5 tools to get through Christmas (and other family holidays)
Obviously, with me being from the very small country of Denmark, many of our traditions will have small differences in how they are celebrated, even if they are mostly the same. And aside from that, every family has their own little quirks, so things that will work in one, might not in another.
However, one of the things I hear from many people on the spectrum, and have had trouble dealing with, as well, is family holidays. Christmas being the big one. Here in Denmark, many families have different celebrations to go to every day from Dec. 23rd to Dec. 26th. And being social for that amount of days can tire out even a super social non-autistic person, but for us, people with any level of autism, it can be torture if you do not have the right tools and the proper understanding from the people around you. Some of these points will require others to co-operate with you, others you can do on your own.
Also, normally, I would have a whole other point about buying presents, but it’s so close to Christmas now that the advice is very late indeed, so I will not bother you with it this time. Instead, I’ll go for things that are relevant to the Christmas-days themselves.
1. If your family is understanding of how you feel and who you are (including your autism), make agreements with them, to ensure less stress. For example: If you live nearby (or it’s in your house), agree on a time where you can leave the party. (In your house, it would just be going to your room and closing the door, but it’s good to have an agreement about it, so no one gets angry.) If it’s somewhere else, perhaps the host has a room where you can go to be by yourself. Make these agreements beforehand, and remember to thank people for helping you with this. (They will be more likely to continue doing it.)
2. Some families want everyone to eat a bit of everything. And many of us have sensory issues with certain textures of food, or the smell of certain things, or, like everyone else, there are things we simply don’t like the taste of. It may be possible to get around tasting everything by saying things like: “I just really like [insert name of dish on the table you like the most] and I want to have room for as much of it as I can.” “If I eat any more, there won’t be room for dessert…” (Add a polite smile to each of these.) However, if possible, make an agreement about this as well, so any discussion can be avoided.
3. Don’t discuss politics. Ever. And don’t discuss religion either, if there are any major differences. Again, this is to avoid drama. There are plenty of other days in the year to discuss these topics, but they are topics that can make any family gathering unbearable.
4. If you get presents that you actually don’t like, you should try to express gratitude anyway. If this is difficult, try thinking about it this way (even if you know with certainty that it is not true): “This person got me this gift with the intention of making me happy, and even if the gift could be a lot better, I should be happy for the intention.” It takes a while to succeed in faking happiness, but for a family gathering, it can help to avoid situations with anger and sadness.
5. Excusing yourself to go to the bathroom can give you 5 minutes (more or less) to get away from the party. Use this time to try to empty your mind, and breathe. Think of it as a reset button. Even if you know you can leave at any time, this can still be a necessary thing to do, so don’t feel bad if you need a breather once in a while.
I know that not everyone will benefit from these tools, but I hope they can be of use to some of you, at least.
I wish you all the best in the holiday season, and hope you get into the new year with lots of hope and joy!