WHEN preparing for a big day ahead, a hearty breakfast is important. At Christmas, we may foolishly err towards something light on the promise of a feast to follow, but early-morning grub is important. We don’t usually wash down our first meal of the day with bucks fizz, so it is essential that we line our stomachs for the boozy onslaught to follow. Think carbs – double carbs if possible. I recommend a potato scone on a morning roll, with a side of cheese on toast (festive chutney optional).

Get gift opening out of the way early. It is universally accepted that only sociopaths and the royal family have the willpower to delay the gratification past noon, anyway.

This has a number of benefits. First and foremost, it minimises the amount of time that the floor is a dangerous assault course of plastic shite and Toblerones. It also ensures that children are occupied during the period between breakfast and Christmas lunch, when tantrums and sugar-crash meltdowns are statistically most likely to occur.

The wrapping paper that is collected and put in bin bags also makes a handy shock absorber should any fights between irrational toddlers (or uncles) break out.

The kitchen is the beating heart of Christmas Day. If you want to ensure it doesn’t have a festive aneurysm, a few key rules must be observed. Firstly, establish who is in charge. If you have difficulty identifying that person, they are normally the one wearing the novelty apron and mildly-furious expression. Some Christmas cooks like company when they are calculating the timings of 10 different side dishes, but they tend to be in the minority.

If in doubt, stand well back from the threshold of the kitchen and shout to ask if they need help or a gin. Under no circumstances should you stand behind the chef when he or she is retrieving a searing-hot baking tray of goose fat roast potatoes, nor enquire as to whether or not that’s the way Nigella does them. It is permissible to ask what time lunch will be served only once. Do it twice, and you are serious danger of getting a honey-glazed carrot lobbed at your head.

Remember, the entire Christmas Day project is dependent on the cook surviving the afternoon without having a nervous breakdown or going on strike. So stroke their ego, mention how good the food smells and assure them that their prawn cocktail arrangement is far more stylish than anything Gordon Ramsay has ever done. Lie if need be.

After lunch is served, convention dictates that the cook has now clocked off for the day. If you’ve not got a fork or a drink, or if the gravy boat needs refilled – get up off your arse and get it. The cook shouldn’t be a sweaty yo-yo bobbing up and down from the table to fetch things that have been overlooked. Get into the spirit – not the whisky though – save that until after the pudding has been served. In general, be a good sport. Don’t be the guy who’s too cool for a paper party hat, it’s Christmas for feck sake. Bonus tip: if you are lucky enough to win one of those wee screwdriver sets in a Christmas cracker, get up from the table and put it a safe place immediately. You won’t believe the number of aforementioned plastic shite toys that require tiddly elf tools. After lunch, you’ve reached a fork in the road. Your belly is full, but auntie Jean has brought out cheese and crackers and is urging you to “just huv a wee plate – it’s Christmas!”.

Ignore auntie Jean: she doesn’t know what she’s talking about and is most likely drunk. The goal here is to last the whole day, so you’ve got to pace yourself. If you start hitting the brie at this stage than you can forget about making it through Monopoly – and how humiliating would that be?

The Queen’s speech is starting soon, so you could tune into that, or do something else with your time that would be more worthwhile. Take a power nap. Check Twitter to see if your pals are having more fun than you. Live stream your own alternative Queen’s speech online, lamenting the perils of unbridled capitalism and consecutive Conservative governments Scotland didn’t vote for. Anything.

And now, you’ve reached the time of the day where the risk/reward balance is at its most perilous. That moment that can make or break a Christmas Day; that razor sharp line between festive family fun and that one Christmas you never mention again in polite company. Games. Maybe you’ve got one of those wholesome, “we’re all winners really” kind of families. In which case, I’m happy for you and can I please have the name of your therapist?

If you’re lucky, nobody will take it too seriously and you can just enjoy each other’s company. If not, your brother will cheat like the rat he is and your mum will leave the table to Google whether or not the Scottish Government’s smacking ban extends to 35-year-olds. This is a good time to switch to the Irn-Bru, because it’s a lot easier to pretend your sister’s smug victory dance isn’t doing your head in when you’re relatively sober and not well on your way to being weepy-angry drunk.

And if you survive that, you’ve survived Christmas. It won’t be picture perfect, because it never is. It’s unlikely to play out like you see in the movies and it almost certainly won’t snow. But for all its frantic, nerve-shredding, gut-busting craziness, it will be your Christmas. And if you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by loved ones, warm in your house and with food in your belly, then I’d say you are doing all right. Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you have a peaceful and joyful festive season.