Anna Whitehouse AKA Mother Pukka and husband Matt Farquharson share their advice…
Christmas is finally upon us, and for most of us that means hunkering down with family and loved ones. But there’s bad news, too – did you know Christmas precedes a massive spike in divorces? 8th January ‘AKA Divorce Day’ is the most common day to say, “I’m sorry but I really don’t like you any more”. So here, after 10 yuletides together, is our best guess at how to stay sane.
Enjoy a pyjama party. Sex in my childhood bedroom, with a collage of photos from my slightly promiscuous year abroad above the headboard, is not good sex. Even a flicker of thinking, ‘have we woken Grandma?’ is enough to have me reaching for a chastity belt. Instead, I embrace erotic tumbleweed for a few days and utilise the time for some kip. I’ve got a pair of pyjamas I slip into over the festive season that have bunnies all over them. They’re more effective than condoms.
Prepare wisely for snack attacks. Last Christmas I drank heavily to numb the sounds of Peppa Pig and the relentless chitchat. By 7pm I was rummaging around in my mother-in-law’s dried goods cupboard in search of salty maize snacks to soak up the booze. There were no suitable snacks which meant I ended up ploughing through three Ryvita crackers. My mouth felt like Astroturf. The next morning I woke to the sound of: “Did someone eat some of my Ryvitas?” The remorse was multi-layered and I suspect Matt knew there could only be one culprit who would dare dip into the holy Ryvita tin. This year, I’m bringing my own snacks to avoid arguments.
Go direct where possible. I’m half Dutch and my family say what we mean. In this, my attitude is different to Matt’s, as he prefers to fold his irritations up into a little well that he keeps near his solar plexus, only to be allowed out once everyone else is asleep. I think it’s important we both handle the festive disillusionment in our own way, giving time to how the other needs to do things. But there is one area where I find that directness is key (and appreciated): never underestimate the power of a cheeky bum-squeeze by the slow cooker.
Time out is essential. An Italian plumber once told me the Milanese have a phrase that translates as: “House guests are like fish. After three days they start to stink.” Over Christmas this literally becomes true as we lock ourselves in three-bed semis with a month’s worth of meats and more contained gasses than a trans-Atlantic flight. Anna’s folks live in the country and mine are now on the south coast, and much as we love them, we’ve come to realise that running away as a pair to yomp through the woods (or even just fetch milk from the shop) is key to a happy Christmas. It means 15 minutes of being yourselves, instead of one of you reverting to a childlike state while the other is on best ‘in-law behaviour’.
Smile emptily and bite your tongue. Some of my relatives have uncomfortable views on immigration, some of Anna’s are convinced that the moon landings never happened. But an Irish friend once told me that “politics has no place in a pub,” and the same is true for Christmas round your Nan’s. Unfortunately, I’m the least likely to accept this advice. So when I start twitching with self-righteous fury I try to remind myself that our nearest relatives know exactly what’s wrong with each other, and now’s not the time to bring it all up. Instead, I whisper my bewilderment to Anna once everyone else is asleep, because few things bond people as much as gossiping about someone else.
Swap booze for chocolate where possible. When I drink with friends, we drink quickly. But my mum has a glass of Pinot once a year and starts honking like a goose at its first rave. So if I drink at ‘friends pace’, there’s a chance my family (or worse still, Anna’s) might see my true uninhibited self while they sit in relative sobriety. I’ve been trying to hide my true self from Anna’s parents for 10 years, and Christmas is not the time to open up. Fortunately, my mum also has a fridge door wedged with enough refined sugars to restart a failing heart, and Anna’s mum has a tray of Lindt balls on permanent display. Chocolate contains serotonin, an antidepressant and mood elevator, so I regularly steal these to keep my sprits up. This may not be a long-term strategy for life, but for this special time of the year, it feels entirely appropriate.