"It's a holly jolly Christmas, it's the best time of the year..." hums in the background of the bookshop as I stroll through the crime section. I grin as I realize how well this section fits in with my Christmas.
I can smile about it now, but for many years Christmas was the worst time of my year. This wasn't just because I was triggered by the commercial exploitation of this originally Christian holiday, which for me manifested itself particularly in the fact that Christmas cookies are available to buy in supermarkets after the summer break in Germany. No, that Christmas cookie thing still triggers me.
The fact that my thoughts about Christmas were not "merry & bright" for a long time was due to the fact that every Christmas for my siblings and me consisted of stress, arguments, tears, anger and loneliness after my parents' unhappy divorce that lasted for years. Above all, the stress started from around the first Advent and grew exponentially, only to burst like a snow globe on the ground at Christmas. My siblings and I would float around helplessly in the stress, like little figures in the snow globe liquid, clinging to the fact that, thank God, Christmas only lasts three days of the year.
Since I no longer live at home, it has become a little easier for me as I can obviously decide for myself when I visit my family, but it's not so easy when you have important family members who you obviously want to see, but also don't want to let down in this situation. So, Christmas is still not "the most wonderful time of the year" for me, but over the years (in therapy) I have learned a few things that I would like to share with you!
First of all: In acute cases of physical or psychological violence, please contact the police (110) or the emergency services (112) (these numbers are valid in Germany, you can find more hotlines at the end of the post).
Okay, get cozy with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and let's talk about how to make the holidays merrier this year :)
First of all, it is important that you realize that a Christmas as portrayed in advertising, in books and especially in US movies is very rare and that this has created a standard in our minds that is far removed from reality. By this I don't mean "don't be stupid, that's just not how it works!", but that we should reflect on whether this represents a good reference for the holidays or whether we should be a little more realistic. That way, we can appreciate some things much more and reflect on what Christmas means and what we value.
Stress and its consequences, for example, is something that doesn't do particularly well in Hollywood's Christmas movies, as nobody wants to see it - after all, you already have enough of it yourself. But that is certainly a problem.
Christmas is probably always bound up with a certain degree of stress and that's mainly because there are partly imaginary and partly unrealistic expectations.
Whether it's your presents that the other person will hopefully like, or the present you're expecting yourself, when you think of your parents, for example, it's the food that has to be prepared (and ideally also taste good), relatives want to stay with you and feel comfortable, small children are excited, get up early and are often more fidgety and louder than usual,
sometimes for three consecutive days. Of course, one can be stressed. It helps to be aware of this and to talk about it. Especially people who feel that they have a lot of responsibility and don't want to disappoint other people's expectations. Your parents could be in this role, for example. Perhaps you can talk to them about this topic, and you can divide up some of the tasks among a larger group of people. It's advisable to do this early on, because believe me, it takes a lot of pressure (and stress later on) when things like this are arranged as early as possible.
This brings us to the second point. It is important that you think about how much you are able to help and get involved. By this I don't just mean baking, decorating, or shoveling snow, but also in conversations, discussions or fights.
It can help if you think in advance about which topics, you would rather not discuss and also with which relatives (in your experience) it makes no sense to discuss, as you will always feel worse afterwards. It's important that you take care of yourself and your well-being by actively setting boundaries - even at Christmas.
Also, be aware that your behavior is the only behavior you can influence (unless you have small children). This may sound a bit philosophical at first, but it is quite simple and fundamentally very important to internalize. You can't influence whether your weird uncle starts talking about 9/11 or the corona vaccination (he calls it the "Bill Gates shot") again. Just like your grandma has a problem with the fact that you don't eat meat and never tires of telling you so at every opportunity.
But what you can influence is how you react to it, and you should also ask yourself if it is worth reacting to some things at all? After all, isn't it your mood, spirit, and energy that your uncle and your grandma are tampering with? And don't you actually know that your uncle has been unemployed for a long time and has therefore lost faith in the state and its institutions and that your grandma, having experienced the war, simply doesn't understand that a woman remains capable of childbearing even without a daily supply of meat? I know that it's not always that easy (even funny) and believe me, I haven't been able to put everything I preach into practice myself, but I know that it helps if I sometimes manage to look at things differently and can create distance for myself through this change of perspective. Distance from the situation and the people in it, so that I can think about my own reaction that is best for me and my well-being. Sounds selfish - and so it should! :)
If you can't imagine spending the holidays with your family or are seriously worried about the negative impact it might have on you, you should think about spending this time alone or with friends. Perhaps you could also consider whether it would be an option for you to go on vacation so that you still feel like you're doing something special over the holidays.
I myself have already spent one Christmas completely alone after being with my family was no longer bearable for me. At first, it's very difficult to make the decision at all, because it naturally contradicts everything that Christmas actually stands for. However, for me personally, that was the right decision at the time. Of course, you don't have to leave your family get-together immediately, perhaps it is not possible for you or not an option for you for other reasons.
In this case, it can help to actively avoid the conflict by leaving the room. Personally, I can also recommend leaving the apartment or house altogether for a while to take a deep breath outside or go for a walk. Depending on the situation, you can also suggest that a larger part of the family joins the walk to replace the space of conflict with fresh air and physical movement (btw: that way you can easily avoid your uncle who just tried to show everyone why Trump is half-lizard)!
In addition, you can always call friends and talk about the situation, because that really always helps!
I certainly hope you don't need my tips, but if you do, remember that you are an empowered individual with boundaries and choices in your favor! If worst comes to worst, you can leave (even if it's "just" a long walk) because you are not helpless, and your wellbeing is your priority!
If your friends are not available or you want to talk to someone else, I have put together a few hotlines for you below.
Helpful Holiday Resources
Emergency cases: Police (110) or the rescue service (112)
Telefonseelsorge (in German): 0800 111 0 111 or 0800 111 0 222 or 116 123 (here you can
get free & anonymous help)
International telephone helplines: https://www.telefonseelsorge.de/international-helplines/#estonia (scroll to bottom of website)
Hotline "Violence against women": 116 016
Counseling in German and 18 other languages (Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Farsi/Dari, Kurdish (Kurmanji), Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urkrainian and Vietnamese)
Email advice and chat advice are only available in German (https://www.hilfetelefon.de/das-hilfetelefon/beratung.html)
Hotline "Violence against men": 0800 123 99 00
Office hours Monday-Thursday: 08-20 h
Counseling by mail: email@example.com
Hotline for pregnant women in emergency situations: 0800 40 40 020
Advice in German and 18 other languages (Albanian, Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, English, French, Italian, Farsi/Dari, Kurdish (Kurmanji), Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Urkrainian and Vietnamese)
I wish you merry & most of all peaceful holidays!