If you participate in Christmas, you have made it through the most fraught holiday of the year. We talk about living simply, not over-spending, but when family traditions and pressure mount up, it’s often easier to give in than to explain, one more time, why not spending a lot of money on each other seems like a great idea.
A friend of mine told me that the day after Christmas is the best day of the year. “The holiday is over, and it will be almost a whole year before I have to go through it again. Now I can relax.” I believe her, and I can see the stress Christmas causes.
The push to buy and give and decorate and enjoy is magnetic and repellent at the same time. If you want to change it for 2016, here are some tips:
- Decide on what your ideal holiday celebration will look like. Be specific. Do you want to host a dinner or open house? No gifts or limited gifts? Secret Santa or progressive swap? Work at a charity event on Christmas day or gather at one person’s house? Nothing muddies the discussion faster than not having a clear idea to propose.
- Competition is a staple of corporate life. It’s easy to use the same techniques in our family. Steer clear of making a holiday a competitive event. No one wins that way.
- Be clear on what you want. Present it in a positive way. Nothing sinks an idea faster than someone who is uncertain about the concept and squishy about explaining it.
- Decide if you want to compromise. Be clear about what you want and what you don’t want. Understand that not everyone will agree with you immediately. Maybe never. Think about how much you are willing to be flexible on details to make the big picture work. Build support in your immediate family–those you live with or close to. Will you be OK if only your immediate family will commit to the new tradition? Or if only you will? Some plans work better if introduced fully, and some work better gradually. Know the heart of what you want and what is easy to give up.
- Think of objections your family will raise and plan on ways to discuss those objections. Avoid accusations (“You never listen to new ideas”) or old childhood grievances (“We always had to do what you wanted when we were kids, and you are still doing it.”) Emotional blackmail is also out. (Mom would have wanted this is she were still alive, and you know it!”)
- Start in February. Sooner than that, and you will seem to be grumpy about Christmas 2015. Later and people will claim they have already invested money, time, and effort into Christmas 2016.
- People who agree in February may back out by May. Expect that. Be open to people changing their minds, but know what you need to stick with.
- Be ready to stick to your idea. If you give up, people will be disappointed, even if they didn’t agree with you. Nothing will change unless someone stands up and changes the way things are done.
Already have the perfect Christmas/Holiday traditions in place? Celebrate. Tell your relatives you love them. Hug the people who made it work this year. Smile as you pack away the decorations. You’ll remember the joy when you set up next year.
—Quinn McDonald understands the importance of negotiating a difficult situation.