Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

From thorny subjects to underwhelming gifts: How to keep Christmas conflict-free

Clinical psychologist and author Johanna Rozenblum offers some invaluable advice on how to avoid conflicts, or at least manage to deal with them, to help make the holidays a more peaceful time for everyone

Published: Dec 21, 2023 12:27:44 PM IST
Updated: Dec 21, 2023 12:29:45 PM IST

From thorny subjects to underwhelming gifts: How to keep Christmas conflict-freeThere are ways to avoid, diffuse and even cope with conflict this holiday. Image: Syda Productions / Shutterstock

The holidays are often an eagerly-awaited time of year, and yet they can rouse as many fears as they do hopes. The festive season is synonymous with fun, sharing and conviviality, but it can also quickly turn sour, due to current events, a grumpy guest, intrusive questions or a kitchen disaster. Clinical psychologist and author Johanna Rozenblum, offers some invaluable advice on how to avoid conflicts, or at least manage to deal with them, to help make the holidays a more peaceful time for everyone.

As the season of peace, goodwill and endless cheer, people have high expectations of the holidays, a time that we tend to idealize. Should we lower our expectations to avoid disappointment?

Disappointment often matches expectation in scale. If we expect the end-of-year festivities to heal past suffering, recreate the past, or put conflicts to one side, for example, the risk is that the dream will be undermined by reality, which doesn't always live up to our hopes and expectations.

The current economic, environmental and geopolitical crises won't do anything to help lift the mood this holiday. Should we try to avoid these subjects at all costs?

There are often unspoken agreements at family gatherings of this kind. Everyone wants to spend a peaceful time together, and will be keen to avoid bringing up controversial subjects during a festive meal or get-together.

But if they do come up, how should we handle the situation?

There are different ways of handling a situation that could create tension. You can, for example, openly state that now's not the time, or respond with a touch of humor to sidestep the issue. You can also—quite simply—not react to the subject at all.

There's always a tendency to want to avoid these conflicts, but isn't it healthy to debate—heatedly or otherwise—topical issues, whatever the occasion?

Also read: Three ways to minimise the effects of festive overindulgence

Yes, of course, it's always healthy to discuss these subjects, and it's still possible to discuss any topic over the festive season. It's more a question of how each family experiences these moments. For some, the festive season is no exception, and it's still possible to discuss current affairs, while others prefer to put their daily lives on hold for a moment, to focus on their family, their faith or the magic of Christmas, for example.

Are there things we can do in advance to help the festive season go as smoothly as possible?

In general, we all know what our own triggers are. Being aware of them means it's possible to choose not to fall into the trap of rising to the remarks of a contentious uncle, a grouchy relative or anyone else who, even unconsciously, creates a tense atmosphere.

Gifts should be synonymous with pleasure and happiness, but they can actually be a source of disappointment or frustration. How should we handle this particular situation?

Adults should usually be able to handle this kind of situation with ease, and consider that the thought takes precedence over the value of the gift. For children, learning to tolerate frustration is part of growing up. It's the role of parents to help children manage their emotions by verbalizing them, listening to them, and helping them see the situation in a different light.

Even though these celebrations are fun, preparing a meal and entertaining guests can be stressful. How can we avoid physical and emotional exhaustion on the big day?

Celebrations are supposed to be fun! If it turns into a strain, you need to know how to ask for help, or delegate by getting more people involved in the smooth running of events.

What are the three pieces of advice you would give to families to help them enjoy the festive season?

Respect each other's well-being by putting any tensions aside for the day, enjoy each other's company by realizing what a blessing it is to be reunited, and lastly, create happy memories for all generations of the family so that these moments remain something to look forward to every year.

*"Déconditionnez-vous ! - Tout comprendre aux schémas de pensée qui nous enferment" by Johanna Rozenblum is published in France by Le Courrier du Livre.