How to defuse Christmas tension before it even starts

Siski Green / 26 November 2014

It’s not all peace and goodwill at Christmas time. Most families have one or two characters that can be difficult – the awkward uncle, super-critical grandma, moody teen or the oversensitive mum – and one or more of these personality types can ruin the big day. Find out how to steer clear of the biggest clashes and to defuse those highly-charged moments before they develop into something bigger.

Dealing with critical people

When there are super-critical people around it’s best to keep them busy. Give whoever it is a job such as decorating the tree, making egg nog or selecting the music so that they won’t have time to criticise everyone else and will enjoy the chance to show everyone else how fabulous they are at whatever task you’ve given them to do.

Come up with new Christmas traditions

One of the main issues that come up is that one person’s ‘perfect Christmas’ is not the same as someone else’s. So while your family might be used to tearing off the wrapping paper at the crack of dawn, your cousins might prefer to do it slowly over breakfast or even after lunch.

Not being able to do Christmas as you’re used to can cause resentment. So instead of trying to please everyone's idea of how it should be, come up with new traditions instead. Do a present treasure hunt; sleep on camping mats under the tree, eat out for Christmas lunch instead of at home, go to the cinema, or even spend the afternoon helping out in a soup kitchen.

Make lower-alcohol drinks

For those individuals who tend to drink too much and get raucous or rude, try starting them off with mulled wine only use non-alcoholic red wine along with normal wine. That way they’ll start out by drinking plenty of liquid with less alcohol which will help stave off their drunken episodes until later.

Get a breath of fresh air

A lot of tension at Christmas stems from boredom. You’re stuck in the same room for around 24 hours or more, often with people you only see once or twice a year. Everyone has different ideas about what to watch on TV and soon everyone is going stir-crazy.

So after lunch, kick everyone off the sofa and go to the park (it might be an idea to buy at least one outdoor present so you can use that as the ‘reason’ for heading out).

Getting fresh air and exercise will improve everyone’s mood and make everyone feel relaxed by the time they get home. (If the weather’s bad, try indoor Twister, or even get everyone out to the cinema, for a similar effect.)

Set rules for Christmas gift-buying

If someone in your family always ‘out buys’ everyone else with huge and showy presents, or if there are others who always complain about their gifts, set a new rule for this year: either a price limit on all presents, or only buy for the kids, or even do Secret Santa where everyone picks a name out of a hat and has to spend a certain amount.

Make hosting Christmas easier on yourself

A roast turkey with potatoes, stuffing and some form of vegetable is enough of a celebration – after all, you don’t have a whole roast turkey very often! Yet many of us will try to pull out all the stops making all sorts of sauces and side dishes to make it extra special.

If you can’t resist the lure of those extras, buy them ready made (M&S do some delicious Christmas dishes) and only make the foods that’ll give you enough time to actually enjoy Christmas!

Hosting Christmas? Read our  Christmas-host checklist

How to relax on Christmas Day

Easier said than done, but try to remember that Christmas should be fun for you too. So try not to worry too much about whether the food is right, or the presents are good enough, or whether so-and-so will be annoying, and focus on the positive. And smile. There's some truth to the old saying, fake it 'til you make it, research shows that smiling releases endorphins, helping to make you feel good and relax.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.