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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 9, 2005; 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody, and thanks for stopping in. We're going to spend the first hour as usual, and then let the second hour unravel into the Annual Holiday Thing.


Re: Last week's chat: Carolyn, I just couldn't get the woman from last week's chat who was "stood up" for Thanksgiving by a whole slew of friends out of my mind.

I hope she's okay, but I can't help thinking that this is someone who maybe really needs to talk to a counselor about how she relates to people. It seems to me that for her and her group of so-called friends to be so disconnected as to have the whole group of them bail on her, without telling her, to go to a restaurant without inviting her along, there has to be some pretty serious and fundamental people skills deficit involved.

Maybe I'm doing her a disservice, but it seems to me that she's totally misinterpreting how other people perceive her, or how she perceives them. There certainly seems to be a fundamental disconnect here.

...Which happens to some people. And can be very hurtful to them, but at the same time can be remedied with the help of a counselor or therapist.

Anyway, I sure hope that woman is all right, and will maybe use the incident to consider whether the way she relates to people and the way they relate to her might be improved with the help of a counselor or therapist.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the excellent suggestion. While I keep having it reproven to me that people can in fact be as horrible as those friends would have to be for that story to be true, it is possible there's a disconnect. It's also likely she could get something out of counseling even if there isn't one.


Carolyn Hax: I'm still here, just being particularly cautious with an answer. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn -How much do you think it says about a person who does not give a homeless person or a panhandler some change -- especially given the holiday season? I've had a few dates the last couple of weeks with a woman who ordinarily is warm and outgoing and friendly, but walks by these people like they don't exist. I in turn give but she never says anything about it. Red Flag here? I would appreciate your comments.

Carolyn Hax: This isn't so simple an issue as you may think. In fact, it's one of the most excruciating moral quandaries going, made no easier by its being played out right in front of us on a daily basis.

As important as you think it is to give to panhandlers, others (including some advocates for the homeless, I believe) find it just as important -not- to give, since cash from goodhearted people enables addicts to maintain their addictions. The argument is that people who are cold and hungry are better served through shelters and other formal social services, which not only actually feed and shelter vs. enable, but also force at least some connection with these services.

What I don't know for sure is if there's any consensus among advocates. And even if there is, I think we all know firsthand how it feels to refuse someone in need; ultimately we're all left to our own hearts and minds on this one.

That said, to walk by without acknowledging seems callous.

Or, fearful; she wouldn't be the first woman in the habit of not engaging any strangers on the street.

So, finally, an answer to your question: Tell her you noticed she doesn't acknowledge panhandlers, and say you're curious about her reasoning.


Ask Amy: Ask Amy answered the exact same question in her column today that you answered in a chat a few weeks ago (about whether or not to send out a holiday letter after having a tough year.) I'm pretty positive that they're from the same person -- it's all the same wording. Interestingly, you and Amy gave different answers! Crazy.

Carolyn Hax: Wouldn't it have been weirder had we given the same answer? From two (I assume) completely different minds, life histories, instincts.


Hartford, Conn.: Hi Carolyn,I have never felt comfortable around my husband's father. Others consider me very attractive and I sometimes catch him leering at me and he always gives me too close a hug when greeting or saying goodbye. He gives me the creeps. Honestly, what can I do about this without freaking my husband out? I have to see him at Christmas and it's starting to make me physically ill knowing the time is approaching.

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of differences of opinion: I'm pretty sure there will be a split on this one. If this is bad enough to make you feel ill--i.e., you're sure there's something wrong, and that it's not just a stupid wink here and there--I think you should tell your husband his father gives you the creeps.


Not giving to panhandlers: I must say that I'm one of those women who simply walk by panhandlers without giving. And, I generally don't look at them. It's not because I don't acknowledge their existance, its because I have had far too many instances where I've said, "sorry I don't have anything to give" and been treated to a slew of curses and gross insults.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Fast and furious response this, including:


Re not giving to Panhandlers:: Speaking as a woman who doesn't give money to panhandlers, it is not because I mean to be callous but for safety. All my money is in my pocketbook and I have a rule that I never pull my pocketbook out on the street. If I were to carry my change in my slacks/pants pockets, I would give more. Just another perspective.

