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How to Stay Merry in Common Holiday Conundrums

11/24/2014 12:50 EST | Updated 01/24/2015 05:59 EST
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Isn't it ironic that what's supposed to be the season of giving, reflecting and general do-gooding is tied up in the most stressful expectations for shopping and hosting? It can be enough to make you want to say bah humbug, but please, don't. Here are some common holiday conundrums, and some advice on how to stay merry.

Q: What happens when someone you hadn't planned on exchanging gifts with suddenly gives you one? Are you obliged to start a new tradition right them and there?

A: The dreaded gift ambush! If caught without a gift, accept the present warmly and graciously. And if you're so inclined, lie. Lie through your teeth. Explain that their gift is at your home and would they like to come over for a drink the night after next to get it?

Q: If your extended family or social circle now includes a vegan, lactose intolerant recovering alcoholic, how do you plan a meal that makes everyone happy?

A: Perhaps that Christmas cheer is an afternoon tea, complete with lactose-free milk, Stevia, vegan muffins and sugar-free preserves? To use your word, you, well, plan. Rather than try to function as a short-order cook and create one dish for every person's unique need, get creative and find something that ideally everyone can enjoy. You might have to spend some considerable time creating a menu that works, but at the risk of sounding sickeningly festive, don't feel beleaguered by that planning. Relish the fact that you have an extended family. You could be celebrating it alone.

Q: What's the best way to divide time over the Christmas holidays when you have in-laws, split families and friends all spread out?

A: Very, very carefully. Modern families are complicated units, particularly when step-relatives, in-laws and physical distances are factored in. It is hard to please everyone. In fact, you probably won't, so all you can do is your best to divide your time equally, without making yourself crazy in the process. Setting expectations in advance might help quell ruffled feathers when you have to leave mom's Christmas Eve tea early to make it to dad's in time for a round of eggnog.

Q: How do you deal with a party guest who always gets drunk and then begins saying wildly inappropriate things?

A: Every guest deserves your best hosting prowess -- even if it means gritting your teeth through their indiscretions. There is a lovely old adage that the true test of good manners is pleasantly dealing with bad ones. A host isn't responsible for their guests' behaviour. But they are responsible for making sure their guests get home safely. Call a cab and just eat the cab fare, if it means getting someone home safely.

Q: You're participating in a Secret Santa present swap at the office but the gift you want to buy for your colleague is more expensive than the mandated price limit. Is it okay to overspend?

A: Price parameters are put in place for good reason. If you blow the Secret Santa budget cap, the gift recipient will likely be chuffed by your generosity, but the rest of the group might think you're showboating. If the gift is truly perfect, and you have a close enough relationship with the colleague, give it to them for their birthday.

Q: Is a "Merry Christmas" email ever acceptable in place of a handwritten card that is stamped and sent in the mail?

A: You can eat Christmas dinner off of paper plates, if you really want to. No one is going to stop you from sending your holidays tidings in an email rather than a card. It's better than nothing, isn't it? Though I'd rather get a thoughtful, beautifully handwritten card in the mail on Dec. 26 than a generic email late afternoon on Dec. 24.

Q: Kids today already have too much stuff. Then during the holidays, they're lavished with more. How do we help our kids appreciate what they get when they already have so much?

A: How can generosity, if meant in its true sense, have a downside? Getting caught up in the consumerism of the holidays might blur the lines between generosity and "oh, good grief, as if they need another toy," sure. But the spirit and intention in which a gift is given sets the tone. If gratitude begets gratitude, perhaps being thankful that you have so many loved ones to buy for is a good place to begin?

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