How to tactfully talk to your family about cancelling Christmas plans - according to a counsellor

For lots of people across the UK, this could be the first year in a long time that usual Christmas traditions won’t be going ahead as normal - and breaking that news to your family can be difficult.

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With government leaders across the UK encouraging households to minimise contact with others, even during the festive season, you may have decided to change your plans to protect your loved ones, even as late as the week before Christmas.

But how do you talk to your family about cancelling long standing festive arrangements without hurting their feelings?

Here’s what Dee Holmes, a counsellor with charity, Relate, advises.

‘Talk to your family’

If you’ve decided that you need to change or rearrange your Christmas plans, you must start by talking to your family - but give them a call, not a text or an email.

“It’s easy for emails or text messages to get taken the wrong way, but if you pick up the phone and speak to them, you can be clear about your reasons for changing plans and reassure them that it’s nothing personal,” Holmes explained.

It can feel daunting to pick up and phone and make that first contact, especially if you’re not sure what the response will be.

You can try keeping a note of what you want to say, in order to keep your facts straight, and also so you don’t accidentally end up saying something that could cause upset.

Holmes says, “Make notes of the key points you want to get across.

“To give them some warning, you could message them in advance to say you’d like to talk about Christmas plans and check when would be a good time.”

‘Explain your reasons’

Make it clear to your loved ones that the reason you’ve had to change plans this year is because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and not because of something else.

Holmes says, “When you explain your reasons, make clear that you would really like to spend Christmas with them, but that given the current circumstances, you’re worried it’s not the best idea.

“You may want to point to the latest government advice or remind them of any health issues you or anyone in your household may have.”

Remember that this will be a two way conversation.

“Ask them how they feel about the suggestion so you can address any concerns they may have, but do make it clear where you stand and don’t be pushed into doing anything you don’t feel comfortable with,” says Holmes.

Make alternative arrangements

Just because you might not be going ahead with the usual Christmas plans doesn’t mean that you can’t still do something nice with the people you won’t be seeing.

Holmes suggests, “It might be nice to arrange a video call on the day with family who you can’t see, and to pencil in a potential date to meet up in 2021, of course with the understanding that this may need to change depending on government guidelines.”

There are plenty of activities you and your family can do via video call.

One option is to time your Christmas dinner so that everyone is sitting down to eat at the same time. This adds an extra layer of feeling together, and like you’re enjoying a meal around the same table.

You could also create a Christmas quiz to get everyone involved. If you don’t have the time to make your own quiz, you can find pre-made ones online - including this one which is all about the Christmas adverts of 2020, from John Lewis to Coca Cola.

There are also a number of online games that you and your family can play together remotely, using your own computers.

For example, website Playing Cards has loads of games to choose from, such as Chess, Go Fish, Cribbage and Joking Hazard.

Netgames also has more team oriented games you can play, such as One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Codewords, Love Letter and Enigma.