The ABC of Christmas Survival

Unlike most children, I never liked Christmas mornings. Going to church before 6 am when it’s -20 C outside and only slightly warmer inside is not my idea of fun. Admittedly, things improved at the gifts’ time. But much of the break meant sitting, eating, and managing frustrations from spending so much time together.Of course, Christmas was also fun. We kids competed who runs to church first, giggled from my uncle’s jokes, or sent snowballs behind each other’s necks. Above all, it was our best family bonding time.

I only started appreciating this after my first Christmas in Australia. I was celebrating it in the +42 C heat with people I barely knew. Everything smelled, looked, and felt different. I never felt more out of place in my life.

Whichever side you find yourself this Christmas – overwhelmed by people or cut off from them – it can be an emotionally trying time.

Christmas is a test to the fabric of our social connections. As such, threats to it can throw us off-balance emotionally. It can even threaten how we see ourselves – we often define ourselves in relation to others (e.g., single or married).

Like with most threats, 90% of managing them is preparation. But unlike with physical threats, we don’t take emotional threats seriously.

Here is my ABC of Christmas Survival.


We can spend whole weekends immersed in others’ dramas on Netflix but have astonishingly little consideration for our feelings. For example, I once had a ‘close’ friend until I realized she didn’t start a single interaction in 2 years. As soon as I stopped calling, it was over. Should I have listened to my emotions earlier, I would have known I never felt great around her, sparing me two years’ worth of effort.

You know what makes you happy or angry, what situations or people trigger you, how, or why. You already know what and who exhausts you or replenishes you.

If your holidays can be difficult, make an emotional inventory of your main social interactions. Is there someone who always has a snarky remark up their sleeve, sees only the negative side of everything, or is an energy vampire? Think of the social activities planned – do you like Christmas carols or get a headache from them?

You know what you need and why – listen, and let that information guide you.


After you made a list, make a plan. Can you set the boundaries with the people who trigger you most? Or avoid activities that exhaust you? Have three things to disarm the snarky remarks, comebacks to critics, or establish ‘no-go’ zones for the needy family members.

If you ever avoided a negative person, you probably unconsciously applied boundaries already. But tapping into your emotions directly makes it easy to know what causes you the most trouble, e.g., sucks your energy or puts you down, and address it.


Smart boundaries will protect you – they are your emotional defense. But a good Christmas is not just a less negative one. It’s the one with joy, love, awe, and gratitude.

And nothing brings as many of these desirable feelings as connections – your emotional offense.

Right connections fill your emotional cup with positivity, energy, and meaning. They are about reaching out to people that replenish you. It’s about activities that fill you up, not exhausts you. Doing what lifts you not brings you down.

Instead of being a passive participant, purposefully seek connections, even with strangers. Say hi to your neighbor or clap to that terrible Christmas carols singer. It will bring you joy that only connection can bring. Also, include replenishing activities – whether ‘me time’ to connect with yourself or, vice versa, a chat with your best friend.

The connection is what humans, the most social species on the planet, are about. So make your Christmas connected – in the way that it suits you.