How to cope when you can’t go home for Christmas or help a friend in a similar situation

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  • The festive season is not always a time of cheer and laughter for everybody.
  • Unfavourable family dynamics, work obligations or financial constraints may be contributors to an unsavoury Christmas period.
  • Spending Christmas with your mates as if they were your family is one way to go.  

The festive season is not always a time of cheer and laughter for everybody.

While some may look forward to seeing loved ones and being welcomed by the aroma of homecooked food upon their landing, there are young adults who would much rather sit the whole holiday out or are just not able to make it for Christmas.

There is a number of reasons for this. Avoiding a toxic family dynamic is one of them.

Family business

As people grow older, they realise the tinsel that's been glittering all these years is, in fact, not gold.

Between body shaming comments, homophobic family members, questions about marriage, graduation, requests for money, or other domestic differences, angst about going home is bound to heighten.

Zain Julies, a psychologist practising at Netcare Akeso Milnerton, explains, "Many of us may find it difficult to regulate our emotions when faced with distressing situations, such as family tensions, financial pressures, dealing with loss or worry about the future."

READ MORE | "My family body shames me during the festive season but it hurts less now when they call me sdudla"

Another trigger associated with not wanting to return home for Christmas, though - losing a loved one.

As explained by Dessy Tzoneva from the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) to TimesLive, overcoming grief may be harder during the festive season. 

"It can be very hard for people to experience their first Christmas without a loved one," Dessy explained. 

If this is yours or a close friend's reality, SADAG's helpline remains open during the festive season. Call: 0800 70 80 90

We mind our own business

The other side of the family coin is that not all families have Christmas traditions. I spoke to 23-year-old *Claire Malinga, who told me the following about her family dynamic.

"The reason I don’t enjoy going home for Christmas is the fact that my family doesn’t really do anything special, so there’s no real reason to be there. We aren’t a close-knit family."

When asked if lunch at someone else's home would make her 25th December more festive, she revealed that she would prefer not to.

"I don't think I’d like to visit anyone else’s family, because I don’t enjoy all the fussiness that comes with a Christmas dinner or party, especially not in the company of strangers. Also, I like to spend my time relaxed and in my comfort zone, pretending to be jolly becomes too much for me."

Zain says whichever way you will be spending the holiday season, taking care of yourself is important, whatever challenges it may present. She suggests the following habits to help get through the year-end break:

- Get enough good quality sleep

- Eat a well-balanced diet

- Exercise regularly

- Take brief rest periods during the day to relax

- Take vacations away from home and work

- Engage in pleasurable or fun activities such as yoga, prayer, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation

- Avoid overindulging in caffeine and alcohol

If you or a friend need emergency support, Netcare Akeso is open 24 hours a day. Call: 0861 435 787

READ MORE | Surviving Christmas in the Mother City alone

Business as usual

Unfortunately, not everyone will have the privilege of going home this Christmas due to work. It's either they can't get leave, it doesn't make financial sense to travel home for such a short period or they will literally be clocking in at work on Christmas. 

Now it's your business

This is where you, as a friend, can step in if one (or more) of your friends' situations has been described above. 

Firstly, don't make it a pity party. Your role is to merely offer a feel-good outlet to them. Should they decline, respect their decision as well without taking it personally. As Claire* stated, being around unfamiliar faces can make one uncomfortable. 

This is what you can offer:

I spotted this old tweet on Twitter a few days ago and found quite admirable. It may be an oldie, but it's definitely a goodie. If you have the capacity, you can avail your table to friends and strangers alike - Covid restrictions permitting, of course: 

And more recently, a similar offer came up:

Of course, with the permission of your family, you can also invite your friend to share Christmas lunch with your family.

If it makes them feel better so they don't like they're sponging off you, you can suggest that they also bring a dish. 

If this is something either parties are not comfortable with, suggest to meet up after lunch for your own Christmas celebrations. Who knows, it might even be the start of new traditions. 

Lastly, if you are part of a group that is stuck in a concrete jungle because you all have work commitments, then you're in good company. Plan a socially distanced Christmas party with these mates as if they were your family. 

I know two groups of young professionals who do this every year successfully. 

Here's ho-ho-hoping this brings some joy to a friend or two. 

Additional information provided by Netcare Akeso 

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