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With the emphasis on happiness and high expectations, here are some tips to avoid undue season stress

So much is centred around the home this season, whether you are visiting friends and family in their home or they in yours. Many of us will also have a house full of children on holiday, and some people will be alone.

Whatever the season holds for you in the home, we have devised a survival kit to ensure you survive the holidays:


One of the joys of the December holidays is seeing family, but Cape Town psychotherapist Julia Noble says this can lead to tensions of its own. “There is always such an emphasis on happiness in the holidays and there are so many high expectations. But often when adult siblings come together they regress.

“People who have independent lives of their own can be reminded of unresolved issues that go back to childhood, and start behaving like the children they were.”

Survival Kit

Be aware of potential pitfalls and do your best to rise above them. “Sometimes you’re not all that happy to see some members of the extended family, but the Christmas holidays are meant to be a time of goodwill, so an effort has to be made. It doesn’t last forever,” says Noble.

Plan ahead, so that everyone knows what is expected of them. Other experts suggest you ask each member of the family the one thing they would love to do, and then dedicate a day or half a day to that family member’s wish list. In that way no one feels left out.

If family are just around for a meal, try to ensure every single family member gets to contribute something, whether it is a poem, a starter, a flower – let it be their choice. Families are usually made up of such diverse people so make it a celebration of that diversity.


Childrens’ excited anticipation is one of the joys of the festive season. Younger children are particularly rewarding at Christmas time because of their unabashed joy, says Noble. 

Survival Kit

Unlike the northern hemisphere, summer Christmases mean a lot of time can be spent outdoors, and this presents opportunities for gifts ranging from buckets and spades to bathers and beach towels. Make use of our sunny skies to embrace the outdoors.

Ensure all the children – one’s own and visitors’ children – feel part of the arrangements and help with chores. From making decorations and helping with baking to picking up wrapping paper and helping with dish washing, there are many tasks, fun and not-so-fun, with which children can be involved.


Teenagers are different, say other experts, and the joyful children you may have remembered from years back can become less excited and more sullen at the prospect of having to spend so much time away from friends and with family. 

Survival Kit

  • Have some events that are musts – which they cannot avoid – but also allow them other times to do the things that they want to do, even if it is to be by themselves.
  • It ends up being a compromise on both sides. And just like this silly season, the teenage years don’t last forever.
  • Have a hat in which everyone has to put three things they would love to do in the holidays, and try get around to all of them. In that way your teen’s wishes will also come true. 


While some families are private and prefer to celebrate among themselves, others welcome many visitors. Noble points out that when quarrelling family members get together, it can help to have visitors present as people tend to behave better when in company. Just remember that holidays are meant to be a time of fun for all, including the host and hostess.

Survival Kit

If you have guests staying, draw up a roster of tasks that may range from grocery shopping to preparing meals, making beds and, of course, the dreaded washing up and cleaning.

If you and your family are the guests, ensure you offer to help, that you all make your own beds, contribute to the groceries and the food preparation, and help with tidying and cleaning. If you are the guest,s try to organise an excursion away from the hosts so you give them a day off.

Let the hosts know upfront what day you will be away so they don’t feel disappointed.


For some the holidays can be a matter of having too many people around, but others can find themselves alone. Noble says all the general sense of fun and excitement can emphasise your feeling of loneliness and make you feel unloved and even unlovable. 

Survival Kit

It can help to go out and do something. You might like to go for a run, or attend a religious service among other people. Are you alone because you turned down invitations?

If so, call people back and say yes. Don’t regret refusing an invitation and then feel alone.

Invite people to visit you and provide a meal, or arrange an outing with friends. Initiating a social occasion can feel difficult, but take a deep breath and do it. 

You will probably be pleasantly surprised. Failing social occasions, you could volunteer to help people.

Visit a childrens’ hospital, help at a soup kitchen, or take flowers to lonely people in a nursing home or home for elderly people.

If a family member is in hospital, make a celebration there for the day, giving out some treats to fellow patients. Check out social media and reach out to others with messages and chats.


If there have been bereavements during the year, the awareness of others having reunions while you will not can be especially upsetting. The ugly underbelly of the tra-la-las is the marking of time that accentuates grief and loss. But more and more people are understanding of that.

Survival Kit

  • Setting a place at a dinner table honouring your loved one who died may be soothing on the soul. You could give everyone at the table a chance to express their appreciation of the person before the meal starts.
  • Making an altar for the person with some summer blooms can also be healing, or if you are setting up a tree, a special ornament on the tree just for them.
  • If there are celebrations going on that you are expected to attend, the key is clear communication. Lay out expectations in advance so people are less likely to feel surprised and stung if you don’t attend, which would add to your stress.
  • Try this: “With the loss I have been going through, I need lots of time for quiet reflection and healing. I know you all understand I won’t be able to attend as many of the festivities as usual, but I’ll be there in spirit.”