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Holiday Pressure: Your Place Or Mine?

Whenever the mighty holidays are looming, we’re forced to address all sorts of sticky dilemmas and relationship stresses — some more boo-hoo-hoo than ho-ho-ho. Where do you go, who do you take, what do you buy? The trick is to plan ahead, so that you feel more festive than foolish. Here are some coping strategies:

Where do you go?

Let’s say you just started dating. Are you obliged to spend a cozy Christmas time together? Is it fair or manageable to meet his entire extended family en masse over mulled wine and color-coordinated gift-wrapping? If you have only met his sister or her parents, inhaling the whole tribe over turkey and tinsel is daunting, especially when all those extended family members will want to know when and if you are becoming a permanent item. Santa Claus season puts additional emphasis on the State of the Family-Union Address.

If you’d love to attend a tribal gathering but feel shy, don’t pass up the opportunity to party. Try this:

• Let your date know you don’t function well on stage and ask for some direction or support.

• Ask for the dress code. This may not be the occasion to try out the bright red clingy thingy.

• Get background on the participants. Will there be children? You can always hang with them and play silly games if the adults get too scary. Offer to bring your camera and be the family’s chronicler. This gives you a purpose (helping stuff the turkey will do, but it’s messy) and a way of BEING there without actually having to take a lot of responsibility for the interaction.

• Run a demi-marathon beforehand if that’s what it takes to lower your anxiety. And remember that conversations are not entirely up to you — don’t decompose if there is a lag. Ask questions and seek opinions. Everybody has a point of view. Then you can look on with fitting concentration as Uncle Louis describes the problems with the trucking business, or when the Mother of the Boyfriend confides she’s worried her granddaughter may be gay.

• Have a bailout strategy. Be aware that the energy in Christmas lights may cause unusual openness between virtual strangers. Be prepared and you can have a grand time despite your fears. If you just can’t see yourself facing the big event, the easiest way out is to cite previous commitments. (The SPCA was counting on you to walk the Mastiffs all week, wasn’t it?)

Who do you take where?

Talk about a split decision. For those blessed with divorced parents, there is the added headache of choosing whom to see on which day so as not to play favorites. Be ready for mountains of hypersensitivity to conquer. The singing of carols and images of family ‘round the table highlight the less-than-perfect arrangements many people have in their lives. Factor in a boyfriend or girlfriend and the permutations rise.

One solution is to throw a bash yourself. Invite friends and geographic orphans — those we know who tend to be less judgmental, but more up-front nosy about new couple formations. Another is to divide up the family commitments over time — his one year, hers the next. Or you could try Christmas Eve with one side of the family, Christmas Day with the other. And if your divisions are more geographical than philosophical, don’t forget you can still keep in touch the techno-way — Skype, email or phone.

What do you buy?

It may be better to give than receive, but receiving is easier — no decisions involved. You’ve been together a year — do you give him a car … or a card? The truth is that no one becomes our great ally or enemy depending on whether or not we picked the perfect sweater.

Here’s my solution: Tell people that you and your friends and family have a tradition of either spending $10 or less on a present, or giving homemade presents only. Explain that this tradition not only challenges people but also gets their creative thoughts going. The fact that it also staves off post-holiday debt stress is the obvious bonus — and probably the best gift you’ll give yourself.

Finally, remember that passions and emotions are tickled by the overload of expectations and physical closeness that occurs at this time. Tempers, tantrums and turmoil are as common as candy canes, so remind yourself to put it all in perspective. Memorable or not, this week is barely 2 percent of your year. And despite the overflow of eggnog and wine, limit the amount of drinking — which inflames all of the above. Tuck your sense of humor in a pocket and carry at all times.

From me to all of you, thanks for reading this year, and have a happy, healthy holiday.

© Rhona Raskin 2014

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