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How to be Kind at Christmas

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Lesley McCall

Winter 2017

How to be Kind at Christmas


Christmas – the season of goodwill and joy, where families come together in harmony to eat beautiful feasts, play charades with all the sweet little children and sing carols round the piano … well maybe if you have a time machine and spend Christmas in the 1870’s! However, I wouldn’t recommend it as they put lead in your sweets for colouring and you really, really don’t want to know what got into your daily pint of milk!! Although, I hear the pies were good. 

The mythical perfect Christmas

That is the problem with Christmas – we all seem to have that vision of perfection in our heads (and on many of the cards we send). We are all chasing the perfect

Christmas … and, as I have said before, chasing perfection is a recipe for disaster. What happens when it falls short of everyone’s expectations? Disappointment, arguments and accusations, stroppy children, sulky, elderly aunts and mothers finishing off a bottle of chardonnay and all the liquor chocolates in the kitchen.

It is no coincidence that there is a positive stampede of people demanding divorces at solicitors in January. Christmas is the final straw for many marriages.

Rather than the season of joy and goodwill, Christmas can leave us resentful, bankrupt and promising ourselves that next year we will spend Christmas hiding in a hut in the Scottish Highlands.

How to survive Christmas with your marriage intact and without putting your children up for adoption.

Lower your expectations – it’s as simple as that. Buddhists say that all suffering comes from clinging to something, mistaken beliefs, the past, what Christmas ‘should’ be like. Many people slave away buying expensive presents and cooking wonderful food, doing what is ‘expected’ of them to please everyone. But is it kind to impose your expectations on to other people? Doesn’t that put them under pressure to enjoy your idea of the perfect Christmas, even if it’s not theirs? If you work so hard to produce what you think is the ideal Christmas, and others don’t enjoy it, then they would be ungrateful for all your hard work.

When two families marry, and two very different Christmases’ collide, this can cause bad feeling between them. Mother-in-law is not being kind by insisting everyone comes to hers for Christmas day – she is making sure that the grandchildren have the sort of Christmas SHE wants them to have (or is that just my mother-in-law? Oops). Kindness is tolerance.

Your expectations are yours and not theirs. So be kind and go with the flow and encourage people to do the same.

Remember Christmas is about people not presents

Buying stuff is not where the kindness lays. Taking the time to care about what you buy for a person, however small and inexpensive, is. Money does not equate to kindness, although it can be difficult when buying for someone who thinks it does. If someone is disappointed by the cost of the present you bought them, that is their problem, not yours. Some homemade Christmas cookies given unexpectedly to an elderly neighbour, for example, is a lovely thing to do – especially if you take the time to chat and have a cup of tea while sampling them. Kindness not money.

Buy what people want, not what you would like them to want. My tomboy daughter used to get pretty dresses at Christmas and birthdays – it was what her grandmother wanted her to wear (she is the only granddaughter). She would have to try them on, etc. That’s not kindness, that’s control – using emotional blackmail to get your own way. People mostly do this unconsciously – trying to encourage family to see it their way because its what’s ‘best‘ for them, but this is control – pure and simple – and it causes resentment. So, buy everyone what they want – even if you don’t approve – because its Christmas and it makes them happy, which is what a present is all about.

Take care of you

I know this sounds impossible – especially if you feel you are the one who must make everyone’s dreams of a perfect Christmas come true, but you don’t – honestly. How wonderful is Christmas going to be if you are stressed, exhausted and unhappy? If you enjoy spending endless days, months, preparing everything and making everything from scratch, wrapping each present until it’s a work of art (even though you know a two-year-old will tear it open in 1 second), making sure every little part of the day is organised and perfect, agonising whether the home-made brandy butter will be as good as last year … then I know some excellent therapists who can help you with that! If you reach the end of the day and you feel miserable and empty, then you are doing too much. Make your mantra ‘So What?‘, who cares if the presents are wrapped in masking tape because you ran out of Sellotape? Certainly not the kids that rip them open in excitement. Who cares if the vegetables are not cut into perfect shapes? Who cares if the pudding is shop bought? Who cares? Do only what you enjoy doing and no more.

Forget the ‘should’. Nobody has the same idea of what Christmas ‘should’ be like and you won’t be able to please everyone. In your house, it is done your way and if people don’t like it, they can spend Christmas elsewhere. Besides, if you do it perfectly then your family won’t be able to grumble – and everyone likes a little grumble at Christmas.

Don’t Overdo it!

It’s not kindness to overdo any of it. I have already mentioned running yourself into the ground making it all perfect but also there is the problem of excess.

Serving too much food makes people feel obliged to eat until they feel sick. Too much alcohol leaves everyone with a hangover. Too many expensive presents take away the excitement of ‘what are we going to get?’.

One year, I had inherited some money, so I bought my kids everything on their Christmas list … it was not the success I expected. They were less excited and rather overcome. Then we went out for an expensive meal … which they hated. They wanted the same as last year and the year before, they wanted their ‘normal’ Christmas.

An excess of material stuff is not always appreciated, but love and effort usually are, otherwise why do we keep those precious homemade presents from our children?

In Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapy we have a task for our clients called ‘Positive Consumerism’. For this task, we ask our clients to hand make a gift for someone they love, to put time, effort and thought into the gift, whilst spending a minimal amount of money. Regardless of your material wealth this Christmas, why not try it for at least one of your loved ones and see what happens?

Get your priorities right and don’t be influenced by other peoples ‘should dos’. Do what is fun and a bit special, but don’t feel pressured to buy, do or eat more than that.

Remember you can buy things and replace things any time, but time itself is our most precious and valuable gift. Whatever you do at Christmas and whoever you share it with, I wish you joy and hope that you and your loved ones find an opportunity to share that love.