Most people have an idea what they'll be up to at Christmas. Will it be a traditional lunch on granny's farm, a picnic at the beach, a braai at your sister's house, or a TV dinner on your own?
But most families have some sort of get-together every year at this time. For better or for worse. Or "wors", depending what's on the menu.
But think back to last year's do. Did you enjoy it? Or were your nephews and nieces impossible for most of the day – hysterical with excitement about their presents and on an incurable sugar-high? Did your father-in-law misbehave badly after having one too many? Did your sister spoil the day by criticising your brother's interior decorating skills?
Or that other Christmas favourite – old family battles that resurface. Old sibling rivalries, perceived injustices, family vs. in-laws – the possibilities are endless.
There are things you can do to make the Christmas lunch a lot more tolerable for everybody. And things you should definitely avoid. If anyone does any of the following things to you, let them make their own arrangements next year.
Family feud Freddy. Freddy just can't forget about the time their parents helped his sister out with money after she got divorced. Every family has a few age-old battles, or sibling rivalries that get hauled out and dusted off and reworked from a different angle. There is no such thing as a perfect family. Christmas is an emotionally charged time as it is, and the temptation is great to revisit some of these old battlegrounds. Just don't go there. It's not the time, or the place. And next year, you might be sitting at home, alone, with a TV dinner, watching reruns of corny Christmas movies.
Greedy Greta. Indulging and bulging, it's also called. Everyone eats too much at Christmas. Isn't that what Christmas is all about? But if you cater for ten people, and Greta eats half the food on the table, without having made much of a contribution, it's time to shorten your guest list for next year. Especially, if on top of everything, you have to listen to an hour-long complaint about the subsequent indigestion.
Know-it-all Neville. Most of his sentences start with, "Why don't you?" This irritating guest is a painful know-all. The only thing he doesn't seem to know is exactly how irritating he is to everyone else. If you wanted advice on interior decorating, building alterations, how you bring up your children, organise your life, and cooking, you would go and ask the professionals. If you had the money, that is. And after what this Christmas lunch has cost you, you definitely don't. If Neville is wandering around giving unsolicited advice, it might be an idea for him to start thinking of where he will be on Christmas day next year. Because it won't be with you.
All-the-world's-stage Alex. This is the person who chooses to make dramatic announcements. The Golden Rule is that unless you're going to say something pleasant and funny, or you are paying a tribute to someone who is not there, don't make any grand announcements at Christmas lunch. This is not the time to tell the family that you're emigrating, or getting divorced, or whatever. All of that can wait. Christmas is supposed to be a happy time, so don't spoil it for everyone else. Don't be selfish and hog the day with some news snippet about yourself.
Special-diet Sue. If you have complicated food requirements, let your host or hostess know in advance. People don't choose their allergies, or their medical conditions, but try to accommodate the hosts as well. Imagine how stressed anyone would be who had to cook a lunch while keeping a diabetic, a vegan, an allergy-sufferer and someone with high blood pressure in mind. It is extremely bad manners to sit down at the table and then announce that you can only eat the potato salad, or that you don't eat fish, or whatever. Even better, rather than have the hostess change the menu for everyone, bring your own food. That way you can have fun too.
Brandon the Brat. Children need to be entertained, especially if there are not many other children around. Bored children are naughty children, and before long, their misbehaviour could spoil the Christmas lunch for everybody. If the kids have something to do, once they've finished eating (a video, games outside, boardgames), they are far less likely to cause mayhem. Over-excited and over-exhausted children on a sugar-high, will spoil a Christmas lunch for everyone.
Empty-handed Elmore. Take, take, take. That's what it is about for this guy. When someone says, "Oh, you shouldn’t have", you definitely should have. If the event is being hosted by someone else, this person has been cooking and cleaning for days in order to get everything ready. A small present, such as a bunch of flowers, or a gift voucher for a massage, is definitely in order. Just think how much work it would have been if you had to do it all yourself. And maybe next year you should.
Loud Lottie. The Christmas lunch table is not the place to hold forth loudly and endlessly on a topic of your choice. Everyone should try to be pleasant and to blend in and not hold the floor endlessly. It's fine if someone is the life and soul of the party for a while, but not if no one else gets a word in edgeways. This is the one day on which no one feels like dealing with difficult people.
Lazy Leonard. It's better to say, "Let me do that", than to wait to be waited on hand and foot. Arrive early and leave late – there is a lot to do, especially if furniture has to be moved, tables set, decorations put up and food served. Not to speak of endless dishes that need to be done afterwards. A helping hand is the best present you can give your host or hostess. It's also a very good way of ensuring a repeat invitation. If you sit around like you're in a restaurant ordering a waitress about, that may be exactly what you will be doing next year for Christmas lunch.
Fighting-fit Francesca. Sex, politics, religion – topics to be avoided at times like these, but Francesca jumps right in. Around most Christmas lunch tables you could find a very wide range of ages – from 8 to eighty. And a very wide range of opinions. This is not the time to try and convert people to your specific brand of religion, tell them about your love life, or climb into local politicians. Your chances of offending someone are high. Avoid all sentences beginning with: " At my church…", "All men are…" and "This government…" Even if you're saying nice things, you could provoke a vicious debate. This is supposed to be the time of love and caring. Maybe the best present you can give your family is to keep your mouth shut.
Puffing Peter. This guy doesn't check to see if there are ashtrays before lighting up. These hosts may be non-smokers or people who don't smoke indoors. Or even outdoors, if there are children. Don't spoil the day for everyone. If you have to smoke, go and do it where it won't offend anyone. Or even better, wait till you're back in your own car or home.
Cash Chris. This is the guest who talks about money incessantly. He forgets that this is a time of peace, or it should be. People are on holiday, and are supposed to be relaxed, and should try to forget about work and money and other worries. How much money you have, and how you made it, is simply not a topic for the Christmas table. Or even worse, how little you have and wondering where you're going to borrow it.
Boozing Belinda. OK, it's Christmas, and a drink or even two is definitely in order – that is if you're not driving. But, while everyone likes their guests to be jolly, no one likes having a drunk around the Christmas lunch table. Belinda is the sort of guest who will have three too many, because she's not paying for it. But next year she will be.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated December 2011)