In The Advertiser today, Director Dale West says Christmas Day is not the time to sort out unresolved family issues.
AN annual Christmas card is all that remains of the volatile relationship between my mate and his brother.
They fell out 13 years ago. Every December since Pete has rejected his younger sibling’s written advance to hug it out on Christmas Day.
Pete says he has no cause for a Hallmark moment, even if it is Christmas, so instead he celebrates with friends.
His situation is not unusual but his sensible decision to separate himself from the conflict that’s divided his family is less common.
Sadly, a time idealistically full of peace will fall to pieces in many households this weekend when estranged families unite, often out of necessity, force and a sense of obligation.
This will occur across genders, cultures and socio economic backgrounds, as families grapple with challenges they have been unable to resolve during the year.
The triggers will vary: alcohol and intoxication; personality clashes; sibling rivalry; betrayal; bereavement; divorce and separation; custody of children; resentment; mental health challenges; intoxication and addiction. The list goes on.
In many homes, arguments over how to spend the day will have begun weeks ago and are likely to escalate over squabbles about how long to cook the turkey, or more serious rifts. Children will be overtired from excitement and parents’ patience will be tested.
At the pointy end, Centacare is preparing for a spike in domestic violence and homelessness over the holiday period, when physical and financial abuse is rife.
Unfortunately, these problems do not disappear just because it’s tradition to spread festive cheer. Sometimes they get worse.
Our mistake is to try and fix them in the hope our reality will live up to the impossibly high hopes we pin on Christmas Day.
If we fail to meet our expectations, stress, disappointment and anxiety is likely to spill over, along with the glass of red wine that always hits the deck.
Christmas is not the time to sort out family issues or to have the deep and meaningful conversation you haven’t managed to have all year.
If the family dynamic is that tinder dry and riddled with angst, why not make alternative plans?
Acknowledge the situation, accept it, and take steps to affect personal change.
Despite what the advertisements and greeting cards might have us believe, Christmas is not always picture perfect.
We are not all sitting around an esky opening amazing presents under the reflection of a magnificent bauble.
Many of our pictures will be totally different, but that doesn’t mean they are any less meaningful.
If we could frame the Christmas that we want, I am guessing we would ask for a generous slice of pudding and the nous to make the best of what we have.
Dale West is Director of Centacare Catholic Family Services