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“There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained”

Winston Churchill apparently said this – and he has a point. Family are central to how we view the world – and those that don’t have a family often mention the vacuum in their lives as a result. However I believe there are certain events that test even the closest of families – weddings; grandchildren (and how to raise them), and Christmas. Early in my marriage I lived in the Eastern Free State, and the decision of whom to spend Christmas with (his family or mine) was always a contentious one. And you don’t ever really win that one either way because someone will always feel left out, or hurt. Decisions about food to eat; who will bring what; gifts and how much to spend are even more interesting – especially for women. My husband has always offered this little titbit: “As long as I have my braai I’m cool” – he’s lucky to have avoided a braai tong being wrapped around his neck (or worse).

So – here’s my 10 cents worth on how to survive Christmas 2010:

Gifts – Christmas has become more expensive every year, and with a family of five sets of aunts and uncles, two sets of grandparents and nieces and nephews thrown into the mix, a second bond on my house will just about cover it. Over the last few years we have given our kids a budget and they create their wish list – it sounds very mercenary but works wonders! As adults we have made the decision to only get gifts for the kids. And Secret Santa is also a nice option – each adult gets to buy a gift for one other adult – the price is agreed upon up front, so everyone gets to open a present of equal value.

Food – the menu; the preparation; the purchasing of items – this must be the most stressful part of any Christmas meal. We often try to introduce new items for the menu – just because we have Anglo Saxon roots doesn’t mean we need to prepare a feast suitable for people huddled around the fireplace, whilst the snow piles up outside the front door. Agreeing on said items tends to be more challenging. And there is always one person who flutters about in the kitchen, oohing and aahing about the food, but never quite staying around long enough to actually help. My advice? Agree on the menu at least a month in advance; agree on the budget; and get people to prepare their contribution before arriving.

Timing – the bane of any women’s existence – planning and co-ordinating her part of the menu with her male counterpart. Guys, believe it or not but it does actually matter if we make the salad too early – we don’t like to offer up soggy lettuce with brown avo to our guests. And how our vege’s taste is directly proportionate to how we feel about ourselves. Please just co-operate!

Grudges and arguments – most families have them: the argumentative uncle, or aunt. Or the unspoken grudge that dates back to 1943, when Doris told Earl that Daisy was not good enough to marry. My dad’s family used to have epic religious and political bouts in the lounge, whilst the wives made salads and spoke in hushed tones in the kitchen. Eggnog and wine don’t help either, unless you can get someone so drunk they can’t speak, which in some cases is preferable. The one consolation is that these kinds of clashes can be anticipated, so you can excuse yourself from the table at that time, or divert attention to the Christmas pudding, or bring out old photo’s that will distract even the grumpiest of people.

Having said all of this, I must admit that I only have fond memories of Christmas – opening presents in the morning; attending the Christmas church service before rushing home to finish preparations for lunch; eating so much food that I felt like I could explode at any moment; lounging on the grass outside on a warm Highveld day thinking that life truly was grand. Most importantly, I remember my family – aunts, uncles, cousins, parents and siblings – all there to share and celebrate and laugh and drink and eat and be merry.

Here’s wishing you and yours a wonderful, peaceful, family focused Festive Season!

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