5 ways to survive an extended family Christmas

There’s a lot of pressure to have a perfect Christmas, with goodwill for all. But sometimes it can be hard to maintain the Christmas cheer when your child is being bullied by an older cousin and you’re being lectured on politics by old Uncle Fred.

Luckily there are some simple strategies to help you enjoy Christmas day, and avoid any arguments or stress.

Strategy 1: Agree on gifts

One of the biggest sources of stress can be gift-giving: who to give to, how much to spend, and what to buy. The easiest way around this is to agree some ground rules beforehand.

For instance, you might want to set up a ‘secret Santa’ where everyone receives the name of a guest and anonymously buys them a gift. Or you may decide that only the children get presents, so that spending on gifts doesn’t get out of hand.

Don’t risk offending someone with a joke present, unless you’re confident they share your sense of humour. And if you do forget to buy a present, simply apologise and be gracious about the gift they give you.

Strategy 2: Be a good guest

If you’ve been invited to another family member’s home, see what you can bring to the occasion – whether it’s food, drink or even Christmas crackers.

Some hosts will tell you to bring nothing, but you can still show your appreciation by helping out in the kitchen, clearing up, or keeping the kids entertained with a game of cricket. If you have special dietary needs, for example: if you’re vegetarian, gluten-free or sugar-free, offer to bring a dish you can eat, and that others can share.

Each family has their own traditions – whether they’re religious ones, like saying grace, or family customs, like when to open presents or who carves the ham. The best advice is to simply show respect and go with the flow. But if relationships between you and other family members tend to be strained, set a time limit for how long you’ll spend with them, and leave politely before things go sour.

Strategy 3: Be a good host

If you’re hosting this year, think about the needs of your guests – not just how you imagine the perfect Christmas to be.

One important thing to consider is what time you want people to come – remembering that many families juggle meals between different sets of family, including step-families and in-laws. Time your meals so people don’t have to leave right in the middle, and be understanding if they’ve just come from another function and can’t eat another thing.

Think carefully about the seating arrangements, so you don’t place two argumentative family members near each other. With careful planning and a little luck, the big day will go smoothly and deliver on your Christmas joy. But remember, even with the best-laid plans, some families struggle to get along – and you can’t control anyone else’s behaviour other than your own.

So, just in case, treat yourself to a relaxing Boxing Day. Book tickets in advance for your local cinema or spend the day by the pool or at the beach with the kids – and be grateful that Christmas comes but once a year.