shutterstock_324370085Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or other winter holiday, there’s probably a thing or two that you’re dreading. Despite all the songs about peace and harmony, love and joy, family and friends, holidays can be rough on relationships.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Be it your temperamental aunt on your father’s side, your sister-in-law who always has a bit too much to drink, or even your children who have not yet learned to accept a present they hate graciously, there will be stress and conflict.

You probably know this already. You’ve lived it year after year. And like many families, you are hoping that this year, things will be different and all Norman Rockwell, with smiling children, doting grandparents, and the cute puppy who is potty trained and loves everyone.

I’m not promising you that I (or anyone else) can magically transform the disfunction into singing in harmony, but there are things that you can do to make your holidays more peaceful.

  1. Adjust your expectations. People may argue, kids may cry and fight. Cousin Jimmy may have one (or two) too many. But it’s still time with family and friends. Enjoy it for what it is, faults and craziness and all. If you look for the good, you’ll probably find it.
  2. Have a plan. This may mean setting a time limit on your visit so you’ll know it won’t last forever. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Simply say something like, “It’s nice to see everyone, but we’ll have to be out of here by 4 today.” If conversations get too heated, allow yourself to step away. Talk a walk, play with the kids, or help in the kitchen.
  3. Find your happy place. This could be a chair in the corner where you can observe the goings on, of it could be in the center of the room soaking up the energy. It could even be with the cat or dog (animals can be more pleasant than people at times).
  4. Don’t bring up the past, unless it is completely, and I mean completely absolutely, benign. Don’t bring up the time your sister spent Christmas in jail. You may think it’s hilarious, but she’ll probably disagree. Avoid topics that might bring embarrassment or awkwardness.  No sarcastic remarks. Basically, if you can’t say something nice, for heaven’s sake keep your mouth shut.
  5. Realize that when family gets together, old patterns remain the same as when you were a child. Bossy older sister continues to boss the immature youngest, mom and dad argue politics, and grandma ends up snoring in the corner. When you feel those old emotions coming up, ask yourself if what you’re reacting to is in the moment or is it colored by the past. Try and stick with the here and now.
  6. Assume the best. If your brother brings up that time you fell over on the Christmas tree, realize that he probably said it not to hurt you but to connect with you with a funny story. If your mother gives you 10 pair of socks (true story), don’t think she secretly hates you, but that she knows you like crazy socks and went a bit overboard.
  7. When all else fails, bite your tongue and smile. It’s only for a few hours. Let the craziness melt off of you and try to have a sense of humor about it.

Family gatherings bring out the best and the worst in us. People tend to be the most brusque with those they love and feel comfortable around, and this can cause tension and hurt feelings. Look past the bad, focus on the good, and remember this is only once a year. You can do this.