Showing up without a hostess gift is a no-no any time of year, but especially so during the holiday season. It’s always polite to offer your host a small, thoughtful gift as a token of thanks for feeding you.
But around the holiday season, there’s always a good chance that your host will have a gift for you – and there are few moments more awkward than when someone gives you a present, and you have nothing to give them in return.
That said, you should have a “gift stash” of inexpensive, fun, wrapped gifts at the ready for moments like that throughout the holiday season. Keep a candle, a nice pair of socks or a gift card on hand in case you’re faced with an impromptu gift exchange. (Note: look up the SNL song “The Christmas Candle” for a laugh.)
Everyone has a button that’s easily pressed by family and friends. Just picture your overly-friendly uncle asking, “How’s that boyfriend of yours… Jeff, was it?” Never mind that Jeff got thrown out with the old Easter candy. Or when your mother-in-law asks, “Now, when are we going to get a grandbaby?” Fifteen minutes after you learn to mind your business, Deborah.
We’d love to envision a future when people learn not to poke at old wounds. But until that blessed day, we’re all just trying to grin and bear it.
To steel yourself for these awful moments, rehearse your response. Act out the scene with a friend if you have to. Try Googling non-answer answers to the questions (Try: “Aw, thank you so much for asking. But what I want to know about is–” and redirect the conversation.)
It’s easy to forget that the people who ask those painful questions don’t always have bad intentions. Sometimes, what you think is just a normal topic for chit-chat is actually a minefield. The old adage goes that you should avoid talking about politics, religion and money. But in truth, it’s difficult to know which topics should be avoided, especially when what’s okay in one setting may be totally inappropriate in another. In short, most personal topics are really none of your business, so why go there?
Instead, stick to open-ended questions that invite the person to share more if they’re comfortable doing so, such as, “What hobbies are you into right now?” or “What have you been spending your time doing lately?” Have some questions like these in your back pocket in case the conversation hits a lull so you don’t rely on an old gem like, “So you dating anybody right now, Cousin Bethany?”
‘Tis the season to say “thanks.” Express your gratitude to everyone around you. If you receive a gift, send a handwritten thank you note. Give a generous tip to those who provide you with services. Send gracious, heartfelt sentiments inside your holiday cards. Say “thank you,” even if you hate the gift or the turkey is dry.
Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, getting there is your most important holiday task. Don’t leave holiday travel to chance! Book early, always RSVP, arrive early, be prepared for anything, and, if you’re traveling with others, be a good team leader. Make a plan and many lists to ensure you get there in one piece.
While it may be the season to eat, drink and be merry, it’s never a good look to overdo it. But it’s easy to do with so many open bars and buffet lines. We’re all for letting your hair down a bit around the holidays, but it’s still important to do so in moderation.
Everyone takes a little pride in their “thing” around the holidays. Maybe Great Aunt Ethel is family-famous for her sweet potato casserole. Maybe your dad fancies himself the best gift wrapper this side of the Mississippi. Or maybe your cousin has always hosted the family cookie swap. Now is not the time to step in and show off how much better you are (or think you are); let them have their moment!
Think of ways you might be slipping into “pick me” thinking. Are you going over-the-top with your outfit because you know you’ll maybe kinda outshine your hostess (and it’s totally unrelated that she’s your husband’s ex-girlfriend)? Are you getting ready to tell a whopper of a story because Uncle Doug just told a story, and yours can beat it by a mile? Are you getting ready to insist that no one has ever been as sick, as stressed, as overworked, as happy, as successful, as awesome or whatever as you are?
Let it lie, and simply enjoy the moment! We think you’ll have way more fun that way.
So you’ve been good and stayed away from controversial topics or touchy family debates, only for someone else at the table to just dive right in. Don’t take the bait. If it looks like the situation is going to boil over and no one is stepping in, go ahead and suggest a change of location, either for the debate or for those who aren’t interested in engaging. Yes, it’s tense and awkward, but there’s no reason you have to sit there and suck it up. •