Dear Richard Madeley: 'My sister is furious at my suggestion that we simplify our family Christmas'

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Dear Richard Madeley: 'My sister is furious at my suggestion that we reboot our family Christmas'
I am now worried she will go ahead with a huge spree of gifts that will achieve the desired effect of making the rest of us feel mean Credit: Rii Schroer/ Getty Images

Dear Richard

With the social side of Christmas looking deeply uncertain, I have suggested to my family that we do a “festive detox” – one small, simple present each, and no massive family meal even if we’re permitted to meet.

Most of us seem to be on board – they agree with me that it’s the pragmatic thing to do, while also, I believe, being privately quite relieved to be freed of the burden of high expectations and annually spiralling expense.

However, my sister, who has always been one of the more extravagant  gift-givers in the family, is furious. She has young children, who are bound to be disappointed not to see their grandparents, and may not  like getting a more modest hoard. But she’s also claiming that it’s our duty as ­relatively affluent people to support the economy after the rigours of 2020.

She can be quite passive-aggressive, and I am now extremely worried she will go ahead with a huge, generous spree of gifts that will achieve the desired effect of making the rest of us feel mean. Any way to head this off?

– “Scrooge”, via email

Dear ‘Scrooge’

Scrooge? Hardly… it’s not as if you’ve messaged your sister to say: “Out upon merry Christmas! If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas!’ on  his lips should be boiled with  his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

You’re no Dickensian villain, just a realist – and the main thing here is that most of your family are realists, too. They agree with you that this is going to be a very different Christmas, and we all might as well accept it. (My own family’s festive plans have been brutally pared down this year.) It’s a great shame, and in my view the likely restrictions are largely unnecessary, but we are where we are and we just have to get on with it.

You can’t force your views on your sister. If she forges ahead and buys up half of Harrods’ Christmas gift catalogue, there’s nothing you can do to stop her. But that’s no reason for you, or anyone else in your family, to feel guilty or embarrassed. You’ve signalled your collective agreement to keep things simple way in advance: if your sister ploughs her own furrow, that’s up to her. It doesn’t cast the rest of you as Scrooge-like.

As for “boosting the economy”, unless we’re talking Kardashian-like levels of expenditure, I really don’t think that’s something that would make a discernible difference. Favour cherished small independent shops and makers over the likes of Amazon, and you’ll be doing your bit, anyway.

The wonderful thing about extended families is that they’re not uniform. You’re never going to get everyone to agree on everything. Let your sister do her own thing, with your grace and assent.

As Tiny Tim observed: “God bless us, every one!”