Emily Yoffe: I know we're all supposed to cackle at the Christmas letter, but I love them. But there is no obligation to try to write something worthy of David Sedaris every year. You can write some of the fun, happy things that happened to you, then in another paragraph you can say 2008 has had its painful parts as well because your beloved mother-in-law is gravely ill. Write a few words of tribute to her and say that you feel so blessed to have had her in your life for so long. You will not bring people down—they will be touched, and you will probably move them to appreciate their loved ones more.
Mixed-Language Family: I am spending Christmas with my boyfriend's family for the first time. In addition to his parents, his two married brothers, their wives, his unmarried teenage brother, and the wives' mothers will be present, making for quite a tribe. My boyfriend and his brothers grew up in a Spanish-speaking country. Most of us (including myself) are bilingual, but some people only speak English, and some only speak Spanish. We are spending several days with them, so I expect to engage in lots of different activities with different combinations of people. When is it appropriate to speak English and when is it appropriate to speak Spanish?
Emily Yoffe: It sounds like you're in for a busy, fun holiday. It also sounds as if there are no hard rules in this Spanglish household. What people need to do is keep in mind the linguistic abilities of everyone. If the conversation is all in Spanish, or English but there are people in the room who are being left out, then recommend you switch. But it sounds as if in this group anyone can move on a find a conversation to join.
Durham, N.C.: I have a group of friends who get together at Christmas and do a gift exchange—everyone brings one gift worth about $25 and then the fun ensues. Except that I'm a grad student and I only spend about $25 on family members (each, not total). I'd rather just give each of them a little homemade goodie. I've successfully avoided the party in the past, but I'm tired of coming up with excuses for not going. I don't want to end their fun, but I don't want to have to put out another $25 as the cost of playing. What to do?
Emily Yoffe: Just explain to the group that you'd love to come, but the entry tab would bust your budget, so you're going to give cookies. It may inspire everyone to lower the gift fee. Or if they are really fanatics on this $25 gift tab, say you'd love to join them, but when the gifts start being exchanged, you'll happily watch as a spectator.
Washington, D.C.: My boss gave me a generous gift certificate to a high-end spa as a holiday gift. I truly appreciate his thoughtfulness and have already given him a thank-you note with a box of his favorite gourmet cookies. The problem is that even the least expensive services that the spa offers significantly exceed the value of the gift certificate. Money is very tight for me and I don't see being able to come up with the difference during the next few months, before the certificate expires. What should I do? He has already asked me when I plan to schedule my "spa day"! I also really hate to think that he has wasted his money. The certificate is addressed to me personally, so I can't even give it to someone else who has the means to pay the difference.
Emily Yoffe: You need to contact the spa and explain your problem. Surely if your boss gave you a "generous" gift certificate that would cover a pedicure at this place. Talk to the manager about how you can take advantage of this gift. And usually such gift certificates are good for a year—if yours has a short time-line tell them you need it extended. Sounds like you have a nice boss.
Inauguration (again): Wow, I usually agree with you, but you got it way wrong this time.
You're telling the poster that she has no right to her own privacy, just because she happens to live near a place where an interesting event is occurring?
Let's leave alone the argument of "it's history"; that is irrelevant. Someone else's desire for free accommodations never trumps your right to say no. Period.
"I'm sorry, I just don't have room for guests." That's all you owe them. They can't get a room someplace? They can if they're willing to pay enough. They're not willing to pay enough? Then they can't come. The same holds true for my desire to go to Paris.
Emily Yoffe: Lots of people are mad that I said let the family crash for the Inaugural. Okay, tell the family, "Sorry if you care enough about this event, go to Craig's list and find someone else willing to have you. I hear rooms are starting at about $500 a night."
You're right, no one can invite themselves. And people who live in desirable cities have to be firm about not being taken advantage of year in and year out. But is saying no to a few days of family visiting for this specific occasion really worth all the years of resentment it will engender? I say make an exception. (But if Obama gets re-elected, no crashing in 2012.)
Gaithersburg, Md.: Worst office party Christmas gift: used, empty pepper grinder. I kid you not.
Emily Yoffe: I'd love that gift! My pepper grinder just broke!
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone for your fascinating holiday dilemmas. Best wishes for 2009!