Want a happy family gathering over the holidays?

Gingerbread happy family gathering

If you want a happy family gathering, start by deciding what is most important.

If asked what is most important about Christmas, many of us will say getting together with people we love–“a happy family gathering”.  Whether we mean relations or friends or work colleagues that form our “family”, when we do get together, life gets a bit fraught (or very fraught). It’s usually because we get so caught up in the detail of catering, presents, decoration and planning, that we miss the big picture.

Let me give you an example: I thought,  Wouldn’t it be great to make Christmas cookies with the two small boys who are part of our lives? I had the icing prepared, the dough ready for them to roll out and the Christmas cookie cutters ready… thinking we’d end up with lovely cookies they could take back for their family like the ones above…

I love them to bits and enjoy time with them, however, they are more mini whirlwinds than assistant pastry chefs. So  we didn’t quite end up with that.

What actually happened was


happy family gathering--decorating cookies

Turns out that what’s important to 6 & 7 year olds is undivided attention, unlimited sprinkles, unrestricted access to icing and unstinting praise. What the cookies looked like and how many were actually left to take home was not a major priority.

Fortunately for all of us, I decided early on that what was most important that day was to have fun and happy memories. I wish I’d learned that years ago!

How to have a happy family gathering

  • Before you complain or criticise, think “will this help us be happier?”
  • Talk about what you agree on, not about what you disagree. Or if you enjoy the discussion, don’t let it be about who is wrong and who is right. Carolyn Parr quotes the poet Rumi “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I will meet you there ” in her great post on how to have a happy family gathering at Thanksgiving.
  • Listen more than you speak
  • Notice the good things and comment on them
  • Ask everyone what they would like to do and agree that each family member gets a turn to do what they want to do for a specific time period (within reason)
  • Set ground rules and expectations early, clearly and positively–if you want help with the dishes, let people know. If you don’t like people smoking in the house, suggest options.
  • Have some downtime and get plenty of rest.

A wonderful quote from Benjamin Franklin sums it up

“Remember not only say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”   

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