Over the years, I’ve ended up on the guest list to several Christmas parties. Most are thrown by longtime friends, and I’ve been going to them for years. Last Christmas, though, I did too much, got overwhelmed and stressed, ended up letting some important things slide and wound up getting sick. After that, I swore I’d take it easier this year.
In addition to that I’ve had kind of a hectic/difficult fall and am ready for a break. I just don’t see one in sight, though. Christmas party season has already started, and each party requires buying a gift, cooking and bringing a dish, dressing up and committing an evening. I’d kind of like to skip most, if not all of them, but I don’t know how to graciously decline invitations from old friends who are expecting me. To top it off, two of these friends have had difficult years themselves—one lost a job (but has found another), and one broke up with a longtime partner—so I feel like it’s important for me to go to their parties to be a good friend. Is there a way out of this without being a terrible friend?
With the greatest possible kindness, let me tell you: No one will miss you at these parties. Really. No one. Not because you’re not wonderful and the life of the party, but because there will be plenty of other people there. When you find yourself feeling guilty about not going, stop and picture last year’s party in your mind. Then mentally erase yourself from that picture. Does the fun grind to a halt? Is everyone looking around asking where you are? Probably not. I say this to help you take some of the pressure off yourself.
There are a couple ways you can manage your Xmas overload. You could decide that you aren’t going to attend any parties this year. That relieves you of the pressure of deciding which parties to cut and which to keep.
You could also set an arbitrary and low number of parties that you will attend, like two. I call that the Christmas events budget. For instance, decide you’re going to attend two Christmas “things”—parties, dinners, cookie swaps, whatever—and no more. That forces you to think really carefully about which of these events you actually enjoy. Once you’ve met the budget, you decline everything else.
You want to be a good friend, which is admirable. But there are lots of ways to do that. If your friends really have had a difficult year, attending their parties is nice, but having dinner with them one-on-one after the holidays and giving them your full attention is also nice. Maybe nicer. So, when you decline an invitation, tell the host you can’t make it but would really like to catch up after New Year’s and set a time. That will give you both some quality time to look forward to.
I just read your "I’m A Vegetarian, and I'm Dreading Thanksgiving Dinner With My Family." I have been a vegetarian since 1975, so I have had a lot of experience with this issue. My parents’ side of the family is great. My mother has gone out of her way to make things for me. On my wife's side of the family it is totally different. I have had to follow the advice you gave in the above-mentioned dilemma since the first Thanksgiving spent with my wife's family. They are so disapproving of my diet that they try their best to put meat or meat broth into every item they bring or cook. If I ask them if something has meat in it, they lie and say no. I found that out after my first holiday spent with them. After I got finished eating, they all laughed and said between fits of laughter, "You ate meat, you ate meat, the greens were cooked with lard. That cake had two packets of gelatin in it." When I remind them of that woman who allegedly found a part of a human finger in her Wendy's chili, and that is how I feel about meat being hidden in my food, the kindest response was, "Well, a little meat never hurt anybody."
Now, one of my wife's family has developed a wheat allergy, and everyone MUST bring gluten-free dishes! In the past, when I have asked if such-and-such pie had any meat products in it such as lard in the crust, I got belittled beyond belief. Now that this relative has developed a wheat allergy, everyone is accommodating to her needs, and if she asks if anything has any hint of gluten in it, they are so kind as to tell her the truth. These are the very same people who conspire yearly to get me to eat meat in some form or other.
I guess it is because her diet needs are a medical issue and mine is a lifestyle/spiritual belief issue. I want to boycott my wife's family gatherings, but instead, I bring my own food. For people who love meat so much, the items I cook and prepare myself are usually eaten up before all other preparations. What a weird family!
Also, my blood pressure and cholesterol are all on the low side of normal. All her relatives have health issues and are on either blood-pressure medication and/or cholesterol-lowering drugs.
I Don’t Get It
I stumbled across a game for holiday decluttering. You may know there’s nothing I love more than rules and getting rid of stuff; this game perfectly combines both. The game: Each day in December, check the date, then find that number of items in your home to give or throw away. Get rid of one item on December 1, two on December 2, and so on.
So far I have sent one broken steam mop, one sweatshirt, and one set of napkin rings out the door. (Napkin rings! What was I ever going to do with those?)
If you have a friend to play with or against, you can compete to see who makes it furthest into the month. My competition is counting her magazines right now and saving them for a day late in December. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes and what you’re getting rid of.
Details and original idea at theminimalists.com/game.
Need help? Get it here.