Carolyn Hax: and:


Re: Ignoring Panhandlers: I'm a woman and I tend to ignore them completely after I've had a couple of bad interactions, including one where a cabdriver rescued me after I was being chased down the street. Besides the possibility that a homeless person may spend the money on drugs, a large percentage of the homeless are also mentally ill. I feel awful, and donate in other ways, but I will not take the risk to respond.

Carolyn Hax: and:


Re: not giving to homeless: I wouldn't jump the gun and think this woman is awful. For example, I write a check every year to a shelter as I think this is the best way to use my money for the cause of homelessness. That being said, I always smile or say "merry Christmas" in return. How people give to charity is very personal and, IMHO, usually well though out. I wouldn't want people to think I am awful and don't care when I write a check every year!!

Carolyn Hax: and:


re: panhandlers: I'm a woman, give 10 percent of my annual income to charities, and always don't acknowledge panhandlers. I used to give money, but have been chased, yelled at and otherwise harassed worse than when I don't respond. I'm not trying to be difficult or insensitive, I'm just trying to avoid instigating something unpleasant or dangerous.

Carolyn Hax: and:


Burke, Va.: Carolyn, I second your "snubbing" homeless person reasoning. I'm a petite young woman who doesn't make eye contact for safety reasons and because I believe in giving to charity when I know how my money is being used.

It seems to me that this guy is making judgements that are just unfair and that sound a bit self-righteous. My friends and I use the 'tipping the waiter' test for dates since that's someone you're actually interacting with.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you to all who weighed in.

I'm a big fan of a slightly broader version of the tipping test: the how-one-treats-those-who-are-at-one's-mercy test. Your waiter, pet, kid, salesperson, employee or student, for example, though the list goes on.


Fairfax, Va.: What the heck is "smart casual"? My stupid company used to have a formal holiday party, and now it's "smart casual." I know what business casual is, but this isn't that, because other functions have had business casual as the dress code.

I have NO idea what to wear, and I've gotten different answers from every single manager I've asked.

Carolyn Hax: That is completely ridiculous. I'd dress for a cocktail party, but on the low-key side.

The evening version of business casual.

Businessy but without the tie.

Slightly underdressed for semi-formal.

Does any of these conjure an outfit in your mind?

This is why I don't do fashion.


Re: inappropriate father in law: My sister is facing the same difficulty with her new father-in-law, and it started on the day of their wedding. He came up behind her and grabbed her around the waist. She pulled his hands off and made it clear to him that it was inappropriate. Next day she told her brand new husband about it, who had actually seen the incident and was equally unhappy about it. Now, whenever they see the FIL, my sister is polite and firm about any further "encroachments" and her husband understands if she's not as friendly as she is with the rest of his family. Bottom line? Good to have the gates of communication open.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


Seattle, Wash.: Re the tipping test: what should you do if your dinner date has kindly offered to pick up the check and refused your offer to leave the tip, but plops down a measly 10 percent for good service? I don't like to act like the service police, but it's hard to slip the server an extra $5 without the date noticing.

Carolyn Hax: Between the two offenses here--insulting your date or undertipping the waiter--I think insulting the date is harder on you personally, because you have to face him/her, but undertipping is still worse. So, try to be discreet when you up the tip, but if you get busted, explain that 10 percent is considered a complaint about the service.

Ah, awkwardness.


RE: Tipping the waiter test: My boyfriend has acknowledged that he leaves more generous tips for attractive female waiters. Is he a pig?

Carolyn Hax: Well, yeah. But he admits it, which is an important mitigator.


Wedding, not holiday, question: Carolyn, how should I handle the slew of people who really want to attend my upcoming wedding, but who I cannot afford to invite? I am honestly touched that so many people want to be with my fiance and I that day, but we simply can't afford everyone. The problem is, we're not having a small, intimate, family-only wedding, and everyone knows it. We are having a relatively lavish wedding at a swank location, generously hosted by my parents. Yes, we made a decision that requires us to be "exclusive" to some extent, because that was the wedding we wanted. And I don't mind excluding people who aren't my nearest and dearest, but I don't want to offend people either. Like the friend of my fiance who said, "I want to come so badly I'll pay for my own plate!"

This is the hard part of celebrating such a happy thing.

Carolyn Hax: Geez, why do people put brides and grooms in that position?

Obviously, to some extent, you put yourselves in that position, by going lavish and limited and by being so fabulous. But it's not like you're morally obligated to have a 1,000-person potluck just because your social circle is bigger than your bank account.

