What do you want your Christmas to be like? Is this down to you, or do other people have to behave in a certain way, do certain things for your vision of Christmas to be realised? Do they know your expectations?
Just a couple of weeks to Christmas and the tension is palpable!! There are lots of advice columns in magazines offering guides to getting through the day. When to put the turkey/nut roast in the oven etc. You may be one of those lucky people who sail through the season without a care (or maybe in such a champagne-induced rosy glow that you don’t give a festive fig) but for the rest of us, there is often quite a bit of anxiety associated with it. We all have our different issues, here’s mine (or one of them) and what I did to make things better.
We have a lovely tradition in Hebden Bridge (a gorgeous little town in Yorkshire, UK). On Christmas Eve, in the early evening, the townspeople gather in the square, around the tree, to sing carols accompanied by the local junior brass band. Afterwards we ask everyone we know to come back to ours for mulled wine and mince pies. Sometimes just a few people come, but usually lots do.
Now, my partner is a bit of a paragon, works outrageous hours and still manages to cook fabulous food for the girls and me most nights. Because of this I have built up an expectation that when folks gather for yule cheer, HE will be involved in serving up the mulled wine.
The reality for many years was that I would become increasingly hot and stressed as people piled through the door and queued for their festive cup. My beloved, meanwhile, was knocking back the vino and engaging in animated conversation, oblivious to my ‘suffering’.
By the time I emerge from my sticky, red corner, the first wave of guests had moved on to other gatherings and I was slightly grumpy. At the end of the evening, he was always slightly taken aback by my uncharitable, unseasonable and frankly, unusual low spirits, and I was always feeling slightly guilty about having minded. We would then have a rather sulky discussion about it and forget it until just after the party started the following year, when I would remember that ‘it’s always like this’.
SO – one year I decided we should discuss it BEFORE Christmas Eve (Doh!) i.e. BEFORE I got all hot and bothered about it. We both talked about how we felt about the annual event – and we agreed to share the tasks – and (blindingly obvious, this one) to encourage people to get their own refills. During the event we would make a point of checking each other is OK and be on hand to mop up spills, great new guests etc. We talked to the girls about it as well, and though they had always helped by taking coats they were delighted to get involved in all the other erstwhile ‘chores’.
What a HUGE difference that made – my expectations, my vision for a warm and welcoming happy family-hosted gathering was finally translated into a reality. Apologies of those of you who are thinking along the lines of ‘not exactly rocket science, that one, Jan’ – believe me, it felt like it at the time.
However, maybe this scenario strikes a chord for you. Your Christmas expectations are always scuppered, and it has a feeling of inevitability about it. If so, you might like to try the following in an effort to defuse the potential situation in good time. First of all, take a few minutes to ask yourself:
What are the things that sometimes go wrong, or give you stress at Christmas?
Is there a feeling of inevitability about this?
Have you got any control or influence over the situation?
If you answered ‘no’ to that last one, just check it again, are you absolutely sure there is nothing YOU can do?
What are all the different things you could do to deal with this? (and this is when you are allowed to make crazy suggestions, sometimes the daftest ideas contain a real germ of wisdom. All I ask is that in the spirit of Christmas, your ideas should not involve violence ;)
Which of those suggestions feels possible?
Whose support do you need to make it happen?
What resources (time, money, people, kitchen paper) do you need to make it happen?
Now you have to take action (that’s always the crunch with coaching!): At a time when you are feeling relaxed and happy, open a discussion with the key players about this stress-point. You could tell the other person you always worry about this and you really want to make sure its OK this year. In a nutshell:
Be clear how you would like it to be
Ask the other person how they would like it to be
Discuss your hopes and expectations with each other
Decide on the division of labour (if that is the issue)
Agree to be kind to each other
Agree with them to talk about how it’s going