Ask the Diva: An Expert in Failed Relationships Tells Us Why We Fail at Holiday Cheer
Here are the things that we absolutely MUST stop doing at the holidays in order to make them happier for everyone:
1) Piping Christmas music through shops before Thanksgiving.
My first rule of sane holiday shopping is if I hear “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” before November 30 in your place of business, it guarantees that I will not buy even one candy cane from you. Why? Because that’s not holiday spirit, it’s obvious and obnoxious greed.
2) Using credit cards as though there really is a Santa who’s going to pay for it all come January.
When I see people I care about spending way beyond their means at the holidays, I don’t see them as generous; I see them as having no self-esteem. If we have to impress people with the gifts we buy for them, or if they measure how much we love them by how over our budget we’ll go on a gift, we don’t know the real definition of caring and we have no respect for ourselves or a hard-earned wage — ours or anyone else’s.
3) Asking young children what gifts they got as a conversation opener.
There are so many reasons why this is wrong, wrong, WRONG. If we don’t know what to say to a very young child we don’t see very often or know very well, why not try one of these: “Did you get to see anyone/talk to anyone for the holiday you don’t usually get to see/talk to? Who was it? What did they have to say? Where do they live? Have you been to their house to visit?” Or, “What’s your favorite holiday song? Would you sing a little bit of it for me?”
4) Sending over-the-top, religious themed cards to people we only know casually.
No matter what you may tell yourself you don’t come across as more loving and spiritual than the next person when you send these cards, you come across as insular and sanctimonious. If we don’t know what someone’s religious beliefs are, we should err on the side of caution, be respectful of people’s differences and turn it down a notch. Cards with sayings like, “Blessings for the birth of the Christ Child who grew to bleed and die on the Cross for our sins,” may have their place, but not with casual acquaintances or work colleagues. And if you’re thinking the holidays is a perfect time to “witness” others with these cards that are actually advertisements in disguise for your religion, trust me, this is not the way to try to get people to convert.
5) Sending photocopied holiday letters to people we know very well.
If I see you, or talk to you on the phone, or chat with you online regularly, why are you sending me your holiday update letter? I know your husband got a promotion and your cat died. In fact, I even know your cat’s name and when you got him. Telling me stuff I already know all over again in a generic holiday letter tells me you’re just going through the motions of checking off things on your holiday ‘to do’ list. You probably don’t even know you sent that card to me; you just signed it, generated an address label for it and stuck a stamp on it. You’re wasting trees and making me feel like I’m a distant person who’s not really a big part of your life. Either that, or you just feel like bragging all over again.
6) Talking about Hanukkah as though it’s a “mini-Christmas.”
It’s not. Not at all. And saying something like, “Well at least they get presents, too,” just makes you sound foolish.
7) Correcting cashiers at the supermarket if they say, “Merry Christmas” by saying “I don’t celebrate.”
Look, cashiers make minimum wage, some of them are very young, or are immigrants who barely speak English. In fact, in my neighborhood there’s even a program to hire people who are mentally challenged to work as check-out clerks. Do you really feel the need to give lectures about how, “Not everybody celebrates,” or “I’m Jewish,” or, “I prefer the term ‘Happy Holy Days’ because it encompasses everyone” to a person who’s maybe not as well-versed in nuance as some, is probably exhausted from standing on his feet all day, and yet was still only trying to be friendly? Is it so important to you that you’re willing to hold up a line of harried strangers with overloaded holiday schedules while you harangue someone who’s looking at you in confusion and embarrassment as you’re doing it? Would it KILL you to take the greeting in the spirit in which it was presented and just say, “Thank you,” pick up your packages and move along, so the rest of us can get home?
8) Disregarding traffic laws.
I don’t care how late you are, how much of a hurry you’re in, how much you hate sitting in backed-up holiday traffic, whether you are in a car, or on a bike or motorcycle, please keep your emotions in check and try to remember that YOU are not the god or goddess of the universe. I don’t want to prove you wrong in that entitlement assumption by accidentally slamming into you when you decide that the rules of safe roadway behavior do not apply to you.
9) Acting like Martha Stewart on steroids.
I love a symmetric, exquisitely decorated, themed Christmas tree, or a tray of perfectly proportioned and browned potato latkes as much as the next holiday reveler. But if creating them is going to turn us into Raging Bull, causing our spouses and children to weep copiously with stress during the holiday, maybe it’s time for us to rethink what the celebrations are all about, Martha, dear?
