Surviving the Holidays: Dealing with Family at Christmas

Thinking about what embarrassing things Uncle Ben is going to say around the holiday table this year?? Tums and Tylenol won’t help you endure the extra helpings of cold hard sarcasm churned out by your mother in law.

If you dread family holidays with your kooked-out clan, you’re not alone. Dealing with family at Christmas can be tricky.

Christian Post posted results from their recent survey:

A whopping twenty-four percent of individuals surveyed they dreaded seeing relatives and 16% stated that they did not look forward to attending holiday parties and events.

And according to this article from, more than 60% of baby boomers, gen Xers and millennials report feeling increased stress at holiday time.

This is at least partially owed to strained relationships and forced interactions with family during the most socially overbooked and financially burdensome time of year.

So why, when we think of celebrating another year coming to a close, and celebrating that with our relatives, does this incite panic attacks and neurosis rather than a peaceful, and benevolent feeling?

And a better question, how to avoid conflict at Christmas?

Below are some reasons and solutions to family stress at Christmas and the holiday season.


Table of Contents

Dealing with Clashes of Personality at Christmas

Not everyone has the same ideas about things, and that’s no more apparent than when the entire family gets together.

Whether it’s quibbling over how long to cook the turkey, arguing over who gets to host and who gets to make the trip… not agreeing on how much to spend on presents, or navigating conversational minefields… different family personality types can come into conflict at holiday time for sure.


What to Do About It

The best way to deal with personality conflicts at family holiday gatherings is to put each person in charge of a specific task or job and then just let them handle it without interference.

If socializing sends sparks flying around the holiday table, strategic seating works wonders.

Finally, if a few different people really don’t know how to play nice at family get-togethers, you might consider hosting different events for different sets of family members.


Christmas Gift Giving

Financial stress ranks high on the list of reasons why families argue during the holiday season.

Different people may have very different thoughts about what is a reasonable amount to spend, whether it’s on gifts, parties, outings or something else.

Grandma’s idea for having the entire family board a plane to Disney during winter break may not have been in your budget plan for the year.


What to Do About It

The key to avoiding family arguments over money is to initiate frank discussions and come to a compromise.

The first step is to give enough lead time to allow each branch of the family tree enough time for budgeting and planning.

A sit-down discussion or group email conversation may be of help if you need to hash out details.

Ask questions like:

“How much do we all agree to spend on each child in the family”
“Will adults be exchanging Christmas gifts, and what’s our budget for this?”

This can help put everyone in a cooperate frame of mind.

Some fun workarounds to keeping the holiday gift budget low and minimizing Christmas shopping confusion include

  • Secret Santa
  • Grab Bag,
  • “Take Or Pass” Christmas Present Game


Family Members Who Drink Too Much at Christmas

Family members who imbibe to excess take family holiday celebrations to a new and exciting level of dysfunction.

The most obvious objection to this is the possibility of someone getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

Barring that, just being in the presence of a drunk person affects all members of a family.

Mood swings, aggressive behavior, unpredictable antics, and of course the trickle-down effect of having to take responsibility for someone who won’t be responsible for themselves or their children if they’re a parent, can really do a number everyone involved.


What to Do About It

Tipsiness happens at the holidays. So if someone has a few too many glasses of wine, doesn’t plan to drive and isn’t impacting anyone else other than maybe laughing too loud, that’s forgivable.

However, if you find yourself enabling an alcoholic or addict over the holidays or that things are getting ugly, it may be time for a family intervention.

You might first approach the loved one closest to the problematic drunk in question, such as a spouse, parent or live-in partner.

If that doesn’t seem to be working, you do have permission to not include alcoholics at family gatherings with the understanding that they will be welcomed back into the fold after they learn to control themselves and get a handle on their addiction.

Of course, if your idea of a good time is a simple Christmas, then that is perfectly ok too!

What better way to enjoy your time, then to exclude the chaos and enjoy the simple moments of the holidays.

Choosing to avoid difficult family, and instead having a nice Christmas with just your immediate family is a great way to celebrate the holidays.

Either way, choosing to enjoy your holiday no matter what is a great way to go!

Dealing with difficult family during christmas can be down right miserable. Here are great tips on enjoying your family and handling the holidays with grace and ease.

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