“One Christmas my brothers put our dead dog’s name in the ‘name in the hat’ game and spent the whole thing crying of laughter,” says Rosie Swaine, who says every year she looks forward to spending three or four days over the festive period with her three brothers and two sisters.
The 28-year-old, who lives in Hackney, London, but is originally from Essex, doesn’t get to see her five siblings - Phillipa, Will, Jon, Anna and Rob - very often because they live across three continents due to work commitments, and so waits in anticipation for the rare chance to catch up on 25 December.
Swaine tells HuffPost UK that some of her favourite memories include going to church and her brother announcing to the congregation his favourite present was a ‘Mr Hanky the Christmas poo’ or another brother sellotaping a ball of Tesco carrier bags to everyone.
Despite waiting 364 days a year to play board games with her family (her highlight of Christmas), the marketing director says that even in short spells the siblings are prone to arguments. “We are overly competitive so it usually ends in tears or tantrums,” adding there are fights over the crispy roast potatoes.
The mixture of joy and arguments is a similar story for 36-year-old Mark Carper, and undoubtedly millions of other siblings up and down the country. Carper who is originally from Hampshire looks forward to spending time with his two sisters - Ella and Sophia - but says within 24 hours he’s already looking for breathing space.
His most vivid childhood Christmas memory is trying to watch Doctor Who with his dad while his sisters narrate the whole episode, talking over it. “They ruin it every year without fail, but it has become our ‘thing’ I guess” he says. “I love them but we drive each other crazy. Why are siblings the only people you simultaneously hate and think are hilarious?”
Psychotherapist and counsellor Hilda Burke, who wrote The Phone Addiction Workbook, tells HuffPost UK the way our sibling relationships are is due in large part to them being some of the oldest ones in our lives (along with our parents).
“These relationships existed before we could even speak,” she says. “Those relationship dynamics are old, in some case decades old, and they tend to be very entrenched. They were formed for most of us at a time when we were pre-verbal so logic and reason may not feature as prominently as in other relationship dynamics.”
On the one hand this legacy is good because it means you know everything about each other (including how to push their buttons) but it also means, Burke says, that if there are parts of your sibling dynamic you don’t like, it is going to be the most challenging to change.
I still force my brother to come and sit on my bed to open presents despite the fact I’m nearing 30..."Santana De Silva
And at a time of year such as Christmas that is already so steeped in tradition, it is inevitable we will act how we always have done with our siblings. Carrie Santana De Silva, 29, says: “I still force my brother to come and sit on my bed to open presents on [Christmas] morning despite the fact I’m nearing 30 and my husband is also in said bed.”
Relate counsellor Dee Holmes says its important to continue these traditions. “There will be things as siblings you always did such as watching a favourite Christmas movie. Carry on these traditions if you can but also be open to creating new rituals. These may be as simple as doing the washing up after lunch, but if you designate this as sibling time and put on the Christmas songs it can still be a fun hour or two spent in each other’s company.”
The longevity of these relationships is what makes times like Christmas special – making memories together and reliving years gone by – but how do you ensure that as adults you don’t end up actually falling out with your brothers and sisters? Because it’s not always as easily resolved as when you were seven.
“One thing to consider is alcohol intake,” suggests Burke.“Sober, most of us have the ability to make some sense of our emotions and can identify who we’re angry with and why. However, after a few glasses of wine our anger can become more wholesale in nature and those who just happen to be around us, which will probably include siblings, can bear the brunt of it.”
Burke says it’s important to remember that many of us feel we ‘should’ be having a perfectly harmonious family Christmas but if you don’t have a good relationship the rest of the year don’t expect that to resolve itself overnight. “I think at Christmas you reap what you sow, what’s happened during the whole year will literally come home to roost,” she says.