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12 Days of Christmas - Invasion!

Whether you always host Christmas, whether it's done on some kind of rotation around the family and it's Your Turn, or whether you're holding a big New Year gathering, sometimes having visitors can feel more like an invasion than a pleasure.

A friend of mine always refers to 'the outlaws' visiting, with an audible sigh. If there's no tradition in your family already of everyone coming to your house and this is the first year, think carefully before you set in motion what could become an annual nightmare. Divorced parents who can't be in the house at the same time, nieces and nephews or grandchildren that trash the place, picky in-laws who criticise the curtains - you do not need this added anxiety at Christmas. Or, to be fair, at any time of year.

The problem is it's so hard not to. Of course you're going to spend Christmas or New Year with your family, whether you want to or not. Of course you're going to be the gracious host, even if you have the flu. Of course the new sofa has to be there for Christmas so all the relations can sit on it, even though you forgot to order it in September (when adverts are all promising jauntily that delivery will be before Christmas) and are now on the phone hourly, alternatively begging and threatening the delivery company.

In earlier episodes of these 12 Days I talked about visiting your family and how to either avoid it, or to make it easier if you couldn't. Many of those principles apply to family visiting you, too, although being the host puts a lot of additional pressure on you compared to just showing up. Having a house full of guests is hard work both physically and emotionally.

Why don't you want them to visit?

There are hundreds of potential reasons for not wanting to host a load of visitors at Christmas, and it doesn't really matter which ones apply to you. The point about your reasons is whether they're valid for you. However it could be that you actually feel it would be lovely to have your family over, if only X or Y didn't happen. So how can you avoid X or Y and still have them visit? Think outside the box. Different arrival times, different expectations and different arrangements can make a huge difference overall. If it's cooking, buy in the food or hire a private chef, money permitting. If it's the cleaning up afterwards, get everyone to chip in or book a cleaning service. They're not as expensive as you think. If it's just that you don't like your relations, why don't you? Can you work around it? Is it likely to be as bad as you think? The Visiting episodes covered this point, too.

If you wear yourself out trying to turn your house into a luxury hotel, question your motives. If your guests are judgmental enough to care about such things, why do you want them there in the first place? If they're not, why does it matter? I don't mean, of course, that you should offer them a bed without sheets or expect them to sit on the floor. But if you were visiting someone you loved and their house wasn't sparkling clean or freshly decorated, would you care? Or even notice? Even if you did, would you go anyway?

We're holding Closed House this year.

If you don't want to entertain, don't. You have the power. Even if your family turn up anyway you'll have to open the door and let them in. So what if it's your turn? If it doesn't make you happy, or at least if it doesn't make you more happy than the pressure of preparation makes you sad and anxious, don't do it.

This is something you need to plan for well in advance. It's tempting to leave it to the last minute to put off the arguments, cajolery and emotional blackmail; but actually this will make matters worse. People will still be disappointed but they'll also be annoyed because their own plans (based around visiting you) are now scuppered and they don't know what to do instead. So I suggest first mentioning it around sofa-ordering time, in September or October.

If it's really badly received this gives you plenty of time to back down, too. So you can test the water by saying something like 'Bob and I are thinking about going away this Christmas'. You're only 'thinking about' it. You can change your mind if the pressure is too much and you can't bear to disappoint everyone. But if you don't, or if the reaction is less horrified than you feared, you can then stick to that tentative plan. 'Yes, we've decided that's what we're doing. We've found this lovely hotel in the Lake District/log cabin in Bavaria/desert island in the Maldives for the week/month/rest of our lives.'

It's possible that your family will leap on this idea with glee. How amazing! Instead of coming to your house, let's all go to the Lakes/Bavaria/the Maldives! Be ready for this. At the very least, you're still only 'thinking about' it, so haven't booked anywhere yet. By the time you've decided and made a booking, it's too late to get a big party in. What a pity.

Alternatively, having presented the idea of not hosting everyone, you can later decide that you're not going away after all - but you're still not hosting.

Breaking the bad news.

Ultimately people may feel you're rejecting them entirely. You can mitigate this by suggesting that family members visit at another time of year or that you go to see them at a future date. You can also emphasise that it's not personal. You've simply decided that this year you're not having visitors. At all. Not even people who ask really nicely. You don't have to say why not. If you try to explain your decision you're just giving your family the opportunity to argue you out of it. You can easily get backed into a corner and it will get harder and harder to maintain your position as they shoot down one reason after another. If there's a strong reason, you can offer it. But don't argue the point. Let them present whatever thoughts they may have as to why your reason isn't good enough and then just repeat that 'even so, we're not having visitors this year'. This technique is called the Broken Record. You just repeat the same thing every time someone challenges or argues, and don't get diverted. You can vary the words but the message should always be the same. Once your family has run through all its options - disappointment, blame, anger, emotional blackmail and pleading - you will be able to stop.

If you are trying to avoid some visitors while still welcoming others, this could get tricky. Be ready with a strategy to deal with the disappointment and hurt from those who are excluded. It's much harder to maintain that it's not personal when only some family members are unwelcome, particularly if the reason why Bob's granny is still coming applies just as much to your mother.

Spreading the joy

Let's not forget that your family are in the Visitor role here, and startlingly not everyone views this with unmixed joy. That's why I wrote two blogs about avoiding Christmas visiting. For all you know, your first mention of not hosting a big family gathering will be greeted with enthusiasm. 'Oh, good, because actually we were thinking of going away too.' 'Oh that's a relief. Brian is working this New Year, so it would have been really difficult for us to come anyway'. 'Now the children are a bit older we thought it would be much nicer for them to spend Christmas at home'. 'The girls want to go to a party with their friends at New Year.'

It's easy to assume that because everyone always does thing A, everyone really, really wants to do thing A. In fact they may be desperate for an excuse to do anything but thing A, but don't like to say so for fear of upsetting you. The first Christmas my parents were together my father suggested they get a Christmas cake. She didn't like it, but assuming he wanted one, agreed. A cake was duly bought and presented on Christmas day. 'No thank you,' said Dad. 'I don't like Christmas cake. I only suggested it in case you wanted one'.

The point here is that if you Assume you make an Ass out of U and Me. While asses have a certain place in Christmas tradition, there's no need to invite them into your home. It's much easier to #stayhealthy when you give your own needs and preferences suitable emphasis.

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Caeredwen is a physical therapist, coach and counsellor based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If this blog has touched you and you would like to contact her in confidence, you can reach her at or via her website at

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