Holidays should be a joyous time of year so why does it cause so much stress for families? There seems to be at least one major meltdown every day and it's all to do with the woodpecker. The woodpecker has been in our family for generations, maybe in yours too. It always seemed to appear on Christmas Day.
I love Christmas. I always have. From an early age, I loved helping my mum and siblings decorate the Christmas tree in early December, hang ornaments around the house and help prepare the dried fruit for the traditional Christmas cake and plum pudding. While Christmas time in Australia is sweltering hot, it didn't stop me wishing for a white Christmas like in the movies. I'd count down the sleeps before Santa arrived with the presents I so desperately wished for.
My excitement would bubble over on Christmas Eve as I helped arrange the traditional plate of Christmas cake for Santa along with a bottle of beer, and of course carrots for his reindeers. After laying my Santa sack at the end of my bed I would fall asleep while picturing Santa on his sleigh leaving the North Pole, and wondering how he was going to get into my house which didn't have a chimney. On Christmas morning my brother would wake me up with excited exclamations that Santa came. Through bleary eyes, we'd pull out one present at a time and show each other ... oohs and aahs ensued. After getting to the bottom of our sacks, we'd run into our parents room squealing with excitement, eager to show off our prized treasures.
The day would be full of traditions, starting with a full breakfast comprising of dishes and delights not seen throughout the year. It didn't matter that the weather was heating up fast and there was no air-conditioning (no one had air-conditioning in the eighties unless you were fabulously wealthy), we still had a hot breakfast. Afterwards we would play with our presents and stay out of the kitchen as dinner preparations got underway. Everybody stayed out of the kitchen as all of the older women in the family slaved away preparing the traditional banquet dinner and dessert that would rival the previous year.
By mid-afternoon, the men would be relaxing with ice-cold beers in hand, while the children would be playing under the sprinkler to keep cool. All the while the women would be getting hot and bothered in the kitchen. That's when the woodpecker would appear. First, small pecks at everybody sitting down not helping. 'Pick up your toys'. 'Don't leave your cup there'. 'The floor needs vacuuming'. 'Put Christmas music on'. 'No, that's terrible, something else'. 'Can someone set the table?'. 'No, don't use those glasses'. 'Don't fold the napkins like that, do it like this'. 'Don't eat any more candy before dinner'. 'For the last time, go have a bath before I get angry'. 'Are you really wearing that to dinner?' 'Brush your hair'. 'Did you put any champagne in the fridge?' 'That was your only job and you couldn't even do that!' Peck, peck, peck, peck, peck.
The men were always in the firing line. Even though the kitchen was full of women, the men couldn't do anything right. They'd suggest something to make the process easier or say 'don't stress' or 'does it really matter?', and they would be pecked at for their comments, their lack of understanding at how important this day was.
If we got to the dinner table and tensions were still high, it would only take someone to make a joke about the unnecessary stress caused from all the preparations and tears or an angry response would follow. To diffuse the situation, a toast would be proposed to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and thanks to the ladies for a splendid dinner. Sometimes the tension passed, sometimes it didn't. If it didn't the woodpecker would continue to peck at everybody doing the wrong thing or not doing it right.
As I grew up, I just assumed this was what holidays were all about. The women did most of the work while the men were told what to do. So of course nothing changed when I started hosting holidays. Yes, I became the woodpecker that killed the holiday spirit. I would peck at everybody that wasn't doing exactly what I expected of them ... even thought I didn't tell them what I expected upfront.
I knew something had to change otherwise everybody was going to be miserable over the holidays, especially me.
The solution was simple – communication. Here are some simple suggestions how to make the holidays as joyous as you imagined them to be.
Get the whole family together and ask what's important to them and what they would like to do for the holidays. It might be Christmas Day for you, it might be watching a whole day of sport for your father, it might me going to the movies or shopping for your kids.
Set a relaxed roster of chores for each family member. What I mean by that is delay when it has to be done by so everybody can relax in the morning. Add a reward chart to the fridge and when the chores are done for the day they can mark them off. Schedule who is looking after meals for the day and who is cleaning up. You'd be amazed at how relaxing the days will be.
3. Spend quality time together
The kids just want your time. Play games with them. Bake something delicious that the kids would love do with you. Relax, make a fool of yourself. Laugh.
4. Have 'me' time
Take time out. It might be relaxing like reading the book you've never had time for. It might be something more productive you've wanted to do all year like cleaning out your wardrobe and being ruthless or cleaning out the carport. Anything that makes you feel good.
You might have other suggestions, so please feel free to comment below. Happy holidays and may the woodpecker be a distant memory from here on!