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Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

SocietyDecember 25, 2021

The 12 characters of Christmas – and how to deal with them

Illustration: Toby Morris
Illustration: Toby Morris

The weird old guy with a ponytail who no one really knows, and 11 more oddly specific characters you’ll probably encounter this Christmas.

First published on 24 December 2019.

There’s no hiding from it. Today you will attempt to bring many and varied family members together in total peace and harmony to enjoy each other’s company, assisted by nothing more than a maxed out credit card, inappropriate food for blistering summer weather and a lot of fizzy wine. Do you know what you are getting yourself into? Are you properly prepped for this long and overhyped festive folly? I doubt it.

But I am. Let me help you out with this list of 12 Kiwi Christmas characters you may encounter and how to handle their respective jandals, because forewarned is forearmed and you should never skip forearm day.

The Mum who does fucking everything every fucking year and nobody ever fucking helps

Illustration: Toby Morris

Give her a really nice present. Get all those blokes who are gently farting their way into a food coma to do the damn dishes and don’t let them slide out of it until the pots are actually clean AND put away. Lend the poor woman a hand to take lots of Gladwrap off small bowls of things then put lots of Gladwrap back on leftover things later, but do not fall into the trap of offering her any sympathy. For one, this will make her collapse into uncontrollable weeping for twelve hours straight because nobody has asked her if she is ‘doing OK’ since 1998, and for two, it’s entirely her own fault she’s such a martyr that she keeps doing this every year.

This character’s joy level: -10% and contagious

The Student who has to sleep on the couch because mum turned their old bedroom into a crafting studio and wash all the dishes and basically be a slave

If you are this character, then you’re screwed. Too old to join in with the kids on the Slip ‘N’ Slide, too young to convince anyone to let you have more than half a sip of shandy. As soon as you walked in that door you found yourself reverting back to a sullen teenager who gets forced to pick up all the dog poops and sort out the broadband, no matter how many times you reminded yourself you’re now a woke urban adult who knows more about what’s up than these provincial Boomers. Plus you will be miserably hot, sweating like a pig because you are too scared to take off your hoodie in case Dad sees your new tattoo. Remember it’s only for three days and then you can meet up with your mates in Whangamata.

If you are sharing Christmas with this character, take them to the pub and buy them a sympathy handle.

This character’s joy level: a secret 20% rising to 60% when they get petrol vouchers in their stocking, which OF COURSE they are putting out for Santa, geez Mum.

The Small Child #1

Illustration: Toby Morris

This Is The Best Day Ever Omigod! The new toys, the lack of any supervision whatsoever and the sixty cousins who will totally drop into an impromptu wrestling match with you at any minute and play spotlight ALL NIGHT and take you down the back to do bombs in the river even though Mum said no (and you didn’t even get caught!) – all of it has transported this kid into a seven year old’s nirvana. Nobody has hassled this child about bedtime or vegetables or baths today and you don’t get better than that. Follow this kid around, they know the secret to living their best life.

This character’s joy level: 1100% and constantly rising.

The Small Child #2

Hates any food except chicken nuggets and got carsick five times on the way to your house and is scared of all the strangers, and your cat who scratches, and who did NOT get the exact Paw Patrol plushie they wanted because their mum thinks ‘they all look the bloody same.’ The big cousins are hogging the swingball and Gran won’t let them touch the TV remote because Grandad always watches infomercials at lunchtime and This Is The Worst Day Ever.

This is not OK. Everybody knows that Christmas Is For The Children and if the kids at your Christmas Thing are having a truly shit time then you can safely assume that your whole Christmas Thing is truly shit. Do better next year. Perhaps travel to the family with little kids instead of expecting them to come to you? Remember that it’s all about the people first, not about the traditions. Get some McDonald’s in, before they like, totally STARVE. Make the ultimate sacrifice and lend the poor wee poppet your phone to watch Frozen 2 and teach you the songs. Sneak them an extra lemonade to atone for your failures.

This character’s joy level: 0% and this is a crisis!

The Young Grandma/Aunty who loves all the babies

If you have Christmas at this Nan’s house, you’re so lucky. You will have a mint time. Young Grandma loves everything about Christmas and looks forwards to it all year. There will be no gifts, which is awesome, because it leaves everyone more budget to blow on food and some new karaoke speakers. She will have a Facebook Family Group that you will be expected to participate in from June where all of the whanau will be organised like a military campaign and everything will go like a dream because she rocks at this shit. You will be on a roster to peel potatoes and supervise the lawn cricket but it will be fun with everyone else to help. She genuinely doesn’t give a shit if you bring your Christmas orphan flatmate, the more the merrier in her book. She takes so many photos for the girls at work and will always offer to look after all the babies because she just loves them so much and they can just cuddle up in her bed together like in the old days – do not take her up on this.

She means well, but come midnight she’ll be nodding off to sleep on the settee after scabbing half a dozen Cruisers off the young people who are still partying to her Now That’s What I Call Music 2002 CD in her lounge (although she doesn’t drink) and her Rothmans that she ‘borrowed’ (she doesn’t smoke either) will be burning a small hole in one of the scatter cushions. Love her and enjoy being with her while you can.

