The holiday season is all about getting together with friends and family. Depending upon where everyone lives, it may be the only time of year when the entire family can unite. Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanza, families assemble for visiting, feasting, gift giving and catching up on each other’s lives.
Making traditions easier for everyone
The good thing about annual events is that each year is an opportunity to improve things. If some of the family traditions are not particularly enjoyable, it’s OK to suggest something different. The reactions of others might be a pleasant surprise. Perhaps they may have been thinking the same thing. A suggestion that everyone make homemade gifts might be a relief to family members with tight budgets and long gift lists.
If tradition dictates dinner at the same person’s home each year, and the hostess usually looks worn out after making an elaborate dinner for 12 people, suggest that she send recipes for her “famous” dishes to those who will attend. Getting the kids involved in cooking them preserves the tradition and takes a load off the hostess.
Avoiding holiday squabbles
In the Hallmark card world, holiday family occasions are perfect, children don’t misbehave, your mother doesn’t ask why you don’t have a better job, grandma has stopped repeatedly asking when you’re getting married and all is peace and harmony. You wish.
Real life is different. Navigating relationships is perhaps one of the more complex things that people do, and human beings are expert at harboring grudges, hurt feelings and memories of sibling rivalries. In the words of George Burns: “Happiness is having a large, caring, close-knit family in another city.”
This year, while sitting around the table and Uncle Joe yet again says that a daughter’s art major in college is “a waste of time,” instead of igniting a heated response, a person might say, “You may be right.” It’s not acknowledging that he is right, but it is a noninflammatory response that won’t cause an argument.
Easing the tension
It’s a good idea to have a plan ahead of time about potential responses to sensitive issues and boring questions and also some questions you can ask when conversation lags. If things do get uncomfortable, picture yourself inside a bubble protected from what’s going on and think about something else. There may be ongoing tension between you and another family member left over from a previous disagreement. If you think you may have been at fault, it may take courage to say “I’m sorry,” but clearing the air will be worthwhile.
Pause before speaking. If a person makes a hurtful comment, taking a few seconds to think can make the difference between blurting out a response that will be regretted and cause an argument or one that smooths the waters.
If ongoing tension is long standing, ask the other person to lunch before the holidays and talk about the situation. Ask the person to explain their view of the situation and diplomatically explain yours, don’t be afraid to ask what’s required to heal the rift and get back to normal. It’s not an easy thing to do but it can help provide peace of mind for each of you and eliminates tension. Even if the overture is unsuccessful, there is the satisfaction of having made the attempt.
Taking the “cringe” factor out of the holidays makes them much happier for everyone.
Written by Veronica McNamara, Sovereign Health Group writer
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