It’s fair to say that emotions are running somewhat higher than usual this year as we head into Christmas. Two years of the pandemic and the chaotic spread of Omicron has cast a shadow over what would ordinarily be a relaxed and positive time, moseying along to the end of the year.
You only have to poke your head into the Canberra Centre to see the edgy energy and hysteria at play. I spent a stressful hour trying to purchase presents and found myself surrounded by Canberrans doggedly focused on making it a merry Christmas, despite the exhausted expressions that framed almost every face.
People were pushing their trolleys full of toys with glazed eyes, and there wasn’t the usual sense of festive energy. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one opting for more gift cards than usual, unable to think of personal and meaningful gifts after a year of more ups and downs than I’ve ever had before.
So it’s fair to say that the usual emotional reserves people draw on to deal with their friends and family over Christmas are maybe a little lower than in past years. And COVID or not, in most families, there has always been that one person who ruins Christmas.
Maybe it’s the spoiled child who cries when they unwrap a present not to their liking. Or the racist/homophobic/sexist aunt or uncle who has to be tolerated and diffused like an overactive explosive before they shower detritus over the lunch table. Or the feuding siblings or cousins who are forced to interact once a year, cushioned by the goodwill of their relatives.
I’ve already heard from frustrated friends and colleagues about their resolve going into Christmas celebrations to not bite when their father/mother/grandparents make a dig about their life choices or lack of a romantic partner. One friend told me with a sigh that he and his family will be skipping family Christmas this year because, as it turns out, there are a great many anti-vaxxers in his extended clan that he wasn’t aware of pre-COVID and they’re not willing to risk catching the virus for the sake of the holiday.
Other friends have admitted that, after two years of basically only seeing their family members while stuck with travel restrictions in their home city, they’re escaping to sunnier climes to enjoy the holidays, thus ruining everyone else’s Christmas by breaking tradition.
It’s easy for me to commiserate with friends without meaningfully engaging because I have a very easy trot through Christmas. My family doesn’t celebrate it, so I hang at the beach with my partner’s family, who are genuinely delightful people. The only Christmases I’ve had with my in-laws have been pleasant and relaxed, with no arguments, controversy, guilt or martyrdom in sight. Maybe the only tension that occurs is over a round of Trivial Pursuit (which I intend to win this year, having recently invested in a 2000’s edition).
But not everyone is so lucky. So how should we manage the difficult conversations and offensive characters who we might find crowding the Christmas table this year? How do you escape Christmas unscathed by the trauma of a debate about vaccinations, travel restrictions and stalling Omicron?
My advice (as someone who does find herself in ‘robust discussions’ regularly about controversial topics) is to maybe preserve your mental health first and let a few doozies slide this year. In the interests of having a break, connecting with family and staying sane, it might be best to occasionally shrug off the offensive comments from the relative who’s had a few too many beers or to nod and smile while your sibling relates their recent discovery of [insert alternative health regime here].
There is always at least one person who ruins Christmas, but this year, you can ensure it’s not you.