Ho ho ho and an escape route

2011-12-07 00:00

EIGHT in 10 South Africans admit to being stressed out over the holidays, according to a newly released survey by Pharma Dynamics.

It has become obvious to me that family occasions like Christmas should happen only once or twice a year for a good reason. It would be far too dangerous to have these ritualised gatherings more often than necessary.

It’s stressful! Behind the friendly bonhomie and good cheer of the festivities lurk years of unresolved issues that can suddenly surface in a second. While carving the turkey, a steely carving knife can become a deadly weapon.

A braai fork can take out an eye and a beer bottle can be a cultural weapon — it all depends on the amount of “spirits” consumed and the tolerance of the relatives. Subjects to avoid: politics, religion and money. So that leaves small talk.

They are called “get-togethers” for a good reason because for most of the year, the family stays well out of the way. I think the duration of these events are very important.

Usually a day-long visit can go without incident, even a long weekend can be a delightful reunion, but mark my words, a week-long visit can light the fires of long-dead family feuds.

My mother loves to have my children to stay. She spoils them rotten, but after a week, her cries of endearment are usually laced with sarcasm and her comments about my parenting skills become pointed.

At some point, I become defensive and before a civil war erupts I usually invent an excuse to leave.

Both of us heave sighs of relief. After a few weeks, the children are summoned again to visit with the grandparents and we begin the whole scenario again.

Poor mothers-in-law are often the butt of jokes (not mine, she’s a dear) and hostile barbs are directed at siblings, cousins and grandparents. I’m certain every family has a proverbial black sheep who embarrasses the hell out of them.

These black sheep have to be invited to family gatherings and you know they are guaranteed to cause trouble or embarrassment — it’s in the genes. As the saying goes, you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

From my point of view these people make the whole event far more bearable. Just add too much sherry to the trifle and if you watch and wait someone is going to get pickled and say something veerrryyy interesting.

Auntie Tina is going to announce that Uncle Rob is trying Viagra with great success, as the mince pies get passed around. The ensuing silence will be priceless, and no guesses as to who will be having a row on the way home. The story will be good entertainment until Easter.

It’s the tension of trying to keep the peace that can cause these volcanic eruptions of aggression. Arguments will arise about inane things, ranging from table decorations to sleeping arrangements. I once became embroiled in a silly spat with sisters-in-law about what should be put inside Christmas stockings. To this day I still feel foolish.

Christmas or any family event should have a director, a person who issues instructions on procedure or else these can turn into chaotic melees. Especially in those families where there are competitive genes.

Family events are also about bringing together the different generations, which should be a good thing, right? No! Old people think young people are know-it-all brats. Young people think old people are dinosaurs. Middle-aged people think they are quite hip and not yet old — God forbid! Babies appeal to most generations until they start howling, then suddenly they are not popular.

This is a glimpse of how my family bonded last year. Grandad had his ancient portable radio glued to his ear (he’s quite deaf), while my son had his new cellphone glued to his ear (he may be deaf soon) and my mother insisted on flicking through the channels trying to find some “golden oldies” music on television. She was deaf to our pleas for something a bit more modern. As they say silence is golden.

• Read my blog: www.trishbeavers.blogspot.com

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