10) Forcing food upon or giving fattening foods as gifts to overweight friends and family.
Why is this socially acceptable, but forcing alcohol or buying bottles of wine for a recovering alcoholic is not? It’s the same thing. If we do this, we’re enabling someone we love who has an addiction to harm himself. Saying, “But it’s a holiday” or, “Just have a little,” is nothing short of harassment. If you get that much pleasure out of cooking and baking and watching people enjoy what you’ve made, why not donate your food creations to a homeless shelter where you know it will be useful and appreciated?
11) Not respecting our guests’ wishes on what they can or cannot eat, will or will not eat.
In the same vein as the above, let’s say your son’s girlfriend is coming to dinner and she’s a vegetarian. She doesn’t need you to show her how much you “care” about her by you giving her a lecture on how important it is for her to eat meat, she needs you to make her a plate of “Soy Surprise.” Or if a friend tells you she’s allergic to nuts, or doesn’t like liver, resist the temptation to prove her wrong by trying to sneak either one onto her dish. Lecturing people about what they eat or don’t eat, forcing people to eat food they don’t like or can’t eat is not being a good hostess, it’s being a Holiday Domestic Terrorist.
12) Saying or doing anything at all at a holiday or family party that will infringe on anyone else’s comfort or rights.
When you’re at my home around my holiday table, there’s a very good chance it’ll be just like being on my Facebook page. You could be sitting across from someone who’s conservative Christian or atheist, someone who’s a gay rights advocate or pro-life. That’s true in many households, so think about what you say before you say it. Consider all your friends and family with their different persuasions, opinions, and backgrounds, and don’t say anything that could be hurtful or make someone upset. Key words: Good Manners. Remember what those were like before the internet came along and turned us all into trash-talking know-it-alls? You’re at a dinner, not a political rally or a revival meeting. This brings up the point that if you prefer to pray before you eat, by all means, go ahead. Just don’t ask us all to join you if we’d rather not, thank you.
13) Making it a COMMAND that your grown children spend the holiday with you.
I posted some satirical commentary on this last year in this post but this situation is really not funny and not at all loving. It’s a terrible thing to put your children through and if you do it by being coercive or threatening, you should be ashamed of yourself. The way to irreparably damage your relationship with your children and in-laws is to be a martyr or a martinet come holiday time. Continue to put pressure on children to do things your way after they’re grown and out of the house, and the only thing I can say to you is, you’ll eventually be veeeery sorry.
14) Visiting anyone at the holiday that makes you, your spouse or your children feel bad.
At this time of year every advice columnist on the planet gets letters about how to handle family that is so dysfunctional that they’re harmful. People write in after grandpa’s gotten drunk again and tried to grope his 11-year-old granddaughter, wife has been viciously belittled and demeaned by mother-in-law, brother-in-law screams at anyone at the table who doesn’t support his Nazi rants, and so on. All these letters end the same way, “What should I do? This happens every year, and I hate having the holidays spoiled.” DO you? Then the answer should be as clear as the nose on Rudolph’s face: DO NOT visit these people at the holiday. Full stop. It’s time to grow up, accept that more people than you can imagine have families like this, and you are one of them. But DNA does not dictate you’re tied to them for life. Only you can saddle yourself with that.
15) Feeling like a loser because you’ve got no plans for New Year’s Eve.
I’ve been around for 55 New Year’s Eves so far, and this is what I’ve seen happen on every one of them: Mediocre places charge through-the-roof prices for lousy food and watered down booze. Every band gets a gig, whether they’re good or awful, and chances are you’re going to hear one of the awful ones. Everyone’s trying way too hard to have a good time, because “it’s the last night of the year” an arbitrary declaration set by human beings that’s on a different date depending on where you happen to live on the planet. People drink far too much and either disgrace or kill themselves. Cops get paid time and a half but cannot be home with their families, because the roads are treacherously filled with drunk drivers. Tragedy is always in the newspaper the next day. Kim Kardashian or some other B list starlet gets paid to show up somewhere, and you feel like an idiot (or should) for standing on a very long queue trying to get into that place just so you that can tell your friends at work that you were hanging out where she was on New Year’s Eve. Now tell me, who’s the loser ─ the person who puts himself through this grind every year, or the person who decides to buck the trend and stay home?
16) Wishing everyone “Peace on Earth”
Why just at holiday time and why just a ‘wish’? Why don’t we ever turn ‘wish’ into ‘action’ and work for peace every day of the year?
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