‘Tis the season to manage your festive expectations

Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Christmas can be the most stressful time of the year. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's the most stressful time of the year…

Ah, all the context cues that relentlessly hammer home the fact that Christmas is a time for unbridled JOY and lovely family gatherings, all the scientific evidence about the Merry Christmas Coronary and the Happy New Year Heart Attack, all the homegrown evidence that Christmas is often a massive let-down – it's enough to give anyone an attack of the MAKE IT ALL GO AWAYs.

We're so used to being swamped with endless scenes of wonderfully happy families in perfectly decorated homes eating a selection of carefully-prepared food and being granted their every festive wish that we forget that the last time we were part of a family Christmas it was messy, chaotic and if any of you had been granted one magical wish, it would have been that it was no longer Christmas. I love Christmas, although often in retrospect and not as it's actually happening.

For those of us whose Christmas doesn't look like it does on cards or adverts or films, I offer this advice gleaned from the perilous rock-face of real life.

Some Christmas coping mechanisms:

-Repeat to yourself, over and over, 'it's just one day'. This only works if it IS just one day – if your family celebrations will stretch over several days, repeat to yourself, over and over, 'next year I will not put myself through this again'.

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-Someone you thought knew you better will buy you something hateful. Practice your happy face in the mirror until it looks genuine and remember that your loss is a charity shop's gain, which means that in real terms, you are close to attaining sainthood.

- The way to avoid rowing with your family at Christmas is not to row with them.

-The way to avoid listening to other members of your family rowing at Christmas is more complicated, but could involve (a) removing yourself to another room, especially if you are cooking, when you can suddenly develop a diva-like inability to have anyone within 10 paces of you in case they ruin your creativity with the pigs-in-blankets/yule log/stuffing balls (b) choosing to go away for Christmas, preferably involving a plane trip, like Wham! did (c) industrial ear-plugs.

-Do not talk about Brexit/immigration policies/religion/how much someone else is eating/other people's dietary preferences/sexuality/unemployment/the time you had a better Christmas at the dinner table, especially if you have a mix of generations in the same room. Practice utterly bland conversational topics such as 'My Favourite Ever Gravy'.

-Never be off guard: there will be members of your family that can start a full-scale row on their own in an empty room. If your parents are there, regardless of your age, at some point you will feel compelled to regress to childhood and behave like a tired toddler or particularly gruesome teenager at precisely the same time as you are dealing with your own tired toddlers and gruesome teenagers. This is called 'the sandwich generation' and you are the unpleasant filling.

-Christmas dinner is just a posh roast. While I appreciate you may not have a husband who works at a restaurant and can make the whole lot for you so that you can miraculously whip up a three course meal in about five minutes (it's a revelation – please all go out and marry someone who can cook) there's no need to make a gigantic effort with Christmas dinner, especially if you serve it with copious alcohol. Genuinely: the key is the booze.

- Buy comedy hats. Comedy hats are the best way to mask the fact that you haven't made a discernible effort with Christmas dinner. This year, I have gone for the sombrero/false moustache combination for everyone, from three-year-olds to 78-year-olds.

-Make a pact with yourself that next year, you will have no truck with Elf on the bloody Shelf.

-Did I mention the copious amounts of alcohol? Merry Christmas. See you on the other side.