What are the etiquette dos and don’ts of the Christmas season and what about regifting-rituals and tipping, how much and to whom?
Dos and Don’ts of The Christmas Season
1. What do you do when someone gives you a gift and you’re not prepared to give them one in return? DF, Providence
A. Send the person a real Christmas card with a warm few lines to say how much you liked their thoughtful, funny, useful, or delicious gift. An e-card is also appropriate (see jacquielawson.com). Either will most certainly get you off the hook. Next time you see her in person, mention again how much you liked the gift. You may want to include that you focus your gift giving on ‘family members.’ If the gifter is a family member, be more specific and say ‘immediate family.’ The sin would be to say nothing.
2. When someone gives you a gift you don’t want and there is no gift receipt, can you ask for a copy of the receipt? Allison, Newport
A. Simply say that your present toaster oven is more than adequate and ask if there is a receipt you could use to exchange their gift from you for a juicer. When there is no receipt, ask where it was purchased and a good store should honor the exchange as long as it is in its original box. The sin would be to ask the giver to exchange it for you.
3. Will our dog walker be expecting a holiday tip? If so, how much do we tip him? Also, who else do we tip and how
much? Elizabeth, NYC
A. If your dog walker has been working for a year, then tip the cost of his service for one week. If you have more than one dog, add the half-a-week cost for each additional dog.
Tip everyone. It is the right thing to do. If you can’t give cash in an envelope, give a holiday card. Do it before Christmas. Put yourself in the position of the person who services you in recognition of their loyalty. Give people what they want, it is probably money. You can’t go wrong by tipping the following the very least:
- Mail carrier and newspaper deliverer: $20; hairdresser or barber: cost of normal treatment; sanitation worker: $20; daycare and teachers: follow the school rules; housekeeper, caretaker, babysitter, nanny: one week’s salary; doorman and janitor: $100. The sin would be not to tip those who make your life easier.
4. What do you do when a Christmas gift, such as a picture frame, arrives in the mail broken? OT, Worcester, MA
A. Call the provider to ask how you go about replacing the spoiled goods. They may send you an authorized return number that you would write on the original package and send back, or they might email you an address label to print out and attach to the box. The sin would be to complain to the giver instead of to the store from which the gift was sent.
5. What do you say when the person opening the present you gave him catches you off guard and tells you that his wife had given you that ugly Christmas sweater two years ago? TC, Santa Monica, CA
A. Simply say that you loved it so much that you decided he just had to have a Christmas sweater just like yours. Ahead of time be sure to get the Christmas sweater dry cleaned before recycling it back to him. The sin would be to complain.
6. We’ve been invited to spend Christmas day with relatives who live two hours away which means we’ll probably have to leave our dog, Buddy, alone for over eight hours. Our dog walker is not available so can we bring our dog with us? JC, Newport, RI
A. Not unless you call your host ahead of time to find out if it would be all right for you to bring Buddy. If a family member is allergic to dogs, you wouldn’t want to have to leave Buddy shivering in your cold car while you’re gorging on the Christmas feast. The sin would be to leave Buddy in your cold car or alone in your house.
7. We’re flying to the east coast to spend Christmas with my future parents-in-law. I’m a vegetarian and I don’t eat dairy or sugar, let alone turkey. I’m packing protein bars but how do I politely get around not eating his mother’s home cooking? CP, Seattle, WA
A. At some point you’re going to have to come out of the pantry cupboard and tell your fiancé’s mother that you have dietary restrictions. On your way from the airport stop at a food store and buy fresh fruit and vegetables that you can prepare for yourself without fuss. Armed with a bag of groceries, you will take a lot of the pressure off your future mother-in-law by making light of your dietary needs, because you’ll be a self-sustaining guest. You shouldn’t dominate the conversation with why you eat the way you do, and don’t bring up the subject unless you’re asked a direct question. During meals, take what you can eat. The sin would be to make a big deal out of your vegetarianism.
