While Christmas events are pictured as fun, warm reunions, the reality can be high tensions and bubbling resentment. Whether it’s competitive spirits getting the better of us as Monopoly comes out, or arguments spilling out over the table, preparing yourself can really pay off

 Family Christmas Dinner

Sitting in silence watching Christmas specials? Faking excitement after receiving your 17th pair of black socks? Or tired of probing questions at the dinner table? For many, this represents Christmas with the family. Whether you’re a guest or hosting proceedings, it can be tiresome – at a time where the season is supposedly synonymous with goodwill.

Undoubtedly, we want dinner, and indeed the day, to pass without problems – or at least for it not to be a complete car crash filled with lifeless puns. But what’s the answer? Is there a magic wand we can wave to leave everyone spellbound? Call it an early Christmas present from Happiful, but here are some survival essentials we’ve sourced to help you weather the festive period, and have glad tidings all round:

Food

Good food “is all in the mind”. That’s right, the stomach is secondary. Brian Wansink, a food psychologist at the University of Illinois, USA, confessed to “years of feeding people cheap, mass- produced, bog-standard or downright horrible food”. He claims to have then “bamboozled them into believing they like it”.

The man could be a genius. “Taste is tremendously subjective,” he says. “People are not too smart to be fooled.” The idea is to harness what psychologists call the “halo effect”. In a Christmas nutshell, make people feel good about a few aspects of an experience and everything else about it will seem perfect.

 Family Christmas Dinner

Getaway

We don’t want to make dinner sound like a bank heist, but planning your arrival and exit can be beneficial. According to Andrea Brandt, a family therapist with more than 35 years’ experience, structuring your visit can pay dividends.

If you go home for the holidays and are committed to a few solid days with your family, there’s no reason why you can’t make plans with a friend while you’re there too, or catch a movie. It’ll be a nice distraction, a break from the stress, and maybe something to talk about when you regroup with your family.

Baggage

Sometimes the sacks of presents come with a suitcase of anger, built up over the year. Irrespective of how close families are, conflict can happen when everyone is in a confined space, according to Pamela Regan, a psychology professor at California State University in Los Angeles, USA. She says: “Because conflict is a normal part of relationships, the closer you are and the more you self-disclose, the more you hear things you don’t like.”

This is perfectly normal, says Regan, who implores us to keep the faith. “Once relationships are established, they are resilient. at’s what we see in the literature. “People think, ‘This is the family I’ve got, and it may not be perfect, but we can get through this.’”

Expectations
 Family Christmas Dinner

We’ve all been there, envisioning Christmas will be a “perfect time”, the food will be faultless, conversations will flow brilliantly and gifts will be spot on. But in order to avoid feeling disheartened when things don’t quite meet idealistic expectations, the answer could come from moving the Christmas goalposts if the numbers of guests are getting out of hand. Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and sociology professor at Oakland University, USA, believes conflict and tension can be reduced by shifting the meal either side of the big day itself.

The main thing to take away is that Christmas is not the spotless showroom open on the one day we’ve all been waiting for. Think of it instead as a blank gallery, free for you to customise, make your own, and for it to happen whenever and however you want it to be. The less pressure you put on yourself to make the day go without a hitch, the happier you’ll feel all round just to enjoy the present moment – the greatest gift of all.