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(CNN) -- Christmas is the time of year when even the most mean-spirited party-pooper is expected to lay aside their habitual glumness, don a silly paper hat and have a good time.
Despite being the season of peace and goodwill, however, for many people Christmas invariably descends into a nightmare of over-eating, over-spending, family arguments and general emotional meltdown.
What sort of sort of carol best describes your experience of Christmas: "Ding Dong Merrily on High", or "In the Bleak Midwinter?" Here are a few suggestions on how to ensure that this year it's the former.
Keep your expectations low: One of the major problems with Christmas is that the hype surrounding it has become so deliriously intense that the reality, however enjoyable, can never possibly live up to the expectation. These days, it seems, going through Christmas in anything other than a state of total transcendental euphoria means that you have somehow failed to demonstrate the spirit of the season. The name of the game here is to pitch your expectations low, not put pressure on yourself. Aim for a simple, enjoyable holiday, rather than unadulterated rapture. Don't, however, pitch them too low -- envisage a day of burnt turkey, rubbish presents and marital breakdown and that's probably how it will turn out.
It's not a competition: As each year goes by Christmas becomes a little less to do with celebrating the birth of Christ and a little more to do with getting one up on those around you. Whether it be handing out the most expensive presents, cooking the most sumptuous dinner or rigging the most electronically complex array of festive lights, Christmas is no longer a holiday, it's a competition. Well, stop it! Stop it now! You've got all the rest of the year to score points over your neighbor/ boss/mother-in-law/siblings. Christmas should be a rivalry-free zone, one in which you make a point of demonstrating how uncompetitive you can be. There are no half measures here. Slightly uncompetitive is not good enough. You must be the most uncompetitive, proving to all the world that no-one is less of a show-off than you. Your reputation is one the line here. You must win the Christmas non-competition competition! You must! You must!
Who cares if lunch doesn't earn you 3 Michelin stars? Every year people put themselves under unbearable stress trying to prepare the perfect Christmas meal, working themselves up into paroxysms of angst that the turkey might be too dry, the Brussel sprouts too soggy and the minced pie-crusts not sufficiently crumbly. Whenever you feel yourself starting to panic about food, pause, take a deep breath and mull on the millions of people around the world for whom dry turkey, soggy Brussel Sprouts and non-crumbly mince pies would constitute a mouth-watering feast. Rather than worrying that the food's not perfect, just be grateful you've got some food in the first place.
Show a bit of control: Leading on from the above, Christmas, especially in the affluent Western world, has a strangely tyrannical effect on our appetites. Even after eating the most gargantuan meal, we still force ourselves to continue nibbling, topping up already bloated bellies with nuts and chocolates and minced pies and double-decker turkey, stuffing and mayonnaise sandwiches. And then more nuts and chocolates. This year try to show some self-discipline. Eat enough to satisfy you, then apply the gastromic brakes. You're not going to starve, and will feel a whole lot better when you look in the mirror on December 26th.
Avoid board games: A recent survey in the UK revealed that the number one sparking point for family arguments at Christmas is board games. Whether it be a vicious dispute over granny winning a Trivial Pursuit wedge she manifestly didn't deserve, or a violent explosion of frustration that your game-winning, Triple-score, twelve-letter Scrabble word isn't actually in the dictionary, board games are to festive harmony what the average Megadeth album is to classical music composition. When you feel that nagging, post-lunch urge to get out the Monopoly board, Just Say No!
Unplug the TV: The same UK survey revealed that the second major cause of Christmas friction is trying to decide what to watch on TV. With terrestrial, cable and satellite stations offering literally hundred of choices, friction over the festive viewing menu is inevitable. This year, why not unplug the TV and do something radical such as talking, reading, singing or going out for a walk? Alternatively, if you simply cannot go without your festive televisual fix, try blindfolding yourself and sticking a pin at random in a copy of the TV listings to choose your viewing schedule. Chances are you'll end up watching something none of you is remotely interested in, but at least all the family will be united in their collective sense of disappointment.
Christmas seems to have become increasingly competitive