What do holiday boundaries look like?


For many of us, the festive season can bring a whole wave of anxious emotions, especially since there’s so much expectation for it to be the ‘perfect’ day filled with family and fun while in reality it’s anything but the idealised family time we see in Hallmark movies. 

Over the years, I’ve learnt that one of the hardest, but most necessary, things to do over the holiday season is to protect my peace. Especially since I have my own little family with our own growing traditions, which are quite different from the ones I grew up with or the traditions of my husband’s family.

To help you figure out how to have a truly ‘jolly jolly’ festive season, you may have to determine what that looks like for you and how you need to go about achieving it. 

Rakhi Beekrum, a Durban-based psychologist, advises that it is good to set boundaries over the holidays to protect your peace. Some relatives or friends might be disappointed since your plans don’t align with their expectations – but that doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong. However, the sooner you communicate (respectfully) what your boundaries are, the easier it becomes to enjoy the festive season without stress. Maybe you’re not even feeling as festive as everyone around you and you want to skip the festivities. Sounds odd, but it’s totally normal. 

So how do we communicate healthy boundaries over the holiday season? Here’s some tips from Beekrum: 

  • “I would love to see everyone, but I’m not comfortable with big gatherings right now. I hope to see everyone when it’s safer.’”
  • “I wish we could spend more time together, but we are only able to stay for two hours and we will have our masks on.”
  • “I’m not comfortable discussing this topic. Let’s talk about something else.”
  • “I know that this has been a tradition, but we have decided to do things differently this year”
  • “I appreciate your feedback on ____, but I’m happy with my decision.”
  • “It’s been an exhausting year and I need some alone time.”
  • “It’s been a financially stressful year, so I am choosing not to exchange gifts this year.”

While traditions help families bond, it’s also normal to outgrow some of them that leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious. 

As a bicultural family, my husband and I wanted to grow and shape our own traditions to bring life to our family. Some years we celebrate things the way the Germans do on Christmas Eve or ‘Heilig Abend’, and some years we do the South African Christmas which involves a warm Christmas on the 25th December with no traditional food – just fun in the sun. Our version of an ideal Christmas changes every year, because our needs as a family change.


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