5 tools to get through Christmas (and other family holidays)


Maja Toudal

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!

5 thoughts on “5 tools to get through Christmas (and other family holidays)”


    • Duthsa on July 22, 2015

      I don’t keep typical holidays, but even so, this could work in these situations, My family does keep them, and either way I end up being kind of picked on, avoiding certain topics, is a good idea. ATM they are still mad at me, and won’t let me explain, that I can’t handle these parties. I just avoided them the whole season,and that got me in deep doo with them. I’ll try this, if I ever get re-invited. One big obstacle is they do not want to believe I’m an Aspei, so trying to get them to do anything is like, even now I am losing trying to explain… Thanks for the article, I like the advise, hope I can remember to use it!

    • Jaloria on November 12, 2015

      Id really like it if someone could expand on this topic an list a specific collection of stratigies you can use within the party area to elevate anxiety caused by sensory overload, beyond leaving or pre-discussion of a leaving time. I feel adressing the primary issue an minimizing the discomfort is more effective than.only avoiding it. Most of us learn.to hide in.our rooms our bathrooms on Christmas from.a young age. few of us have compiled adequate coping strategies. That’s not to say prediscussion isn’t an.insightful an great suggestion .

    • Jaloria on November 12, 2015

      Eliviate * (don’t really intend to worsen it )

    • Sjero on December 21, 2015

      The whole family knows that I’m a little “weird” and “shy” and that’s just how things are with me. So I could probably get away with this a lot more easily Bryan others but I like to bring a book or some sort of activity like to do. An artistic activity or a music player can give you an out to focus on. It gives me an excuse not to have to make eye contact all the time and have to be as active in conversation as the average Neurotypical person would be expected to be. I find it easier to talk to people in a busy environment when you have something you can focus on in your hands that grounds you. Mints, hard candies, and gum are the same thing for me, they sort of dominate my sensory field and let me block out all the yelling family members.

      Did I mention that the adults in my family literally speak at a volume level at which the average person would be yelling? It even hurts my voice to try to compete with them and speak in a conversation. So I don’t feel as bad about coming off as rude because I think they’re uncouth. Taking breaks is one of the best things that you can do, I think.

      I have a tricky way of getting a break in every 10 minutes or so and that is to appear to be a social butterfly flitting from group to group. Rather than trying to find a quiet space and hoping that people won’t invade and take over and start yaking away, I think it’s easier if you give yourself an excuse to be very mobile and keep walking between groups of people, ostensibly, so that you can visit everyone.

      This way you can take little pit stops to the area where the food is or the restroom or an unused room that id sort of quiet or hang out in the hallway or even outside to “look at the beautiful winter snow” (or whatever you can come up with).

    • Tom Huppe on January 22, 2017

      thanks, this is a great post

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