It has become obvious to me that family occasions like Christmas happen only once or twice a year for a good reason. It would be dangerous to have these ritualised gatherings more often than necessary.

By Trish Beave

Behind the friendly bonhomie and good cheer of the festivities, lurk years of unresolved issues that can suddenly surface in a second. While carving the turkey, a steely carving knife can become a deadly weapon!

A braai fork can take out an eye and a beer bottle can be a cultural weapon…

…it all depends on the amount of “spirits” consumed and the tolerance of the relatives. Subjects to avoid – politics, religion, money… and so that leaves small talk.

They are called “get togethers” for a good reason because for most of the year, the family stays well out of the way. I think the duration of these events are very important.

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Usually a day long visit can go without incident, even a long weekend can be a delightful reunion … but mark my words: a week-long visit can light the fires of long-dead family feuds.

A week with my relatives is bound to fray the nerves and make tempers short. Do I speak from experience? Of course not!

Behind the friendly bonhomie and good cheer of the festivities, lurk years of unresolved issues that can suddenly surface in a second

My mother loves to have my children stay: she spoils them rotten. But after a week, her cries of endearment are usually laced with sarcasm, and her comments about my parenting skills become pointed.

My mother is all for beatings, deprivation and cod liver oil (I exaggerate) and although I was raised in this cruel manner, I did indeed survive and thrive – although my brother and I often threatened to call child welfare. They didn’t have 911 in those days … or cellphones.

My children have been raised in a slightly modernised manner and ironically she thinks I spoil them … I disagree. At some point I become defensive and before a civil war erupts I usually invent an excuse to leave, both of us heaving sighs of relief. After a few months the children are summonsed to visit with the grandparents with fondness, and we begin the whole scenario again.

Poor mothers-in-law are often the butt of jokes (Not mine – she’s a dear) but hostile barbs are directed at siblings, cousins, grandparents. I’m certain every family has a proverbial black sheep that embarrasses the hell out of them.

These black sheep have to be invited to family gatherings and you know they are guaranteed to cause trouble or embarrassment – it’s in the genes. As the saying goes – you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

Read more: Fun things for families to do on Christmas Day

From my point of view these people make the whole event far more bearable

Just add too much sherry to the trifle – and if you watch and wait – someone is going to get pickled and say something veerrryyy interesting!

Auntie Tina is going to announce that Uncle Rob is trying Viagra with great success, as the mince pies get passed around. The ensuing silence will be priceless – no guesses as to who will be having a row on the way home. The story will be good entertainment until Easter.

It’s the tension of trying to keep the peace that can cause these volcanic eruptions of aggression. Arguments will arise about inane things, ranging from table decorations to sleeping arrangements. I once became embroiled in a silly spat with sisters-in-law about what should be put inside Christmas stockings – to this day I still feel foolish.

Christmas or any family event should have a director, a person who issues instructions on procedure or else these can turn into chaotic melees. Especially in those families where there are competitive genes.

Family events are also about bringing together the different generations – which should be a good thing – right?

Oh no! Old people think young people are know-it-all brats. Young people think old people are dinosaurs. Middle-age people think they are quite hip and not yet old – God forbid! Babies appeal to most generations until they start howling, – then suddenly they are not popular.

This is a glimpse of how my family bonded last year

Grandad had his ancient portable radio glued to his ear (he’s quite deaf). While my son had his new cellphone glued to his ear (he may be deaf soon), my mother insisted on flicking through the channels trying to find some “golden oldies” music on television – she was deaf to our pleas for something a bit more modern. As they say silence is golden!

Trish Beaver is a blogger and feature writer: read more at www.trishbeaver.com