In "Shrek the Halls", Donkey makes the comment, "Christmas ins't Christmas unless somebody cries".
It's funny, but it hits pretty close to the mark. Christmas is the time when we see perhaps the biggest gap between expectation and reality on the calendar.
We are bombarded by TV shows and commercials, old Currier and Ives prints, and sugary songs that make Christmas seem like an endless hug from Barney the purple dinosaur.
Reality is a bit different.
When the doorbell rings, and the folks we haven't seen in a year and might prefer to wait another year before seeing come through the door, we try to have our attitudes and behavior and smiley-face masks adjusted.
How long does that last for you?
Tensions surface quickly, turn into cracks, and while open warfare doesn't usually develop the whole experience is fraught with one-upsmanship and small digs and at the end of it, "Whew! I'm glad that's over".
Is there a way to stop the cycle?
Sure. Celebrate Christmas in Bora Bora with just your spouse. leave the kids in boarding school, and don't tell the family where you're going. Or if you'll come back.
Failing that...make an effort to be low-key. Where you think you have to decorate a lot, don't. Where you think you have to cook sumptuous meals, make them simple. When a multi-thousand-dollar gift list beckons, buy paperback books and CDs.
If the expectations are lowered going in, you may well find a refreshing release from the tyranny of the secular tradition in which we're bound.
And you might just get a little closer to the experience of the first Christmas Day.