No Christmas is without stress. There. I’ve said it. While it is, undoubtedly, the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas cheer is almost always accompanied by tears, sequin chafe, mince pie-induced nausea and a willingness to hit most of your family members over the head with a cooked ham by Boxing Day. This year tensions are running higher than ever, as plans are changed and cancelled more quickly than you can pack and unpack the car. But all is not lost – don’t drown yourself in a vat of mulled wine (yet). Cast your eye over our handy guide to getting through the festive season relatively unscathed and remember that if all else fails, there is always Netflix, a family pack of mince pies and an early night.
If you are lucky enough to be in a tier that allows mixing, resign yourself to the fact that this year, the main topic of conversation will be coronavirus. Don’t try to fight it, or bring up that really interesting Guardian long read you found the other day. Just lean in. Your anti-vaxxer uncle is bound to have an argument with your safety-conscious cousin, who’s spent the majority of the morning wiping down everything under the tree with Dettol. Try, as calmly as possible, to see everyone’s point and mediate bickering where you can. Failing that, disappear into the kitchen for a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and cross your fingers World War III isn’t kicking off next door.
When will people realise that bringing out Monopoly at Christmas is, however close-knit your family unit, a recipe for disaster? Even the Von Trapps would struggle to maintain loving harmony when the banker quite obviously nicks two hundred quid to put towards buying Park Lane. This year, you may avoid Monopoly in favour of a Zoom quiz, but know that this, too, has its inevitable drawbacks. Someone’s WiFi will crash (everyone will pass the five minutes the afflicted spends trying to reconnect discussing whether BT is better than Virgin). There will be a tussle over whether half-points are allowed – the answer is no. And everyone will secretly hate the niece whose tree, garland and fairy lights look, even in the background of her screen, like they’ve been sprung from the pages of World of Interiors. Accept that, whether online or in person, family games have the capacity to turn everyone into a toddler. You will probably cry, but be comforted by the fact you need never play again (until next year)
It is a sad and eternal reality of Christmas that you will be given presents you don’t like and, more often than not, these will come from the same people every year. Scented candles, sponge bags, really cheap notebooks and bubble bath gift sets are all among the usual contenders for sourced-from-the-back-of-the-cupboard presents. You are, however, old enough to rise above the fact that great aunt Maud seems incapable of gifting you anything other than lavender soap. If you are together, fake a smile and blow her a large, socially distanced kiss; if you’re apart, write her a thank you letter and remember that all presents are thoughtful (deep down). A word of warning, though, to any serial re-gifters: please, for the love of Santa Claus, keep a list of who gave you what. You will never live down giving great aunt Maud her own lavender soap back next year
There is, I’m afraid, no ideal relationship status when it comes to Christmas this year. If you’re locking down with your significant other for the first time, maintain extreme cordiality: let them finish the crispy bits on the turkey and don’t complain when they want to watch a god-awful Christmas special on the telly. You do not want a fight, however small, if it’s just the two of you. If you’re single and with your family, prepare to be met with sympathetically cocked heads, patronising smiles and questions about online dating (‘Have you tried one of these video dates yet? They’re meant to be rather fun, I hear.’) The most palatable option is to be in a long-term relationship where you live together, your significant other already knows your family and you’re all bubbling for the day. There will, however, always be one drunk relative who asks if and when you’re having children. This is to whom you re-gift the lavender soap.
If you’re getting a proper family Christmas this year, don’t forget the universal, unwritten rule that everyone must pitch in to make lunch, even if it is in the most insignificant way possible (read: emptying the brandy butter out of the plastic tub and into a bowl). Give special consideration and a really nice present to whoever puts their hand up to be in charge of the turkey; it is a thankless and monumental task. There will always be clashes over whether or not to score the Brussels sprouts (answer: yes) and whether you need extra bacon alongside the pigs in blankets (answer: yes). Try to remain calm in the face of adversity, even when someone is quite clearly desecrating the gravy – as long as everyone ends up with something on a plate and there are minimal tears and third degree burns, it has been a success. If you’re having a smaller Christmas this year, feel no qualms about throwing in the towel and ordering a takeaway – no one needs extra pressure and if you feel like a pizza and a bottle of Champagne, let no one stand in your way. Roast potatoes should not be on the long list of things causing you existential dread this year.