Handling Awkward Holiday Situations

November 09, 2015

Every year, the holidays bring a great deal of joy, but also a certain amount of stress. The obvious stressors include finances and shopping, cooking and hosting, but sometimes there are other unintended or unexpected situations which can occur over the holidays adding some unneeded stress.  I am including some strategies I have gained through experience to help you prepare and deal with these awkward holiday situations.

Where are we going for the holidays?
This is both a positive and a negative. I wish we all had so many loving people in our lives that we have to choose where to go for the holidays. If you’re not hosting, this can be a dilemma, especially in a marriage. The best way to handle this situation is to be proactive about it. My husband and I decide, privately, how we’re going to split the holidays. One year we spend Thanksgiving and New Years with his family, and Christmas and Christmas Eve with mine, and we reverse it each year; it’s how we handle the division. If it’s not so easily divided, you can follow the classic invitation rule – whoever invites you first, that’s where you accept. If there aren’t any formal phone calls for invites, it’s okay to ask your closest family what everyone plans on doing to open up the conversation.

How much do I spend on gifts?
The awkward situation where you spent only a little, but someone spent a lot, or in reverse, can create tension and ruin the beauty of gift-giving. It’s a good strategy to be proactive instead of reactive about this situation, as well. Open up the discussion of setting a limit for each family member – more likely than not, other people will feel the same way as you do, and appreciate someone broke that ice. Because our families are so vast, we decided to a Secret Santa at a budget of $100 this year. So on each sides of our family, we’ll pull one name out of a hat, and buy that person a really nice gift. It helps with creating a budget, without anyone feeling lost-in-the-sauce.

Oh great, Aunt Bertha gave us another cat ornament…
Any gift is one to be appreciated, and as much as you may hate your ever-growing collection of cat ornaments, you accept it with gratitude and offer gracious thanks. The old adage holds true – it’s the thought that counts.

My gift was just re-gifted!
This can be very hurtful for you; you may even feel angry with the person who re-gifted your gift. You have to use sound judgement of your relationship to decide how to pursue this. If it’s someone who is very close to you, speak to them privately to express your hurt. It would also be wise to mention that you would rather know what the person may want in the future to avoid disappointment on their end. Open up the opportunity for conversation, and be mindful that the reason the person re-gifted your gift may be because he/she could not afford to make a purchase of their own. If it’s someone not so close, it may be best to ignore it this time around, and if you’re purchasing a gift for this person in the future, include a gift receipt.

Can I re-gift Aunt Bertha’s cat ornament?
Yes and no. Good etiquette would technically tell you not to re-gift a gift you don’t like, but the frugal pragmatist in me says you can, but wisely. If you’re going to re-gift an item, it should be to a completely different circle of people who would not likely ever cross paths. For example, maybe you have a co-worker who loves cats; it’s not likely Aunt Bertha would learn about the re-gifting there. Of course, if Aunt Bertha visits often, and notices your tree never has any cat ornaments, that can be hurtful, so be cautious and mindful before you make this decision.

Religion and/or politics at the dinner table
In my family, we don’t all share the same views on religion and politics, so if this discussion comes up, it is almost a guarantee someone gets angry. If you find yourself in the same predicament, it is best to avoid the discussion all together. That could mean just listening with great patience, that could mean volunteering to start washing some dishes, or that could mean breaking out another bottle of wine. The best practice here is to just stay out of it.

But I’m a vegetarian/But I’m on a diet!
Not sharing the same diet as people at holiday dinner can be a frustrating experience. This is another situation where it is best to be proactive. Bring a dish to dinner to share, something you are comfortable eating. Don’t insult the food or make snarky comments; remember that you are a guest in someone’s home, and whether or not they’re aware of your dietary constraints, be gracious. Sometimes families can be pushy about their food or drinks. Just kindly decline, and it’s okay to use a bit of a white lie here, such as “Oh, I’m so full already,” or “I’ve had a bit of a sour stomach all day.”

Simultaneously, if you are the host, you can be proactive by asking your guests if they have any special constraints early before you start planning your holiday meal. While you may not be able to make 12 different dishes for every constraint, you can certainly make a few adjustments. If the variety is far too overwhelming, it’s okay to suggest everyone bring an item they want to share.

Holiday Collections at Work
It seems like everyone is collecting for something during the holiday season, and while charity is a wonderful thing, it’s also very personal. Don’t feel like you have donate to every cause (read my blog post about the Charity Dilemma here). The best response at work, if you don’t want to and/or can’t donate, is to simply say, “I’m sorry, but I’ve already allocated my holiday donations this year.” You don’t need to get into any lengthy explanations for your decision.

Do I have to be politically correct?
This is another situation where it is best to use common sense and good judgement. In a workplace, it is best to use terms like “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings,” unless you are completely positive of the person’s beliefs. In other public forums, I would recommend gravitating to the latter advice.

What should I bring?
If you are attending an event at someone’s home, it is important not to arrive hand-to-mouth – that means, yes, you need to bring something with you. It’s customary to bring a bottle of wine, a dessert, a side-dish, or a host/hostess gift. A phone call to your host/hostess asking what they would like you to bring will usually lead to a generic, “Oh, just yourself” response. This is just politeness, you should still bring an item. If you’re absolutely unsure, narrow it down to a couple of choices, and call your host/hostess offering the choices: “Hi Mary, I was wondering if you would prefer I brought a bottle of wine, or if I baked some chocolate-chip cookies?” When you pose it as a non-option, you will receive a more honest response. *Wink wink* You could always bring a Candle Moments Candle from our Holidays & Celebrations Collection.

Do you find yourself in any other awkward holiday situations? We would love to hear your comments so we could help you come up with solutions!

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