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Okay, so perhaps I phrased that a bit too strongly. But forcing four aged-ninety-plus grandparents of the political extremist variety, a hypochondriac great aunt, an uncle who believes you should have been sent to military school, the evangelical step-mother, an epileptic toddler, the ESL exchange student you invited for Christmas during week 1, your apparently narcoleptic father, a mother watching the oven timer like it’s a bomb about to go off, and an unneutered pair of springer spaniels, into a small room filled with uncovered flames, is the modern social equivalent of the Gunpowder Plot. And one way or another, you end up taking the blame, as though you are responsible for ruining Christmas.
But there are some things you can think twice before doing, in order to rule out at least some of the reasons as to why you, and you alone, ruined Christmas…
Offering to help
In the unlikely event that after a term of having to wash up, clean and cook for yourself, the season of good will inspires you to offer to help: don’t do it. Every time you leave the room, you are leaving someone else to take over the awkward conversation with your great aunt. Not only will she begin hypothesizing as to why you are “going to every length to avoid her”, your siblings will resent you indefinitely for being left alone to listen to it.
Enthusing about your degree
Most cigar-smoking uncles who wear belted trousers that resemble Father Christmas all-year-round are right wing. Most academics are left. The rest is plain awkward.
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For some unexplainable reason, distant relatives will try to gage your sexuality based on your choice of knitwear. Failing that, they will conjure up elaborate plots (usually including illegal activities) as to why you’re wearing something from a 1930s charity shop, despite the generous cheque they sent you to make up from their lack of contact (interest/love) over the past 18 years. I know Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, Gok Wan, TOWIE’s Bobby Norris and Cara Delevigne are all fans… but that doesn’t really help your cause, does it?
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Do you remember that scene in Four Christmases where Brad obliterates the ten dollar spending cap by buying an Xbox for his nephews? Generosity is often met with unexpected hostility. Buying second-cousins anything other than chocolate only goes to… a) confirm the relative’s suspicions you’re involved in illegal activities at university, b) encourage Granddad to give a speech on how the coalition is in fact communist for putting his taxes into student loans c) verify every Exeter-student stereotype published in The Mail, d) guarantee that you won’t receive any parental pocket-money come Easter.
Getting down with the kids
You saw what happened in Meet the Fockers. You may spend an hour of cooing and re-enacting the nativity scene, but that one expletive you let slip after virtually impaling your foot on a piece of LEGO will be forever held against you as the reason why Jasper was turned down by Catholic school.
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“Pulling a cracker”
Interpret how you wish…
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A final word of advice: Be grateful for what you do have this Christmas. The rich and comforting warmth of having the heating on, a full spread of food, your own bed at night, a TV to watch the festive special episodes, a break from studying, time spent with people who love you…
That is, until the heating packs in on the one day nobody is willing to take a call-out, you’re last in line to serve yourself and there’s not a pig-in-blanket, stuffing ball or even a mere saggy sprout in sight, Aunt Virginia has moved into your bedroom, Dad can’t connect the new Sky Box, your main present was an eight book bundle from Blackwell’s to be read within the next two weeks, and as for family-affection… well, you were the one who ruined Christmas.