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Tips for surviving Christmas angst



Has it happened yet? Have you endured time as a captive audience member in the elevator, the workplace, the school concert, the shopping centre? Have carols and Christmas songs siphoned away your reservoir of good will, prompting welcome and unwelcome guest stars to invade your personal space?

Kid in Santa hat looks out rainy windowFeeling less joy and more angst? Forget the halls; are you tempted to deck your obnoxious relly or the droning grouch who corners you every year at the work do?

The tissue between honest sentiment, hidden woes and seasonal affectation is never thinner than now. As a younger man I recall blitzing Queensland's beaches and parks with my extended clan, only to get off the plane in wintry Melbourne thereafter and howl like a loon, driving all the way from the Tulla on-ramp to the Dandenong mountains.

Christ's Mass is a surprisingly stressful time, considering Emmanuel's rep as the Prince of Peace. The emotional intensity of family reunions, coupled with bereavements, swathes of suddenly 'empty time' and unresolved conflicts can all lead to incendiary conversations and clashes.

Across Australia, charities and churches, welfare arms, counselling clinics, ambulances and police stations have girded their loins for additional surges in toy runs, Christmas lunch hampers, and increases in family and domestic violence rates.

Cricket games, coma-inducing feasts, siestas and work lunches, the origami orgy of Christmas present wrappings being rent asunder ... the underlying truth in all of this, for many of us, is deep emotional pain and loneliness that's gone unheard, unnoticed, all year.

Family is both a lodestone and a millstone at Christmas. It's a truth magnified by aspirational love. As Pope John XXIII once said, cutting close to home, 'Mankind is a great, an immense family. This is proved by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.' It's a big ask that carries a price. The broken or breaking relationships we've limped with throughout the year receive additional stress, as relatives crashing at your place, like the proverbial fish, go off in three days.

Fathers and sons, brothers and in-laws: it can make for several bulls in the one paddock. As for mothers and mothers-in-law dancing widdershins around daughter-mothers? It's the great Australian tradition of duck shooting, with waterfowl trembling along the still waters, awaiting the first shot.


"One reason Christmas makes many of us so uneasy is the yammering away of tired culture warriors who fear that someone, somewhere, is going to steal Christ from the manger and make him go without his Christmas pud."


Yet friction doesn't have to lead to eruption. Humour can release tension and provide its own cathartic Christmas miracles. It's worth remembering that we are not the same people we were last year, let alone the person who left the nest decades ago (or indeed, kicked the hatchlings out).

The season, thank Christ, doesn't have to be grim. The late Peanuts guru Charles Schulz described Yuletide as 'doing a little something extra for someone'. In our time poor cultures, that can be as simple as sharing a meal with mates you love dearly but only spend time with semi-annually.

It also presents, unlike familial hosting duties perhaps, the rare chance to not be 'on' — the luxury of time for leisure, for laughter, for lingering over a meal or a coffee or a conversation, without having to rush off to another gig, restock the fridge, umpire over another disputed memory or relight the barbie.

Perhaps one reason Christmas makes many of us so uneasy is the yammering away of scared, tired culture warriors who fear that someone, somewhere, is going to steal the Christ Child from the manger and make him go without his Christmas pud. The annual, resentful backlash against sharing 'our' celebration of faith with others can weary the soul.

Behavioural scientist and author Steve Maraboli has a galvanising response to the fearful — dig deeper than the customs to mine the message. 'Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.'

For what it's worth, I humbly proffer some seasonal survival tips; take or leave them as you will.

i) Match indulgence with care for self and others: if you overeat, match your passion for food and sugar with exercise; if you drink, especially without measure or foresight, for God's sake don't drive.

ii) Purchase or make gifts without pressure or expectations for a commensurate return. Christmas isn't intended as a consumerist competition; a message I've occasionally repeated to our kids as they tally up their respective stockings and piles of gifts. What you get is less than who you give; that's a lasting message of the season's birthday boy.

iii) Choose freely those with whom you wish to share joy — not easily accomplished, is it? Where possible, celebrate the loves you have been given; without giving into the digs and remonstrances of those who lack love and begrudge you the nature or depth of your relationships.

So, I wish you a merry Christmas. Scrooge up and you just may blossom into Uncle Ebenezer — Grinch and you Grinch alone.


Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for The Salvation Army.

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Christmas



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Existing comments

Thanks Barry, a merry Christmas to you and yours! Despite revealing all too obviously some of my flaws (spendthrift, crankiness in the noonday heat), I do like this time of the year. I count my blessings: I have a son-in-law who lingers in the kitchen with me, a daughter who tells her nieces and nephews stories and a yard with a slippery dip and plenty of room for cricket.

Pam | 06 December 2016  

Some wise words there brother. A life was seemingly simpler for us as kids - so long as we got to Toowoomba in time to bat in the annual boxing day cricket match in the vacant lot next door! To me, Christmas is about giving, and watching in awe the enjoyment of our children. Baby Jesus/Santa - each an enjoyable story, but neither as important as showing love to others.

Darren | 06 December 2016  

Love you work Mr. Gittins. Can you run my life?

Michelle Davies-Kildea | 06 December 2016  

Merry Christmas, folks :)

Barry Gittins | 07 December 2016  

Another tip that brings happiness when celebrating Christ's birth - Make room at the table in your inn for someone who has nothing or has lost much.

Santa Claus | 07 December 2016  

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