The Holidays can be a wonderful opportunity to build on some strong bonds of mutual affection and love. Unfortunately, for some people, this time of year is nothing but stress and reliving painful past memories of Christmas. The famous story written by Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” is an enduring part of the Season. I think it conjures up what we hope will be a happy ending to our own family challenges.

Don’t forget that good etiquette moves beyond the “rules” and boils down to relationships…treating everyone with respect & dignity no matter what fork is used to paraphrase a quote from Emily Post. These tips can be a starting point to creating a more relaxed experience this year (or for any special event when family & friends come together).

1. Don’t have huge expectations on celebrating the perfect Christmas. This puts a lot of stress on us and those who have to live with us. So what if we haven’t baked 27 dozen shortbread or managed to mail out 127 cards. Drop the impossible “To Do” list and focus on some basics that are manageable and let the rest go. No one will be appalled if the cookies are store-bought or the Christmas greetings are sent via email. Be more attentive to those special people in your life instead.

2. Our attitudes can be the biggest obstacle to our happiness. We may be still harboring resentment towards those members of our family who hurt us in the past. Don’t let the poison of resentment affect the relationship today. Can’t we let it go? Try to forgive past hurts. Make it a new year of positive beginnings. Forgiving the past is a freeing experience…holding on to resentment just makes us more miserable and unhappy.

3. Create scenarios which mitigate the offending behavior. If we find that sit-down meals cause a lot of strain for all concerned, consider hosting an earlier event like a luncheon buffet. Or maybe don’t have everyone over at the same time especially if two or three people tend to create issues. Have two smaller get-togethers with less people that might be more manageable. Mix up the group so there’s less tension. Or if some of the guests have a history of abusing alcohol at social soirees, then designate a “bartender” who mixes & serves the drinks. This can prevent over-indulging.

4. Being up front about expectations can be helpful. For example, if certain topics bring out the worst in the group, make a point of letting everyone know that those topics will be off limits.

5. Be more understanding towards the foibles of others especially our family members. You can choose your friends but your family are a gift…this may not be of much comfort!! However, the effort we make to try to overlook some irritating fault in someone we live with is living a solid charity with others. After all, our family have to put up with our annoying habits, too!!

6. The willingness to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective can shed light on a difficult problem. Sometimes we get upset with family members who aren’t fulfilling our expectations. The old adage “Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” can help us to pause and check our reactions. Are we trying to be more sensitive? Don’t we want people (including our family) to be more understanding towards us, too??

Let’s take a deep breath, try to not to take everything personally and especially keep our sense of the “ha, ha” at moments when stress may strike. It’s not always easy when dealing with difficult personalities. If we have a plan ahead of time, then we feel more in control of our emotional reactions and have made that effort to make others feel welcomed and put at ease.

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