Had a rubbish year? 3 tips to surviving the festive season

Christmas comes but once a year, but My God doesn’t it make a big deal of itself? Trumpeting its arrival in shops, TV and magazines from mid October onwards, you’ll have to work hard to miss it. And the lump of coal stuffed at the bottom of the Christmas stocking, is the expectation that we will all be having a stellar time. Not just good or pleasant but life-changingly lovely. And in a very meaningful way too. But this is far from realistic. So, if you’ve had a rubbish year – whether through bereavement, disappointment or overwhelm – and can’t face forced fun, then here are some pointers on surviving the festive season.

1. Manage your expectations this festive season

One of the best ways to cope with the overwhelming feeling of Christmas looming near, is to accept that you won’t be enjoying it much. And really, so what? It’s only 1 day out of 365. And a crappy Christmas will happen to everyone at a few points in their life. This attitude of acceptance frees you from the pressure of the season, gives you permission to hunker down and let the day pass, and also allows you to embrace smaller and more personal pleasures so the holidays aren’t quite so horrendous.

2. You’re allowed to only do the best part of Christmas day

The holidays seem to be an all or nothing affair. Either you’re completely invested, decked head to toe in tinsel, or you’re the Grinch. But there is a third way. You are welcome to cherry pick the bits of Christmas you most enjoy. Embrace the traditions that comfort you, and the people you most care for but give the rest of it a wide berth. If you don’t fancy the big family dinner where well-meaning relatives ask intrusive questions, then give it a miss. Equally if you enjoy the evening party, but hate hanging around watching over-excited children argue, then make yourself available only for the latter part of the day. Thinking about the parts you love, and letting go of those you only join through expectation or duty, is key to surviving the festive season.

3. Design the experience that’s right for you

People tend to re-create the Christmas they had as children, without ever questioning if it’s right for them. Or whether they even enjoy it.

Unlike other traditions, Christmas can still feel like a Dickensian time warp, comprising family, turkey and board games. But it doesn’t have to be like this. More people are now designing a day that’s right for them.

Whether that’s spending it alone, enjoying a morning walk with friends or holing up in a hotel and letting someone else do the hard work.

I came across this lovely article in Red magazine, where the writer Kate Rhodes, describes her first Christmas spent alone. How she came to adjust to the silence and then relish the sense of independence it brought her. Spending the day on your own doesn’t have to be a sad, lonely, isolating experience. Instead it can be an occasion to focus on what you enjoy, and curate a Christmas you love without compromise.

There is a caveat though. For some people Christmas and the thought of another year to come can really feel unbearable. If this is you, and you’re seriously wondering whether you can survive and keep yourself safe, then there is support out there. Samaritans are an excellent listening organisation (I know, because I used to be a volunteer) and they will be available for you if you think you’re not coping or even if you just want to chat about how you’re feeling.

If you’d like to share your own experience of enjoying a different Christmas holiday, then I’d love to hear it. Just comment below.

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