Simplifying Christmas: Rethinking gathering

Last week on the blog I challenged you to rethink gift giving as a way of simplifying Christmas and reducing the stress of the holiday season. This week we are talking about ‘gathering’. There are 2 aspects of gathering with others that are commonly identified as major sources of stress. The first is negotiating family expectations. The second is the large number of social events that all seem to occur in the weeks leading up to Christmas. These can be ones that you are invited to attend, or that you feel you should be hosting.

Here are my ideas for rethinking gathering in order to further simplify Christmas.

Negotiating family expectations:

Families often feel an enormous sense of obligation to spend a gruelling day travelling from one gathering to another. This is often in response to pressure from each sets of parents (who may not reside together) and sometimes multiple grandparents. There are some who insist on seeing the family ‘on the day’. Then, if it simply can’t be squeezed into Christmas day, the family faces the unenviable prospect of doing it all again with a different set of parents/grandparents on Boxing day. The result is exhaustion as well as overconsumption. This is both unreasonable and unnecessary.

When our family moved from interstate to the same area as us we promised we would never do this to them, nor insist on ‘turn-taking’ on Christmas day, and we never have. Family gatherings can and should be held at any time of year. Any time is a good time to celebrate being together, and to strengthen relationships. Whether you do or don’t see someone on Christmas day should really be of little consequence. Unless you are deeply religious, I’m at a loss to understand why some insist on it. Perhaps it results from us being scripted by the generations that have gone before us. But times have changed, there are many more blended families, and people often don’t live near each other. Therefore perhaps it is time to think differently.

If you are a parent or grandparent who usually insists on seeing your children/grandchildren ‘on the day’, I challenge you to think about this from the perspective of your children. How might a shift in your thinking ease the situation for everyone?

Are you the one who feels under pressure year after year to spread yourself, your partner and children thinly across a string of events and locations on the one day? How can you make this year different? Is now a good time to start challenging unreasonable expectations and negotiating some limits?

“We must get together before Christmas!”

How often have you heard this? How often have you said this?!

Having multiple gatherings to attend in the weeks and months before Christmas is another major source of stress at this time of year. There are end of year celebrations for work, social clubs and the like. In addition to this, sometimes the year is almost over before we realise we haven’t made as much effort with relationships as we had intended. What results is akin to a mad dash to the finish line. We try to catch up with everyone as promised before Auld Lang Syne is once again sung.

Getting together with people can sometimes feel like just another thing we ‘must’ do. And given the many competing demands on our time, it can be the thing that we just don’t get around to doing.

I find that a great way to keep in touch is to create regular schedules and develop systems for getting together. Being a bit of an organiser, there are a few things that I arrange regularly:

-A 3-monthly dinner with current and former colleagues within our profession.

-A Birthday Club with a group of girlfriends, where we go for lunch or high tea in the month of our birthdays.

-An annual ‘pizza day’ at a small restaurant on a farm in the Scenic Rim which is well-known locally for its Italian cooking classes. It’s a fabulous day of running the gauntlet through the llamas to get into the place, followed by eating wood-fired pizzas, a few glasses of vino, and a game of bocce in a beautiful environment.

-I was the main organiser of a scrapbooking long weekend in the Scenic Rim for a group of us who all started scrapbooking at the same time. We went for 9 years running, and have been having a break. Another one is on the agenda for next year!

-I recently attended a school reunion. A BIG one in terms of numbers of years since we left high school! I’ve offered to organise a dinner for those of us who live locally. I hope it turns into a 6-monthly or yearly event. Otherwise the months and years will fly by and we won’t see each other for another 10 years!

-We host a ‘drop-in day’ during the holiday season. We schedule this in January, simply because people are so often experiencing ‘event fatigue’ in the lead up to Christmas. We invite friends and family to drop in anytime from 10 – 6 on a given day, and stay as long as they wish. Not requesting an rsvp removes any obligation to attend. We realise that people are sometimes ‘over it’ and just want to stay home! We want that to be ok, but find that most people do visit.

Sometimes I feel like the one who is always doing the organising! So it’s nice when someone else takes the initiative. A few years ago we 4 siblings thought it would be a great idea to have a regular weekend together, along with partners. This has been going ever since, at least once a year, with my sister-in-law hosting this more often than not.

Having these sorts of arrangements in place ensures that we don’t let important relationships slide. It enables you to reach the end of the year, and look back without feeling regret or guilt that you didn’t catch up with this or that person, or didn’t follow through when you said ‘we must catch up’.

Will 2017 be the year that you commit to some regular catch ups with important people in your life? Will you take action and organise some of these?

Do you find Christmas day quite stressful due to juggling multiple events and too much Christmas cheer? How do you manage this? Could something different happen this year?

Do share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • Joy Martin says:

    Hi Jo, such excellent thinking! I felt more relaxed about the Christmas run-up-race simply reading it! Unfortunately missed the school reunion, so am v interested to hear of alternative opportunities rather than wait 10 years. Cheers!

    • Jo says:

      Hi Joy, many thanks for your comment! Look out for reunion news soon! And let’s all try to take actions that help us hang on to that feeling of relaxation.

  • Helen says:

    Hi Jo, I’m a friend of Joy and I couldn’t agree more with your sentiments and suggestions. Joy shared your post and I have subscribed to your blog because we obviously share some similar values. I also love growing, crafting, reading and socialising.

  • Lynn says:

    Great post Jo
    Love your idea for family get togethers for pizza & bocce. Can you share the venue?

    • Jo says:

      Lynn, if you google Classi Di Cucina you will find Pietro and Desley’s place. They mainly do cooking classes now, and are open on days like Hidden Tastes of Mt Barney. You may be able to negotiate a date for a private gathering, as we do every year because we have come to know them quite well. Minimum 10 people is a requirement. SW gathering venue perhaps??!!

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