This character’s joy level: 100% and contagious

The Old Duffer who is really good at amusing the little kids by showing them how his teeth come out and inexplicably loves Drag Race but is also a shockingly loud and proud homophobe and can’t see why this is stupid and mean

Stay away, basically. You’ll never get anywhere by arguing, he’s had 100 years to get set in his thinking and it’s not worth the drama. Vote yes on the euthanasia referendum.

This character’s joy level: 50% because nobody makes a blinking brandy sauce like they used to and this family doesn’t respect the elderly the selfish beggars.

The Grown Man Who Thinks There Is A Fucking Christmas Fairy Or Something

Illustration: Toby Morris

Gary can’t understand why his wife is so stressed out at this time of year. Christmas is fantastic, what’s not to love?! Gary actually does quite a lot to help thank you, he rattles his dags every Christmas Eve to clean the barbecue and make a very messy marinade. He describes this as ‘hosting’. The best part of Christmas for Gary is seeing what he bought for all the grandkids on Christmas morning, he loves surprises! Once he was given the job of buying presents for the little ones and came back with one very expensive miniature electric car, it was so amazing! The wife got a bit dark about it, but it’s not his bloody fault his useless kids can’t teach their kids how to share, is it?

By 2pm Gary is asleep on the only comfortable couch with his legs akimbo and misses all of the traditional after-lunch clean-up, feuding, tears and slamming of doors. Gary just loves Christmas.

This character’s joy level: 100%, like every other self-absorbed day of the year.

The Glamour Couple who are revolted by the whole season and would rather be in Koh Samui like last year and won’t stop talking about it

Always make them bring gifts. Their gifts will be amazing and a set of Airpods or a crystal decanter of Japanese single malt whiskey will make listening to their whining about first class being full of the nouveau riche seem less abrasive. Drop lots of hints suggesting that Bavaria or somewhere even further away would be nice for them next year.

This character’s joy level: 0% and nobody cares.

The Weird Old Guy with a ponytail who is apparently someone’s divorced uncle and will stay in his caravan on your mum’s lawn for the next two months, only wash in rainwater because of his religious beliefs and reads paperbacks from the 1970s

Avoid this guy like the plague, and definitely don’t sit opposite him on the lawn chairs because you can guarantee he’s not wearing undies with his short shorts. Worst of all he’ll be boring. He’ll only know the lamest conspiracy theories, he’s likely to try and crack on to your friends and he’s always trying to borrow money.

This character’s joy level: 80% as long as the food and everything bloody other thing is free.

The Cool Sister who has an advanced Degree in Bioethics and lives in a commune in Northland dedicated to seed banking, who leaves early after her non-gendered child Jade won’t go to sleep because the room isn’t facing East

Illustration: Toby Morris

Tell your mum that vegan food might be as boring as hell but it’s not a personal attack on her glazed ham and perfectly healthy. You can find her an article about it. Remind your aunt it’s none of her business how long Jade is breastfed for, even though Jade appears to be about to hit some form of puberty. Gently dissuade the other Christmas characters from making fun of Cool Sister’s sandals or leg hair and make a date to catch up with her in the New Year. Interesting intelligent people doing worthwhile things against the grain of popular opinion are hard to find in this shrivelled cynical world, and should be cherished. Plus you owe her a debt of gratitude for continuing to be family gossip fodder, year on year, while you skate by with your Diploma in Creative English, part-time retail job and embarrassing Instant Kiwi scratchie addiction.

This character’s joy level: irrelevant because Christmas is just a Christian whitewash of a fascinating Pagan tradition anyway.

The Vaping Cousin who falls asleep constantly, repeats himself and smells of bourbon and unwashed hair

His contribution to Christmas dinner was a slab of Waikato cans and a dripping kilo of raw homekill mince, although he doesn’t know what kind of meat it might be. His hands shake.

This character’s joy level: who the hell knows? And why we’re at it, where does he get his money when he’s never had a job and who were those ‘friends’ who turned up to take him for a ride in their Holden yesterday and why does he have two phones both of which constantly go off? Keep the kids away but also keep his number.

The Ancient Biddy who has been practising reactionary jibes for months and secretly loves making people cry

This character is actually closest to Small Child #1 in terms of how much they are enjoying Christmas. Basically, Ancient Biddy is bored with life. Nobody can understand her scathing wit at the nursing home because they’re all deaf and she only gets to come out once a year because everyone hates her so much that one day is all they can take. She applies her fierce but twisted intelligence solely towards making everyone around her shocked and upset for a laugh, and she’s good at finding every inadequacy you thought you had hidden. Never tell her anything personal about yourself she can use. Instead, encourage her to tell you outrageous stories about her own youth and gossip about long-dead people, who are way past caring. If you get good at this, she will probably leave you all of her enormous fortune on her imminent death since everybody else in the family has been shunning her since 1982. Merry Christmas to you.

This character’s joy level: An utterly disgraceful 100%

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