YOU ASK! WE ANSWER! YOU DECIDE!
Editor’s note: This is part of 20-40-60 etiquette’s series this month about holiday etiquette featuring questions related to Thanksgiving and holiday family events.
By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace
QUESTION: Is Grandma’s Thanksgiving table the place to raise major family issues, such as someone filing for divorce, someone sleeping with her sister’s friend’s boyfriend, or making an announcement of some major illness, or pending surgery?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: HA! This sounds like an entertaining Thanksgiving! Can I come? To me, family members are the people with whom you can talk about these issues. People might bring up divorce or a major illness, they could also bring up engagements and birth announcements! Holidays are a time to give thanks for the people around you. Or to be thankful someone isn’t sleeping with your sister’s boyfriend!
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Entire sitcoms are built around this question. The ABC show “The Middle” recently showed the ramifications of doing just that around the holiday table and played it to comedic effect. However, in most families, these situations aren’t very funny. I think whether to raise these issues depends on your family situation, the intimacy of the get-together and the type of news. The Thanksgiving gathering — but not necessarily the actual meal — might be a good place to bring up this news if you are close family members who live far apart. Families can be a good support in a tough situation. If the gathering includes people who don’t know everyone as well, the last thing you would want to do is make them more uncomfortable. Try telling people in smaller groups, so everyone can enjoy the meal together without having the focus be on one huge topic.
HELEN’S ANSWER: No. Keep the bad news to yourself until after the holiday meal. Then, call your relatives and let them know, one on one, your news. But, it is definitely rude to go around whispering to some, and not tell the others, and a major announcement is not in order.
If the group is small, maybe your sister and her husband, and your parents, you probably can talk about anything, but a larger group, no!
GUEST’S ANSWER: Devonne Carter, licensed clinical social worker who has taught etiquette classes at Oklahoma Christian University: No! Don’t mess up all Grandma’s hard work! She had the family together to have a good time. Whenever we catch someone by surprise and in front of others, they are going to become defensive and angry or they won’t have an opportunity to manage their emotions in front of the crowd. That isn’t productive.
Some of the choices you listed are more appropriate to announce at once to a group, but all have negative consequences.
So if you need to confront someone about their bad behavior, do it one on one. I also believe that the children do not need to hear all the adult conversations. If you want to announce a divorce or illness, enjoy your family time around the table and announce the bad news to everyone either at the end of the supper or when they move to the TV to watch football and have pie.
My personality would dictate that I go from small group of people or one on one to tell them my bad news. Big announcements are too dramatic for me.
QUESTION: What is the best approach when you have gifts for some family members and not for others? Should you go to another room so that no one gets their feelings hurt?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Give the gift to the person or persons at a separate location, meaning another day and another time.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: Don’t give gifts to people in front of other people who aren’t getting any. Try to keep the gift-giving between the giver and receiver, unless everyone is in on the exchange for the holiday. If possible, exchange gifts away from any Thanksgiving parties and keep the focus on spending time with loved ones. Or include everyone by drawing names.
HELEN’S ANSWER: Mail them to the family members, or drop them by after the family gathering. It is hurtful to watch others receive gifts from relatives, particularly if you are a child. I have seen family members distribute gifts to others from the trunk of their cars where they thought no one could see them, but they were definitely busted, and feelings were hurt.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Kathy Walker, local community leader: This is such a difficult question to answer. What is presumed is that family guests have been invited to one’s house for Christmas breakfast, lunch or dinner where some type of gift-giving will take place. If this is the case, perhaps the following could occur:
Distribute the wrapped gifts after the gathering at a later date.
If one feels compelled to give gifts at the event, it would be advisable to maintain a gift closet in one’s home to use as an emergency go-to inventory of nice items.
Having said all of this, I must confess that on one Christmas Day many years ago when my son was young, I was faced with this dilemma. Our other three children were unwrapping nonstop when I realized that my son had only one or two small gifts. On that particular day, my go-to gift closet happened to be the refrigerator where I retrieved an unopened gigantic whole salami, wrapped it in shiny red paper, and smuggled it unnoticed to its place under the Christmas tree. He was wild about it! To this day we remember fondly Santa’s salami!
QUESTION: Is it OK to return holiday gifts? How about regifting?
CALLIE’S ANSWER: Of course it is OK to return a holiday gift! Some people are hard to buy for, and everyone has different tastes. My feelings would not be hurt if someone returned my gift and got something they wanted. Regifting is tricky. Be careful who you regift it to and be mindful of who will be in attendance when the gift is opened. That could get awkward.
LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: If you return a gift or regift one, do so very carefully. First, acknowledge the giver’s thoughtfulness and understand that you’re getting a gift because he or she cared enough to give you one. Second, I don’t think you should tell the giver you’re returning it unless they specifically tell you to do so because they saw another one like it hanging on your wall or something like that.
Third, if you’re regifting, make sure the gift fits the new recipient and that you like it. Make sure there are no tags or signatures (in a book, for example) and rewrap it for the new receiver, who should be a complete stranger to the person who gave it to you in the first place.
HELEN’S ANSWER: It is just fine to return holiday gifts, particularly when the sweater is the wrong size and if you already have a purse like the one your aunt gave you. That is why gift cards come in handy. People can get exactly what they want, in the right size and color.
Regifting is hard for me in that I feel really bad that someone took the time to buy and wrap my gift and I, in turn, gave it away to someone else.
The one time I tried to regift, I felt like I left the gift tags from the other person on the present and the gift-getter knew exactly what I had done. It was a guilty feeling from years ago and I still remember it.
GUEST’S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, journalist and community volunteer: Put away guilt and stress when it comes to returning undesirable gifts from well-intentioned family members and friends. All can be made merry by thinking pragmatically, honestly and thoughtfully.
Be upfront with the gift-giver if something isn’t right (the sweater is three sizes too big or you despise the color).
Know what’s returnable. See if you can save by returning to the store in person rather than having to pay shipping costs.
Make it easy on the giver and yourself.
Take relief that another official holiday, “National Regifting Day,” is gaining in popularity. This creation was started by Money Management International in 2006 to prevent people starting the upcoming New Year in debt.
Regifting Day falls annually on the third Thursday of December (this year it’s Dec. 19) because typically that’s when many office parties are held. The premise is that regifting is more acceptable in the workplace because the recipient is a co-worker rather than a family member or friend.
And MMI reports that four in 10 regifters (41 percent) target co-workers as recipients of their regifts.
Of course, you can easily expand your circle of recipients as your see fit.
By joining the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Regift celebration, there are few things to keep in mind.
Gift needs to be new and unopened.
Item should be unwrapped and rewrapped for the new recipient.
Avoid a situation where original gifter and new recipient might be in same social circle or at same event.
Best to remain quiet about your gift giving.