How to survive Christmas with family

CATEGORY: , 19.12.17
By Beata Justkowiak

Common expectations, tension in the air and how to address it all


We jump into the car or plane excited to be back home for Christmas. Excited to see whole family together and hoping that it will be great being reunited with friends and family, that house will be perfectly clean and prepared with all lovely shiny Christmas décor. We miss putting the star on top of the Christmas tree with your loved ones and beautifully wrapping gifts for everyone. And is there something wrong with the above? Not at all, as long as we acknowledge that those are our expectations, not a plan, it is not how the Christmas will look like (ups).


Tensions in the air evolves when we confuse expectations with our needs and reality.

It is absolutely normal that we all want to have truly Merry Christmas and spend slow and relaxing time with tones of fun memories being recalled, with room filled with laughter and joy when doing things together. We want to feel Christmas around us, with all its flavors (oh how I miss gingerbread cookies) and sense of calmness and love. Don’t lower your expectations, instead just make sure that you give yourself time (before Christmas day) to pin down what are the two most important things that you’d like to feel, do or achieve during these few days (and please, be specific, answer such as ‘I want to feel good’ doesn’t count).


When gifts go wrong

Giving and receiving gifts can be a no-win situation. Some of us spend hours planning perfect gives and others spend five minutes in a wine shop deciding whether to take red or white. We assume people close to us know us well enough to get us good gifts. So when a bad gift comes (and it happens all the time because of our expectations) it tends to reflect poorly on the relationship. However, did you know that men and women seem to have different psychological defense mechanisms for dealing with poor gifts? Women pretend the gift is just what they’ve always wanted whereas men are more likely to say what they think. And then emotions are on highway to the big and well known holiday arguments.


Making everyone happy

It’s important to determine whose happiness you’re trying to maximize when you give a gift. If it’s the recipient’s happiness, give what that person would like the most. If it’s your own happiness, give whatever makes you happiest to give. And if it’s the happiness of the relationship that you’re most concerned about, consider: Under what conditions would this person remember and think about you?

To lower the possibility of being disappointed that recipient doesn’t appreciate your thoughts or time spent preparing gifts, make sure you communicate the value you see in it while giving.


How to have a Happy Christmas?

When we are talking about gifts, research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies has answered the question of ‘What makes for a Merry Christmas?’ According to psychologists, “more happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied.”


Experiences vs. possessions

The above research suggests that experiences make us happier than possessions. That’s because when we get used to seeing something that we own every day, our initial elation over the object fades away. Experiences, by contrast, still give pleasure as we memorize more specifics, when they were given and how, how we have experienced them (plus we often take photos of those experiences), what emotions accompanied us and with who we shared this particular experience.

Choosing The Right gift

I’m sure you would agree with me (and other psychologists) that much better than expensive or practical gifts, are those that encourage us to have fun together and are about new experiences. Two aspects are proven as it surprises the receiver and creates possibility to engage in something together. Deepen and strengthen the relationships this holiday season by giving different gifts, for example board games are great idea (mine favorites are the Ego Family game, Dixit, or Empathy and Telepathy).

Oh, and don’t worry about the postponed gifts, once we give the balloon flight, it’s exciting enough from giving time until making it happen next summer.

Some of the experiential gifts you can consider would be a balloon flight, jumpy afternoon in the trampolines or escape room game, professional photo shoot session, ticket to theatre or for concert, live comedian show or beer at the live jazz night.



Holiday mean different things to everyone. Use the beauty of its uniqueness and spend more time with friends and family consciously chatting and engaging in emotional experiences.

Make it special by simply being there.


with love,




Research: Journal of Happiness Studies – ‘What makes for a Merry Christmas?’

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