8. My husband and I have stopped drinking and his alcoholic parents are visiting from Ohio for a week around Christmas. For them Christmas isn’t Christmas without eggnog laced with a good bourbon followed by very fine wines throughout dinner. We’ve alerted them that we’re not drinking, and not comfortable having all that alcohol around. It would be better if his parents didn’t come, but we want them to be a part of their grandchildren’s Christmas. How do we handle this? Name Withheld
A. You have two options. Your parents-in-law have two options. Have your husband phone his parents to say that they need to understand that your household is alcohol-free. Ask if they would consider staying at a nearby B&B or airhub, if you can find a room for them nearby? Reiterate that there won’t be any alcohol in your house. Leave it up to them to make the decision. It seems to me that you’ve made the tougher resolution already and it is up to them to either find accommodations elsewhere where they can drink on their own, or stay in Ohio and let Santa deliver their presents in his sleigh. The sin would be to complain if they brought a bottle of bourbon in their suitcase.
9. My wife says she’s honest and never tells a lie. A good thing in a marriage, but not amongst friends. Too often she’ll voice her opinion on politics, ethics, or interrupt the person who is talking with her theory or viewpoint. Her close family are used to her honesty even when it must seem to an outsider as confrontational. The victim of her ire is silenced, which happened last Christmas. It brings the air to a deafening stillness. You can hear a pin drop. She is not embarrassed because she is being honest. Any idea as to how to stop this from happening again? JG, Winston Salem
A. Make a plan with close family to have someone sit next to your mom to gently let her know when she is taking a subject too far. Take turns. Keeping alcohol at bay should keep the loose lips from sinking too many ships. The sin would be to humiliate your mother too loudly.
10. My stepfather thinks nothing of making homophobic comments about our wonderful thirteen-year-old son. Last Christmas when he and my mom came for Christmas day he lectured our son to not be a sissy. Then he advised him on how to be more manly. Whatever that means. Last year she made my homophobic stepfather leave early. She feels badly about his behavior and doesn’t know how to control it, but to ask him to go home and she stays and helps me clean up. He ruins family gatherings with his criticisms, but I love my mom and feel bad for her. My son thinks he’s a jerk and is more forgiving than me and his dad. Can you give us the etiquette on how to deal with my homophobic stepfather? AG, Hartford, CT
A. Let’s make this all about your son. He may ignore your stepfather, but the rest of you should not. Confront him. Beforehand your mother needs to set boundaries, “You cannot come with me to Annie’s for Christmas if you’re going to make homophobic remarks. It is not fair of you to ruin our family Christmas. We’re the boy’s grandparents, role models of adult behavior, and you behave like a bully.” Then she’s got to stick to her word and leave if her husband becomes disagreeable. You and your husband should back her up. Take your stepfather aside and ask him what’s behind his homophobia. That should shut him up. The sin would be to do nothing.
11. When our grandchildren were younger and believed in Santa Claus, and even when they no longer really believed in Santa but pretended they did, we never expected thank-you notes. How do we as grandparents teach our grandchildren to write us a thank-you note? Their mother dutifully sends a list of what to get them, usually with a link as to where to order the gift; I wrap them nicely and mail them to the West Coast, but wenever hear a word from them. EG, Saunderstown, RI
A. Definitely for next year, if you don’t have time now (Or you can do this for their birthdays.), send them stationery with their names or initials as the letterhead. On the card attached to the gift, write that you would love them to write you about whether or not they liked your present. The sin is to be bitter and sad about their inattention.
Share your festivities
12. Aside from donating to the local food pantry and children’s Christmas toy drive, how can we involve our family in being more empathetic toward those whose Christmas may not be as merry as ours? Beth, Middletown, RI
A. Adopt a family for Christmas and involve your family members in thinking of ways to supplement their wish list. Please, do keep in mind the fact that the perfect gift is always the gift that the person is asking to be given. Talk to your friends and acquaintances to find out if any of them will be alone during the holidays and invite them to share in your family’s festivities. You never know who may otherwise not celebrate the holiday. The sin would be to find out after the fact that a friend had been all alone with no place to be.
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Accepting A Compliment