Of course, another factor is that a lot can change in a year. So when extended family are suddenly thrown together again, having not seen each other for 365 days, there may have been a potential change to diet. No doubt you feel sympathy with Mum when Auntie so-and-so casts her eyes at the roasted chestnuts in horror, pulling her beloved darling away from the table saying, “You do remember that my X is allergic to nuts don’t you? I hope you haven’t put them in anything else. I did tell you about this at the bottom of the Christmas card we sent you.”
It might be a good idea to pull Mum away from the chestnuts too at this point so that she doesn’t retort that the card’s contents were illegible on account of the fact it was the size of a postage stamp. More drastically, it might even be at this precise moment your other cousin or sibling, feeling somewhat starved of attention with all the other children around, decides to respond to a deep calling to vegetarianism.
The other arguments to take place arise from general post dinner banter, which over the course of a couple of hours has probably adopted a vaguely political flavour. As the day progresses and alcohol runs a bit low, resorting to the eggnog might seem like a good idea, but be warned, it has been known to add fuel to family feuds and so, as with all things, drink in moderation.
Going back to the NHS’ advice, if addressing feuds sounds too idyllic and like it might cause more problems than it will solve, there is always the British business-as-usual attitude. Just tie a big tinsel bow on the elephant in the room, position it firmly behind the Christmas tree, and no one will be any the wiser. Of course, pretending everything is all hunky dory when it’s just not is not always a good idea. Just give everyone a little space and don’t force people to do things together.
Clearly, festive feuds are part and parcel, or rather part and present, of Christmas day. That’s what makes the memories and really reminds that you can’t pick your family.