Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men (well, everybody). It doesn’t matter what faith or denomination you espouse, Peace on Earth is the dominant theme of the season. Peace is a state of harmony among people, freedom from strife, a feeling of serenity and tranquility. Peace. How wonderful.

“Uh-huh,” you say, “Sure,” grimacing at the thought of all those coming together under your roof for a joyous Holiday celebration, like your grandparents, great aunts and grandparents-in-law, who although well into their 70’s and 80’s behave worse than your 6 year old, crying “Mine!” “No, I saw it first!” “Quit pushing!” “Who’s pushing?” “Why you’re just an old –“ Peace? Hardly.

Then of course there’s your siblings, half-siblings, parents, step-parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles and assorted cousins, all of whom have what are politely referred to as “quirks.” You know, as in “Uncle Harry, the vegetarian, who harangues in loud and often crude terms whoever dares take a bite of meat” or “Little Alfred (who’s not so little), the bully who forces the other kids to ‘share’ their gifts with him and returns them damaged or broken.” Peace. You sigh. What a lovely dream.

Maybe not. Maybe Peace is more than just a dream. Maybe you can make certain adjustments to:
1. Your state of mind
2. How the festivities progress (After all, you’re the one hosting the main event.)

Let’s start with your state of mind. Your grandparents and others have been bickering for years – probably for their entire lives – and they don’t appear to be any the worse for wear. Your Uncle Harry has been haranguing since his vegan conversion, yet most of your family still enjoy that Holiday non-vegan feast. Instead of viewing their behavior with dismay, become an observer. Look upon their behavior as a scientist would, with wonder and curiosity: “Wow, how does their bickering serve them? What purpose does it fulfill for them?” In other words, detach from emotionally reacting to your relatives’ behavior, and have some fun observing it.

You can’t change your relatives, but you can change how you view them. Pay less attention to their foibles and more to their qualities. If you look closely enough, everyone has qualities: a sense of humor, resilience, honesty, strongly held opinions, kindness, a willingness to help. The more you focus on your relatives’ qualities, and treat them as if those qualities were in the forefront, the more likely they are to appear.

Secondly, make adjustments to how the festivities progress. The kids don’t have to open their presents before the meal, leaving them all that time to get picked on and bullied by Little Alfred. How about starting a new tradition of carols or storytelling before the meal, and present-opening at the end of the day, just before everyone gets ready to leave? That cuts out most of the opportunity for toy grab-and-smash.

Peace. Yes, you can have some this Holiday Season. Maybe not 100%, maybe not as much as you dream of, but more, absolutely. And who knows, maybe next year a little more, then a little more.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent book is "The Power of Appreciation in Everyday Life" (Insomniac Press, 2006). Her new book, "Your Man Is Wonderful (Free Press) will be released in January 2009. For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives through appreciation--at work, at home and in relationships. E-mail:, website: