Happy Families? At Christmas?

Stressed Man at Christmas

Surely it’s the one time of year when we’re all supposed to enjoy ourselves?

Stressed Christmas ManChristmas is traditionally seen as ‘Family Time’ when we reconnect to over indulge in gifts, food, and the odd sweet sherry for the aunt you haven’t seen since same time last year. Even those that don’t officially celebrate Christmas often take advantage of the country shutting down for a day to sit transfixed watching the Queen or the Strictly Christmas Special.

Of course, Christmas is a time of great joy. It is also a time for reflection. One friend gives up his family time to work for CRISIS in London, dishing out free meals, socks and clothing of all sorts, to people of all sorts too. It makes me feel very humble.

The stress and strain that sits behind all this is only rarely mentioned, to avoid accusations of being a curmudgeon, or raining on everyone else’s Santa Parade. (It never snows south of Glencoe.)

Even within the most homogenised family unit of 2+2 with local attendant relatives, the stress of whose home is getting trashed – sorry, celebrated in, is only a forkful of stuffing away…

“I’ll have it at mine provided Uncle Jim doesn’t eat all the sprouts like he did last year”.

“Isn’t it our turn?” ask the grandparents who missed out last year.

And those immortal and terrifying words, “Can you bring round the emergency chairs and a spare table?”

There’s extra stress at Christmas usually for the many patchwork families, now as common as the so-called ‘normal family’. The word ‘normal’ presumably implies that anything different is by definition ‘abnormal’, which doesn’t really help matters.

As divorce rates have risen – and with children often being a part of the new family structures – there is the inevitable debate over who has the kids on Christmas Day.

Do they always have the actual day with mum? Or dad? Or does one or other parent make a flying visit on the 25th and have their time a little later in the week? Or do the divorcees grin and bear it and spend the whole day together with their kids? And where does new partner/wife/husband fit in to this maelstrom? And how are their children factored in to the equation? And don’t even get me started on complications added to the mix like the travel involved, especially to other countries!

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The reality has to be that no-one is going to feel 100% happy 100% of the time. Lucky the family that says, “Our Christmas Day will be when we see you,” regardless of whether it happens to be 25th December or not. Lucky the family that places children at the centre of everything that they do.

Lucky the family that doesn’t get the ageing relative card  played against them: “I may not be here next year of course…” No pressure there then.

And of course lucky the children for whom extra family means extra presents, even if it does mean a return to the shops the following week, “Doesn’t he realise I don’t wear dresses?”

Oh, and then there’s New Year’s Eve.

Roll on January 2nd.