sad dog


I remember as a kid seeing the first glint of tinsel in the supermarket and the instant fission of excitement: Wow! It’s nearly Christmas!

Not so long ago, I greeted the same sight with a feeling of dread. Christmas already? Oh, no!

At its core, the season’s celebrations are primarily around family. This is wonderful when everything is peachy at home but can serve as a cruel reminder if the family has changed in some way through the year.

There’s nothing quite like having to split your holiday with a newly-split family or eat dinner in the presence of the ‘empty chair’.

It’s not just loss that can create stresses at this time of year.  Many of us are struggling to make ends meet and are facing the daunting prospect of going into debt in order to buy presents.  And even the most functional of families can start to fray when you add heat, expectations, alcohol and a year’s worth of disappointments to mull over.

A few years ago, when death rocked our family in September and the December festivities loomed, we made the radical decision to just cancel Christmas.

We still got together, but there were no presents, no Christmas tree and the main meal was a Jamie Oliver risotto.

We held a ritual around candles to honour our loved ones and we breathed a collective sigh of relief that we didn’t have to fight our way through shopping malls, picking over bargains or asphyxiate in a kitchen baking dinners when it was hitting 40 degrees outside.

The ease with which that year’s celebrations passed made me aware of how important it is to minimize the stresses of the season.

So in the spirit of sharing, here are my top seven tips of how to make it through:

  1. If your family has gone through loss or change through the year, take time to have a chat about how Christmas or your festive celebrations should look well before the day.
  2. Acknowledge anyone that is missing through a ritual that you agree on- perhaps sharing a story or setting a place at the table. Yes, it will remind you that they aren’t there, but seriously, has anyone really forgotten that?
  3. Simplify the shopping as much as possible. Have lists, consider shopping online (if you have time) and consider postponing gift giving until after the January sales.
  4. Simplify the cooking and preparation as much as possible as well. Consider cold cuts for lunch, cooking a few days before or, if entertaining, asking everyone to bring one dish.
  5. My in-laws, and now my family have instigated a form of Kris Kringle across all adults: you are told a couple of months before Christmas who you are buying for and are given a budget (e.g. no one spends more than $70). It’s so wonderful to just shop for one person and get something decent that you know they will like.
  6. On the day, take time out to have a break and breathe. If it’s really painful, remind yourself that it’s just one day and that you can get through it.
  7. Dare I say it? Take it easy with hitting the alcohol. It’s like our entire culture has agreed that the merry season is the messy season and it’s okay to get totally out of control. I would be a  hypocrite if I said “don’t drink”, but perhaps consider just taking a break, volunteering to be the sober driver, mixing up some marvelous fruity mocktails, drinking a tonne of water between vinos or waiting til the evening to start imbibing: that way your celebrations may end on a happier note!


Wishing peace to you all.    




Why Was I the One Who Aas Spared?


*Ingrid Poulson (BA, Bed, MA – Cognitive Science, TAA),  is an inspirational speaker. She talks about overcoming adversity, stress coping, managing challenges and resilience and the latest brain and behavioural research and the lived experience of someone who has ‘been there’. The transcript of her interview with Andrew Denton on Enough Rope can be read here. You can contact her at:








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  • Reply December 10, 2012


    Thank you for this very timely piece! My Dad left us just a couple of months ago and yesterday I was just overwhelmed with grief when we set off gift shopping and I realised that I wouldn’t be buying anything for him. But I will anyway and put it under the tree to remember him, that will be my little ritual.
    Many blessings to you!

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    Having lost four close members of our family this year, and our 16 year old boxer dog, I’d like to thank you for this timely advice. Christmas can be so pressured for families- especially those with young children. Chill out, relax- and don’t have too many high expectations. Everything else is then a bonus.

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    My dad died early december last year (it wasn’t unexpected) but christmas was a bit of a blur. Christmas shopping, looking back on it was funny, I just looked at things and bought for the sake of buying, they weren’t very meaningful gifts – it was horrible to be in crowded shops when my grief was so raw. Infact i bought my partner something small and actually bought is present in June when I was feeling better. He understood as his dad was also very ill, we lost his dad 2 months later.

    This year, our first christmas without both our dads, we are hoping Santa brings us and our family and friends a healthy and stress free christmas – we don’t care about presents, food or making the day ‘perfect’ as the perfect christmas for us is everyone being healthy.

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    I lost my Dad 2 years ago and Mum 3 weeks ago – both in their late 80’s. This weekend I must have thought of presents for each of them a dozen times while I was out shopping. Our tradition is to raise a glass to each of our family members and say a silent prayer for them all. We remember the happy times, laugh and share stories of Chritmas’s past, as they would have wished.

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    mudhouse jane

    Thanks, Ingrid, for some very thoughtful suggestions, which have obviously struck a chord with readers.

    I’ve spent over 50 Christmases with my dear Mum, but unfortunately there won’t be any more.

    She adored Christmas and we had many rituals attached to it (old Christmas decorations from when she first married, certain candles and china, Christmas carols – though she drew the line at Bing Crosby after she realised I’d been emotionally scarred listening to him ad infinitum whilst doing my Christmas casual work at K Mart…)

    This year my darling daughter has put out lots of the old decorations and despite dreading the day, I still have a lot to enjoy and be thankful for, so we will get there eventually!

    My friend’s food blog is a happy, non-scary reminder of the good stuff we can have and do over Christmas. I am a lousy cook, but even reading it makes me feel more festive (nothing like some vicarious pleasure).

    Thanks for sharing, Karen, June, Ally and Alibee: it’s good to be reminded that we are not as alone as we may feel.

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    I lost my sister a year ago and three days ago. We have just had a family get together to honor her departure which was done in a celebratory way as that is as she would have wished.

    Last year we celebrated Xmas is a minor way – we all made an effort to have some small token of christmas decor up (she would have wanted that and would have hated to have tainted Xmas) but we didn’t give presents to the adults, donating to charity instead. Luckily it was an ‘away’ xmas where we dined with in laws so most of us didn’t have to cook etc. This year we are gathering, again with no presents for adults and we are making a special effort to all cooperate and help with the food. Mum is ensuring the table is going to look special – she is even having a dress rehearsal with my daughter on wed! So now Xmas is about celebrating the family we still have (and also remembering/honoring those we have lost, but not in a morbid way).

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    The Huntress

    This year Christmas is going to be fairly meaningless as we will not have our son for the day. His useless biological father who sees him about once a year and talks to him about as often (through his own choice) requested him for the day this year. Christmas is so special to me to celebrate with my little boy and I adore it – to miss out on the magic with him breaks my heart, so I’m not celebrating this year. We’ve been invited to a friends house for food, if we so wish and I’m having a friend over whose engagement has just broken down. Other than that the festive season can bugger off this year…

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    Bah Humbug

    I’ve never really enjoyed Christmas – it has always been stressful, depressing and just so fake for me – dysfunctional family pretending to play ‘Happy Families’.

    This is the fifth Christmas since my husband died, it is the first for my very good friend. She, my son & I will be spending the day together – not really celebrating, just being together & staying away from the stress of pretending to enjoy the company of some people we really don’t like (being related doesn’t mean you have to like someone……).

    Saying all that, I do hope everyone else enjoys their celebrations. x

  • Reply December 11, 2012


    Thank you.
    I’ve never been a fan of Christmas but have rallied for the sake of the kids who all love it.
    My brother died earlier this year and to say I hate Christmas is an understatement.
    I have bookmarked this article so I can come back on the day and have you remind me to just breathe, that it is just one more day.
    Thank you x

  • Reply December 13, 2012


    I love the dog picture. I still miss my Mooch.xx

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