The jolly celebrations which we enjoy each mid-winter are derived from the Roman festival of Saturnalia — a time of drinking, present-giving, singing loudly in the street and sexual licentiousness. Not much change there, then. Catullus called Saturnalia ‘the best of days’, probably because it gave him an excellent chance to drink a lot and to disport himself with his mistress Clodia.
Unfortunately, the festive season can also lead to all sorts of emotional and relationship problems. That’s why our own consulting rooms are full of worried or remorseful patients in early January.
Why do the festivities cause so much angst? First, there’s the fact that the party season frequently involves the traditional winter sport of ‘meeting and mating’. For although Christmas is the season of giving, it’s also the season of giving in. Under the influence of jollity, mistletoe and ethanol, men and women have an alarming habit of falling into bed with someone who is not entirely suitable.
Experiments in psychology labs have shown that subjects who have been given a couple of drinks will suddenly start seeing other folk in a far more favourable light. Thus, a person to whom you wouldn’t normally give a second glance becomes much better-looking — and indeed, can seem like a possible bed-partner. This phenomenon is responsible for a lot of unwise couplings over the yuletide period. So please watch out for ‘beer goggles’. They may cause you to wake up in bed with a thumping headache and the boss’s wife.
In view of the booze-driven lusts of December, it’s not surprising that soon after Hogmanay, Britain’s genito-urinary clinics are overrun by men and women who fear they have caught what Boswell called ‘that distemper with which Venus plagues her votaries’. Alas, they are often correct.
Another feature of the party season is that it’s a dangerous time for long-term relationships. Relate, the sex and marital counselling agency, reports that in January they always see far more couples seeking therapy. One counsellor says, ‘Expectations of the festive period are often unrealistically high — and this can cause considerable tension between partners.’
Arguments over the Christmas holidays exacerbate any problems in a relationship, which explains why so many adults call time on their union at the start of the year. This has become such a trend that the first Monday in January is now known to some lawyers as ‘Divorce Monday’ — it’s when more adults consult a solicitor about ending their marriage than on any other date in the calendar.
We suggest that couples simply accept that December is the month when they’re most likely to have misunderstandings between them. The main reason for this is that women — even those with high-flying careers — tend to be programmed to produce the perfect yuletide. That’s completely mystifying to most men.
Other difficulties are sparked by tiredness. At Christmas, many women become overwhelmed by everything that they feel has to be done. Often, they believe that their partners offer insufficient support — while men tend to feel indignant that whatever they do is never enough.
Then there’s the thorny issue of presents. As you unwrap your gift from your spouse or lover, there’s nothing quite so alienating as the feeling of disbelief that your beloved seriously imagines you’d like this.
These points may help our male readers:
— Don’t ever give her even the most brilliantly engineered vacuum cleaner.
— Don’t give her a cheque or wodge of cash and say, ‘Get what you like when you’re next in Harrods, sweetie.’
— Don’t give her the same perfume every Christmas. She may have loved Madame Rochas in 1984; she might like to throw it at you now.
— Don’t buy her black or red lace lingerie. She will realise that this is a present for you, rather than her.
In turn, female readers might like to remember that men may not actually complain about a present, but that doesn’t mean they’re grateful for it.
Is there perhaps a swanky dressing gown which remains in its box while your spouse continues to wear his old scruffy one? Well, the reason is that he doesn’t actually like it. He may also be quietly resentful that you’re trying to ‘change’ him.
We suggest that a woman should ask a man what he genuinely wants — chaps tend not to be overly keen on surprises.
Our final tip is that you and your partner may get through the season in a more relaxed way if you treat yourselves to a pre-yuletide break. Select somewhere that you both like, where you can both relax — and where the atmosphere is right for some excellent intimacy to take place. The chances are that whatever then goes wrong at Christmas will matter less.
We hope that this year you can have a positive party season and really enjoy it. And the best of British luck.