With all of the social interactions that the holidays bring, questions about proper behavior pop up regularly. Here are some common holiday etiquette questions and tips for handling them:
Q. How do you respond when “out-gifted,” where someone gives you a much more personal or expensive item than you gave him or her?
A. Concentrate on the reason you are giving a gift in the first place – to show fondness or appreciation to another person. Give what you can comfortably afford and enjoy your holidays without remorse.
Q. My spouse has been laid off and money is tight. Each year during the holidays we participate in gift exchanges with various circles of friends, in addition to exchanging gifts with family members who like to give lots of pricey gifts. How do we handle gift giving this year under these circumstances?
A. Be honest and say, “This year has been financially difficult and although I would love to be a part of the gift exchange, we will have to skip the gift giving ceremony this year. Thank you for understanding.” One simple, budget-friendly idea: bake batches of sweets and give to each family rather than individual gifts.
Q. Unfortunately, being together during the holidays sometimes throws you together with people you usually try to avoid. How do you deal with getting together with family members you really don’t like during the holidays?
A. For the sake of family harmony, decide in advance that you are not going to “engage” in any sibling rivalry or political shouting matches. When and if they occur, assertively say “I don’t want to spoil this holiday event with bickering”, then change the subject to a more pleasant one.
Q. We have guests coming in from out of town to stay with us. We thought it would be fun to all go to a holiday concert. Are we expected to buy tickets for them?
A. As the host, it would be a wonderful gesture; however, if the tickets are very expensive and it is something you all have been discussing, consider saying “The tickets are quite pricey, do “WE” want to spend “OUR” money on them or find something more affordable to do?”
Q. What is an appropriate host/hostess gift to take to a dinner party or cocktail party at someone’s home?
A. Any gift that shows thoughtfulness and appreciation is ideal: note cards, finger towels or candles are a few good options. Food items that your host can enjoy later are also nice, such as a favorite wine, cocoa, or seasonal fruit. Avoid bringing cut flowers – your hostess will be busy entertaining and may not have time to drop everything and find a vase for them. If you want to give flowers, send them in advance.
Q. How do I say “no” to relatives who ask to stay at our house?
A. There are a number of reasons why it may not be feasible to have house guests. Explain with a simple “I’m sorry, we just are not able to entertain house guests right now.” Or, if you’re already over-booked with holiday guests, explain with “We would love to have you but unfortunately we already have out of town guests and our space is already limited”.
Q. Can I ask for grocery money for an extended stay?
A. It’s rude for a host to ask a guest for grocery money. Hopefully a gracious guest will offer to contribute or simply go and buy groceries or pick up a meal on their own, or treat you to a restaurant meal to offset the expense.
Q. How do I give one child a gift and leave out the other two from another family without hurt feelings?
A. You can’t. Unless you are drawing names, it’s one or all of the kids unless there are extenuating circumstances.
Q. Do I have the right to discipline my sister’s unruly children when they are staying at my home?
A. If the children are doing something dangerous or destructive, you are obligated to step in immediately – “Please don’t lean back in that chair, I don’t want you to fall and get hurt.” If it’s behavior that is rowdy or otherwise disrupting, you have the right to talk to your sister and ask for her assistance. It also helps to be ready to entertain younger visitors, whether it’s stocking up on movies or board games or arranging for special outings; talk to your sister ahead of time to get ideas of what might interest them. It may be worth offering to pay for tickets for your sister to take them to the zoo (refrain from suggesting she leave them there).