Christmas and family tensions by guest blogger Cameron Paterson

It’s that time of the year again. In precisely one week millions will be grappling with wrapping paper, sipping sherry, wondering whether or not to listen to the Queen’s speech, arguing over when to put the turkey in the oven. Yes, Christmas 2012 is almost here.

Over the last few decades, Christmas become the UK’s one great secular festival, casting a very long shadow over every other traditional religious event. The appeal is straightforward: we live in a largely agnostic nation and you don’t have to be religious to enjoy giving and receiving presents, or feasting with friends and family. Retailers love it too, of course, to an almost hysterical extent: Christmas is the perfect excuse to try and persuade us all to splash out wildly and keep those cash tills ringing.

But behind the glitter and gaudy shop window Santas, Christmas can be a very difficult time for many people. Inflated expectations, financial pressures and family tensions can all mar what is supposed to be a harmless few days of fun and relaxation.

Family issues are a particular flashpoint. For very many people, family is an essential component of the festive period. You catch up, share news, spend time. And that’s where the trouble can start. For some, Christmas is a huge reminder of loss and loneliness. For others, freed from daily routines and workaday distractions, all that Christmas family time can bring destructive tensions to the surface – everything from irritating in-laws to the dread “irreconcilable differences”. After perhaps months of planning, preparation and pressure, the disappointment if Christmas does not go well can be unbearable for some.

Family lawyers talk ruefully about January as “divorce season” and many do indeed see a surge in calls and enquiries in the first week of the year. I’m sure the proximity of Christmas to New Year heightens the effect: it’s hard not to think about the future and the coming year those first few days in January. They fill many of us with a determination to change our lives. For some a detox will suffice – for others nothing less than a divorce!

Of course, visiting a family lawyer to discuss divorce after a difficult Christmas may not be a sudden bolt from the blue. Many of the men and women who call or drop into Stowe Family Law during those first few weeks of the year have known for some time that their marriages were in trouble, even if they have now wanted to admit it to themselves. Some may even have been hoping that the sparkle and romance of Christmas would be enough to salvage the situation. It is not uncommon, too, for parents in disintegrating marriages to wait until they return to school before ringing their solicitors, so their family festivities are not spoiled by the upset of divorce.

And what about those parents who have already split up? They may have escaped the tensions that led them into the divorce courts in the first place, but Christmas can still be a difficult time. For some, there will be the delicate negotiations over where the children spend Christmas Day, when they receive their presents from the non-resident or visit family members. Others face the opposite problem: explaining to baffled children why an estranged parent won’t be seeing them over Christmas, why they have forgotten to phone them or send them a present.

Yes, Christmas is quite an emotional minefield and at the end of the day, I can’t help but wonder whether if it’s really worth all the bother and effort. Bah humbug!

Cameron Paterson is a journalist with an interest in legal matters

Photo by Barry Mitchelson via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

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