So, how are you all - now that the dust has settled over the festive period?

Did you had a tremendous time? If so, well done, and lucky you. I fall into this category myself and am profoundly grateful it’s all been lovely.

But I really sympathise if you haven’t enjoyed it, and especially if it was so bad that you keep thinking or saying, “I’m never going through that again.”

The potential for disaster over Christmas is enormous because most of us have high expectations of making it a special and heart-warming time, so when it doesn’t live up to our hopes, it can feel like the end of the world.

I remember a friend of mine being devastated about her brother, who had a long-term drinking problem. She felt she should always invite him for the festivities, but he tended to ruin them for others. 

One year, he was so boozed he stumbled into the tree, demolishing it in the process and sending glass ornaments and presents flying in all directions. It was the final straw and she banned him from her house. Some months later, he took himself off to Alcoholics Anonymous and eventually became a model guest who’s welcome all year round. So, there was a happy ending, but it was horrid for her at the time.

Christmases can also be difficult if your relationship is in trouble. And maybe those difficulties over the recent holiday have prompted you to seek counselling or legal help this year. If that is the case, do remember you’re far from alone. The Christmas period is a catalyst that propels many adults into sorting their lives out.

Unfortunately, for some individuals, the festivities always fuel family irritations. A single woman I’m going to call Maggie, has put up with criticism from her mum, every Christmas, about her failure to provide her with grandchildren. This inevitable unpleasantness has come to feel as much of a seasonal custom as the flaming of the pudding, but it never fails to hurt.

Relatives can also be horribly unsympathetic and unkind about small children. I met a young couple this week who said the big day had been ruined for them because of constant complaints from an older relation that their toddler was noisy. So, they’re planning to avoid family and go away next Christmas. I can’t say I blame them.

Another issue is one that becomes more common with age. You may always have enjoyed hosting the entire family for days on end. But perhaps you’ve come to a point where everything seemed too much, and you’ve felt old for the first time, and overwhelmed and exhausted. There’s absolutely no shame in that, but it’s hard to admit, I know.

There are then, all sorts of scenarios which might have spoiled your celebrations, but what should you do about them?

My best suggestion is that you discuss them sooner than later, and if you’re determined on making changes this year, big or small, you make your intentions known to your nearest and dearest as soon as possible. Why? Because it’s all too easy to let everything drift and then suddenly wake up to the fact that it’s November again and too late to make new arrangements.

You don’t have to know precisely what you want to do instead, just announce that you intend spending the holiday differently, so that everyone can get used to the idea.

You might only have to make tiny alterations. If, for example, you can’t face playing host to the whole family again, hopefully your adult children will step up and collaborate to take over all your usual roles.

Or you may decide that you could cope with smaller, more informal gatherings and that you would enjoy seeing different people on different days. This could also help you avoid clashes between relatives who always end up arguing.

If though, you’re determined on a complete break from previous routines, you’re going to have to be very brave! But in my experience, most families do adapt to change when they have to.

A colleague always felt out of sorts at family gatherings once her husband had died. She said they made her feel even more alone and grief stricken. So, for several years now, she has taken herself off walking in Devon or on a city break to York or a Eurostar trip to an Airbnb in France or Belgium. She makes sure she gets together with people she loves before or after Christmas but avoids any contact on the day itself. This works for her.

Of course, there are years when our parents are very old or there is some other sort of crisis that forces us to spend Christmas in a way that’s not ideal. But in general, I honestly believe that no one should, year after year, spend the festivities pleasing other people at the expense of their own needs and feelings.
 If the time is right for you to make a change in 2023, good luck with it, and make sure you plan something you’re really going to enjoy.