How to handle sticky situations at Christmas time

Here’s how to handle all those dicey moments, from arguing family members to the etiquette of re-gifting.

Christmas time can be fraught with juggling family and trying to keep everyone happy. From deciding who to spend the day with, to managing unwanted gifts, etiquette expert Anna Musson, shares how to handle these sticky Christmas-time situations. 

Who to spend Christmas Day with

If you simply can’t visit both sides of the family in one day, Anna suggests putting a family agreement in place about whose turn it will be each year so there are no misunderstandings.

"Knowing in advance where you are spending Christmas helps everyone involved to easily plan out the big day and having a fair schedule will reduce arguments," she says.

Lover’s tiffs

While Christmas is certainly a time for love and joy, sometimes your partner just drives you crazy, but you can’t make a scene in front of the entire family.

Anna suggests having a healthy conversation, before spending time with family, about how to handle stressful moments.

“Choose a safe word, like, ‘Ooh the NAPKINS!’ or, ‘time for a refill?’ So you can ward off a potentially explosive situation and meet your other half in the kitchen for a shot of brandy,” she says.

Most importantly, Anna recommends avoiding the temptation to air annoyances about your partner in front of friends and family. “No one likes being around for an argument and this is not the time,” Anna warns.

Unwanted gifts

The pressure of opening gifts in front of others can be overwhelming. It’s not that you are ungrateful, but sometimes it’s hard to feign excitement when you open something that’s not really ‘you’.

“Here is the trick: keep a straight face while you unwrap the gift so your face can light up when it is revealed,” Anna says. “Then say something like, ‘It’s brilliant! I love it’. Then put it on, spray it, eat it, wear it, demonstrate that you love it and you can take it off in the car on the way home.”

And don’t worry, Anna says it’s not being fake, it’s simply sparing the gift-giver’s feelings and being polite.

Family arguments

Similar to putting out fires with your partner, Anna says minimising family quarrels is all down to preparation.

“Discuss the potential blow ups with your partner and other family members before they happen, so you have a strategy for when they arise,” she says. “For example, you may pre-determine that Uncle Jack is in charge of keeping cousin Elliot out of the booze cabinet and Aunty Mary is assigned sitting between cousin Colin and sister Denise etc.”

Anna also advises appointing a general peacekeeper, whose job is to run interference (think along the lines of bringing out the pav, the egg nog, the sherry or a round of singalongs) at the slight hint of any tension. 

You don’t want to leave home on Christmas Day

By the end of the year, most of us are completely exhausted, so the thought of shuttling between various family members' houses is the last thing anyone wants to do.

The only downside to this is you know that people will be hurt if you don’t show up for lunch or dinner, so Anna says the key here is to compromise. This way you can still enjoy the day and spare your parents’ feelings.

“Opting for a family breakfast is a good option, instead of the traditional lunch or dinner, for easy travelling without too much traffic on the road, and getting away early before the champagne comes out – (if you’re lucky),” Anna says. “If this becomes an issue, it could be time to discuss Christmas every second year.” 

The expense of buying gifts

As the family grows, so does your Christmas present list. Before you know it, you’re buying for your six nephews and nieces, your brother-in-law, your brother’s girlfriend, your daughter’s boyfriend and all those in between.

Instead, Anna recommends considering a Kris Kringle style of gift giving.

“Each family member buys one good present for one person at a set monetary value that suits your family's budget,” she says.

Re-gifting etiquette

In good news, Anna says that re-gifting is completely acceptable but there are some rules to follow:

  • Give outside the circle of contacts who gave it to you.
  • Re-wrap so you can check for cards and traces of the original giver and recipient.
  • Only give it if you know they would love it.  Recycling the plastic pickled onion tongs is simply not going to cut it.

Follow these rules and you won’t put a foot wrong come Christmas time.

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