Call me a Humbug, but I find Christmas a bit intense. The epitome of “organised fun”, extended family members are shoved together in a confined space for the best part of 24 hours, fed copious amounts of food and alcohol (if over 18, of course), and expected to get along like a house on fire.
Well, in my eyes, the house might as well be on fire. It’s like a pressure cooker and eventually someone is bound to explode.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my family. But for the other 360 days of the year, we’re apart more than we’re together. Friends, hobbies and even school or a Saturday job offers both parties space to B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Christmas on the other hand, offers no such respite. There is no escape.
But with your parents having pulled out all the stops to make Christmas special – cooking all the food and buying all the presents, most likely – there’s only one viable target left to take your festive frustrations out on: your sibling(s).
I have a little brother who is four years younger than me; a sizeable age gap that means growing up we never had much in common. For a large chunk of time, he was an energetic young boy and I was a terrible teen with an extremely short fuse. In fact, my so-called ‘teenage’ mood swings lasted longer than my teenagedom – starting at 10 and ending in my early 20s. A recipe for a decade of disaster.
So whether a full-blown barney or an unspoken Cold War, many Christmases have been peppered with feelings of animosity.
It’s the little things that are intensified over Christmas that usually led to a bust-up. Growing up my brother never helped cook or clean up and spent all of his time on his Playstation rather than speaking to family. The fact that my mother let him get away with doing nothing under the ‘boys will be boys’ excuse stoked my feminist fire early on, leading to resentment as I loaded the dishwasher for yet another year. For him, I must have seemed bossy and huffy as hell, while he prefers a far more chilled and relaxed existence.
Now, he spends most of the time staring down at his phone and still does very little to help. But there’s the added bonus of trying to coax me into talking about politics, which we couldn’t be more opposed on.
But our disagreements haven’t always been so ‘adult’. When I was about ten years old, two cousins and I opened the wrapping paper to find three Power Ranger costumes (pink for me, blue and black for the boys). We were ecstatic. My brother, being too small for the Power Ranger costumes, got a Batman one instead and I remember being LIVID about him insisting on playing with the rest of us, not to mention completely ruining the photos. I mean, since when did Power Rangers and Batman fight side-by-side?
I used to think I was alone in feeling like this about siblings, but growing up and talking about my feelings with friends, I’ve realised that it’s a pretty common feeling. Most of us have siblings, the average family has two children (give or take a few decimal points). So whether it’s a half or step sibling, older or younger – or (God forbid!) both – it can be hard to navigate a small space in an intense time period such as Christmas.
So here are my top tips on how to get over the Christmas sibling rage:
1. Walk away, literally… Go upstairs and sit on your bed. Take some deep breaths and count to ten. Count to 20 or 30 if you need you – however long it takes for you to calm down and realise it’s not very festive to hit someone round the head with a turkey leg.
2. Keep yourself busy… Nothing takes your mind off petty arguments like playing with the dog, a new baby cousin, or talking to your Grandad about the war. Suddenly everything has a bit of perspective.
3. See similarities in your differences… Realise that your sibling is probably also feeling the pressure to have a super fun awesome time.
4. Do it for someone else… If your parents are anything like mine, they’ll LOVE Christmas. Any excuse to dust off the fancy plates and get the boardgames out. If you have a full-blown barney over the Radio Times, you’ll ruin their Christmas, too. And you don’t want to do that.
5. Remember: it’s their Christmas, too… So if you grow irritated by the fact that they’d rather slob in their PJs playing on their new Playstation rather than talk to family, leave them to it. Christmas may mean a different thing to you than it does to someone else – even if you are related.
6. Know that it can get better… For all our differences, my brother and I have turned a corner. Looking back, we were both to blame for our clashes or disagreements. For the most part, growing up and reflecting allows you to work beyond your differences and realise what is more important in life: family and unity (and pigs-in-blankets).