It begins in summer. The soft, tinsel-trimmed rumblings of Christmas from department stores and greetings card shops, that in turn graduate into the appearance of advent calendars in October and finally rise to a mid-November crescendo when your parents call with that dreaded question: Will you be spending Christmas with us this year?
There’s such a ridiculous amount of pressure on the big day that Christmas will never live up to a family’s expectations. Your mother will have spent three days solid cooking in the kitchen, your father the same amount of time up on the roof stringing lights and the rest of your extended family travelling from the four corners of the earth to converge, like wise men on a nativity, on your frenetic festive doorstep.
It can be tough. But, before you reach for the eggnog, we’ve condensed our guide to coping with these huge — often hellish — family gatherings into five easy tips. So don’t be going all humbug just yet — because this is how you can survive a family Christmas.
Try not to get too drunk, or show up hungover on Christmas morning
Okay, the festive season may be the only time of the year it’s socially acceptable to always have a drink in your hand, but don’t take it too far. The odd Buck’s Fizz is always fun, but if you decide to go out on a massive bender on Christmas Eve, raid the drinks cabinet for all manner of ports and liqueurs and rock up on Christmas morning looking like you’ve been kicked by a reindeer, you’ve done something wrong.
Instead, limit yourself to the odd tipple — some sherry perhaps, or a sip of that new whisky your father’s just unwrapped. Enjoy a glass of red with Christmas dinner, and some dessert wine with your pudding — but try to steer clear of that crate of Smirnoff Ice that was bought for your nieces and nephews. That way madness lies.
Try not to look too disappointed when you open a present
A gift-wrapped minefield, if ever there was one. With presents under the tree gifted from family and friends, you never quite know what you’re going to get. It could be something truly inspired; a present even you didn’t know you were going to love. It could be something innocuous and functional, such as a jumper. Or you could pull the ribbon off something genuinely awful — a gift with a lump-of-coal-topping level of badness.
In this instance — it happens at least once every Christmas — the key is to keep your face neutral. Don’t express anything at all. Then, after a couple of seconds, smile and say thank you to whoever gave you the nose hair trimmer/toe socks/Collected Speeches of Donald Trump. Then hide the present as quickly as you can and hope the gifter never brings it up again.
Try not to pass comment on the quality of Christmas dinner
Unless you’re complimenting it, of course. Whatever the state of what’s on your plate, whoever put it there likely spent the best part of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day slaving over several hot pans, an oven, chopping board, kitchen sink and Santa knows what else to create a culinary feast for the family.
As such, you eat what you’re given. ‘Dry turkey’ does not exist. ‘Lumpy bread sauce’ need never be mentioned. ‘Overcooked vegetables’ may pass your lips in but one direction. Just pull your cracker and eat your dinner — and finish the meal with thanks.
Try to enjoy family time, from the obligatory dog walk to board games
Christmas, to an extent, if about putting your game face on. You’ve decided to come home for the holidays and, like it or not, there are certain activities that go along with that commitment. It means you have to keep your cool while playing Monopoly. It means you must bundle up and go on the drizzly dog walk. It means that you must believe in Santa for your younger relatives.
Be the type of gentleman who throws himself into situations — not just tolerates them. Suggest a gingerbread baking competition, help make decorations and get inventive with the squirty cream and marshmallows come hot chocolate time. Don’t be the guy who sits on the sofa all day, scrolling through Instagram while his nearest and dearest enjoy the day around him.
Try not to leave someone out of the gift giving
We’ve all been there. Sitting cross-legged on the living room floor with a pile of presents from under the tree when — BAM! — it hits us that we’ve forgotten to buy one choice family member a gift. Obviously, the main way to avoid this problem is to make a list and check it twice. But, if you manage to get to the 25th and still forget someone, there are still ways to recover.
Firstly, you could tell them that their present didn’t arrive in time; weak sauce, but it might have to do. Alternatively, you tell them that you bought tickets for a show or experience, and that they should book a particular date off work. Then get on that smartphone as fast as your credit card will carry you and buy some tickets — while vowing never to leave a family member out ever again.