For many people the appearance of Christmas decorations in shop windows and Jingle Bells on television commercials herald in a time of everything but Christmas cheer.
Christmas to many people is synonymous with either family fights and tensions or with loneliness. For others it means slaving away behind the stove or battling other Christmas shoppers in large and overcrowded shopping malls.
Things you can do to have a painless Christmas
Don't be on your own. If you are single, or have no family in the place where you are going to be, do something about it now. Invite a few others round who are in the same position and offer your house as a venue for the event. Share the cooking. Don’t wait until two days before Christmas before you take action.
What sort of gifts? Sit down with the family and decide whether you are going to give individual or joint gifts. Some families pool their money and buy one large gift for every person rather than many smaller ones. Sometimes it is a good idea to put an upper limit, say R50, on the prices spent on gifts. Remember that small children often enjoy getting many small gifts rather than one large one.
Buy gifts now. Not two days before Christmas when half of the southern hemisphere will be out there with the same intention.
Share the cooking. If you are inviting other people for Christmas lunch, divide up the cooking between them. Salads, desserts and vegetables can be cooked or bought by anyone. Don’t exhaust yourself by trying to do everything yourself.
Avoid fights at all costs. If there have been family tensions during the year, everything is not going to disappear miraculously because it is Christmas. Try and sort things out beforehand, or if you can’t, call a truce – at least for the duration of the Christmas lunch.
Avoid hot lunches. In our climate, cold meats and salads make so much more sense than roasted turkey and hot vegetables.
Try and get someone to help you. Maybe even one of the guests on the day before to prepare and decorate the venue. There is more work to this than one imagines.
Rope in the kids. If your children are old enough, let them decorate the Christmas tree. You do not have to use standard Christmas decorations. A tree decorated with little red apples and sprayed pine cones also looks very attractive.
Have a break. Try to put in leave for at least a week before Christmas. This will prevent you from being overworked and overstressed by the time it arrives.
Invite non-family members. If any traumatic events happened during the year, such as divorce, separation or the death of a family member, it is always less painful to have Christmas together with people who are not family members. Christmas being a time of reflection and memories, things can get quite emotional.
Be charitable. Invite at least one person to lunch who would have otherwise spent the day on their own. This also demonstrates to your children the whole idea behind the so-called Christmas spirit.
Wrap gifts well in advance. The last thing you want ten minutes before the guests arrive, is to have your hand entangled in sellotape.
An emergency supply of small gifts. Always have two or three little gifts to spare – soap or a bottle of wine will do. These go a long way to curbing embarrassment in the event of someone arriving unexpectedly with a gift for you.
Make difficult phonecalls beforehand. If you have unpleasant phone calls to make, for instance to your stepmother with whom you have never got on, make them the day before, in case the call upsets you and spoils your Christmas Day.
Keep things simple. If someone managed to spoil the whole day for everyone last year, think up an excuse and don’t invite them this year.
You can always flee. Either with husband and children in tow, or on your own, if Christmas at home is too much to face. Go camping in Mozambique or rent a beach cottage in some remote spot. Somehow when people are on holiday and sunburnt and overfed, baked beans on toast might just suffice for Christmas lunch!
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated December 2010)