Advice columnist Dear Prudence answers readers' holiday conundrums.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Dec. 8 2008 5:48 PM

Holiday Survival Guide

Advice columnist Dear Prudence answers readers' Christmas conundrums.

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I will write a thank you note. That's as far as I will go; am I terrible?

Emily Yoffe: Write a gracious note and let it go.

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Suggestions for Washington D.C.: A handwritten gift certificate for a foot massage, complete with baby oil.

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A handwritten gift certificate for a candelit bubble bath, either 1. solo, with you keeping the kids away from the bathroom for one whole hour. Or 2. bubble bath for two, if the kids are old enough to understand the bathroom restriction.

A promissory note for one month of the chore she dislikes the most.

I'm sure you can think of one or two other things along this line.

Emily Yoffe: See these good suggestions for the husband with no time and money and whose wife, after agreeing to no gift, wants a gift.

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Philly: Hello—last Christmas, I gave all of my husband's family members cute (but inexpensive) ornaments with some homemade cookies. I don't have a lot of money so I am planning on giving the same family members either a collage of family pictures, a frame, or other small items. Money is tight, as we all know. However, last Christmas my mother-in-law gave me a very expensive gift—I know it was ten times as much as I had spent on them because she left the price tag on! I feel like this big, nice, expensive gift has sort of upped the gift ante, so to speak. Should I get something a little nicer for the mother-/father-in-law? Money is an issue for me but is definitely not an issue for them. Help!

Emily Yoffe: Resist the temptation to enter into this potlach ceremony. This is the hospitality tradition of some Northwest tribes (I believe) where they bankrupt themselves by exchanging ever more elaborate gifts. Stick with your plans, and don't act defensive or embarrassed about the gift imbalance.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Ms. Yoffe. I am a student, so obviously on a budget, but I have noticed that gifts I give to my brother (usually DVDs or CDs since he never gives my family any idea what he wants) get thrown away by his wife. This has happened several years in a row and I'm frankly pretty tired of throwing money down the drain.

Emily Yoffe: Why not make an agreement that the adults will only get gifts for the children and not exchange gifts this year? Even if they don't agree, you can declare this is what you have to do this year, then stick with it.

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Washington, D.C.: To Alexandria, Va.:

As a Catholic woman who has dated non-Christian men (and who has non-Christian friends), I thought I would offer one perspective. When I invite others to holiday celebrations (Christmas, Easter, etc.), my goal is not to convert them or have them take part in any overtly religious activities. Rather, I want to spend time with them and share the holidays with them. I assume the same thing when others invite me to their religious events. If what you are concerned about is overt religious celebration, perhaps you can make a compromise—joining her family for the Christmas gathering but not going to church with them. She might be upset because she feels that, by not coming to the gathering, you are snubbing her family.

Emily Yoffe: This is in response to the writer who is Muslim and is uncomfortable about spending Christmas with his girlfriend's family. You are exactly right—don't look at sharing the holiday as a conversion event, but enjoying someone else's (someone you love, presumably) tradition.

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Do you have any suggestions for how to dis-invite relatives who have declared their intent to crash chez moi for the Inauguration? I have told them that it will likely be cold, there will be a shortage of port-a-potties on the Mall, no large bags will be allowed on the Mall, if you live within two miles of the Capitol you have to walk (stay off public transportation), I have three cats and four litter boxes, bars will be open till 5 am, there will be no smoking in my condo, and other things that would dissuade any rational person. So far they are still coming. Help. Thank you.

Emily Yoffe: Normally I am in favor of just flat out telling friends you don't want to play host to that that while you'd love to see them, this simply isn't a good time. For many people this Inaugural is not a normal time, but an historic time. I think you should be flexible on this and open your home for a few days. So what if they get stuck freezing on the mall looking for a porta-potty—you will be home all cozy and curled up with the kitties.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband doesn't want us to spend money on gifts, which is fine, but he already bought me a purse. I was going to buy some tickets to his favorite team at a venue within driving distance and an inexpensive hotel room so we can stay overnight, but he says he doesn't want it. For my sports (and music) fanatic husband, what can I get him that isn't too expensive, but that still gives him SOME type of gift?

Emily Yoffe: If the sports fanatic has said no to this gift, he really wants no gift. So see a previous list of suggestions—you can delete bubble bath and give your husband a gift certificate for a massage (from you), or make his favorite meal, etc.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: My sister flies to my house every year for Christmas. Last year, we drove to my parents' house in the Detroit area for the actual holiday. My parents' house is a mess—crammed with stuff, nowhere to sit, and, now that their dog has cancer, it smells like urine. My sister wants to go to their house again this year, and my stomach is in knots at the thought. I've done everything I can to get their house cleaned up, but it never works. My parents could come to my house (they have many times in the past), so it's not a question of leaving them alone on Christmas. What can I do? She doesn't understand how awful it has become.