Christmas can be a wonderful time of year: an opportunity to focus on the simplicity and power of the nativity story, as well as a chance to celebrate and spend time with those you love. But what if the thought of hanging out with your relatives fills you with dread and not excitement? How can you minimise family conflict and maximise the fun, especially if you are hosting? Here are a few ideas:
1. Discuss logistics ahead of time: Misunderstandings can often arise when family members have different expectations so it is important to talk to each person in advance and find out what they are hoping will happen on the day. You may have to manage expectations if what they want just isn’t possible.
2. Agree timings with everyone: If family gatherings tend to be stressful then I’d recommend keeping the time spent together as short as possible. Better to leave everyone wanting more and hopefully still smiling, than to allow too much time for emotions to boil over and for people to say things that they may later regret.
3. Anticipate and reduce sources of conflict: Think about who upsets whom or what normally provokes discord in the family and try to reduce the triggers. You won’t be able to predict every argument or upsetting situation, but it is worth making the effort to remove any obvious catalysts. For example, if there’s an uncle who gets over excitable, rude or boring after too many drinks, try to make sure the bottle isn’t too accessible to them!
4. Keep everyone occupied: Give both yourself a break and others something to do by sharing out the jobs. If people are busy it will help them feel that they are contributing but it will also mean that they have something to do if they are feeling awkward or uncomfortable.
Introducing games or a theme for the day is another way to give people a focus. I recently read about a family where they got everyone to dress in blue, the decorations were all blue and they drank blue drinks. Apparently it helped give people a talking point and the feared arguments between various ex-partners were miraculously avoided.
5. Choose to love: Sometimes it is worth actively choosing to love our difficult family members even when we really don’t feel like it or even don’t believe they deserve it. What better time than the season of goodwill to offer grace to others? We can’t change our tricky relatives but we do have the power to alter the way we react towards them. Try hard be gracious and react in a different way.
6. Don’t expect perfection: If things go wrong – as they probably will – keep your sense of humour. There’s nothing like having a few laughs to break the tension.