So, all you can do is either throw a big cheap self-financed party later and invite the world, or just tell the people begging you that you wish it were practical to invite everyone.

Just don't do it unprompted. Once I asked a guy who had just gotten engaged if he'd set his wedding date yet, just making conversation. The answer was the date and an apology that he couldn't invite everyone. I felt like saying, "I wasn't looking for an invite, you doink, I was just being polite," but I figured that wouldn't have been polite.


Smart Casual: Good Lord - It's amazing what you can find on google.

From a site about business casual success tips:

Smart Casual (page 16, Casual Power, for illustrations & photos)

You are going to an informal dinner with friends in an upscale restaurant. If male, you are wearing dress trousers (or even crisp jeans-), a long-sleeve shirt, maybe a tie, leather loafers or dressy slip-on's, patterned socks or solid-colored dress socks, a tipped belt, and you may or may not wear a sport coat. You are dressed in the Smart Casual category.

If female, you are wearing slacks, crisp jeans, or a skirt (long or short), a blouse or turtleneck, a fashionable belt, a jacket, a vest, or a sweater coordinated to your outfit, hosiery or socks with boots, flats (leather, suede, or fabric) or mid-heel shoes. You are also wearing jewelry, such as earrings that complement your overall outfit, at least. You are dressed in the Smart Casual category. Again, if you are wearing jeans, wearing a jacket upgrades you to Smart Casual. This category demands a pulled- together, harmonious, complete look with colors, fabrics, shoes, and accessories, for both men and women.

-If you are wearing crisp jeans, you must wear a sport coat for Smart Casual

Carolyn Hax: And you must not walk too many blocks to the Metro, lest you chafe your way into the Smarting Casual category.

If this is an office thing, I'd say no jeans.


Carolyn Hax: But definitely pants of some kind.


Carolyn Hax: People can be so very literal.


Chicago, Ill.: Carolyn,

I think mine is a universal situation. It's been nearly five years since myself and my ex broke up. We're still in sporadic contact, although primarily when I initiate (a clear sign that he has moved on). I'm just wondering when my occasional pangs will end and if maintaining contact is unhealthy. Maybe there's something I can do to aid in the complete letting go process...?

Carolyn Hax: You can certainly try ending the sporadic contact to see if that works. Nothing has to be permanent.


Washington, D.C.: My sister once dated a lunatic who flew into a rage (literally cursed at her and the waiter and stormed out of the restaraunt, jumped into his car and left) because she increased the amount of the tip that he left on the table. Apparently, it was the waiter's first night and he was really nervous. The next day my sister coincidentally ran into the waiter at the grocery store and he told her how much he appreciated her kindness and understanding. Apparently, he really appreciated the tip because he is a single father with young children and he said he need the tips he made as a waiter to make ends meet.

Carolyn Hax: Proof that it can be a valuable, if sometimes scary, way to get useful information about a date.

If the guy's still single, maybe we can hook him up with one of the absentee Thanksgiving girls.


Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Carolyn,Taking a small break from working from home. I have a "situation" that needs defining or something. or maybe not. Just started getting together with an old beau that I dated about 17 years ago, for about four years. Things ended OK we just were both really young and not ready to commit. We called each other occasionally throughout the years just to say hello. I got married, had a child, divorced and he had a few long term relationship and no children. After my ex died two years ago we began talking on the phone a few times a year. In the last six months our calls have increased and we have gone out a few times. No sex but a lot of hugging and some kissing. Truth be told, I really want to take it slow. . Should I just go with the flow or ask if we are dating. I must be getting a little old because I'm confused.

Carolyn Hax: If you're old enough to be confused all over again, you're also old enough to say, "So, are we dating or what?"


10 Percent: According to my sister who worked as a waitress at a touristy restaurant, tipping of waiters varies greatly by country. In Canada for example, waiters all make minimum wage by law (unlike the States with a special servers wage), so 10-15 percent is the norm.

Carolyn Hax: True. People from out of the area can be politely told what the custom is here and why. Thanks.


Seattle, Wash.: Hi Carolyn -- Generally, at what point is it accepable for a young couple to forgo holidays with our respective families and just stay home without offending said respective families? Our families live (in different towns about two hours apart) on the other side of the state and driving to either town involves traversing a snow-covered mountain range, which lately has been prone to dropping boulders onto the highway. We'll be flying this year, but it is so cumbersome and involves renting a car in order to make it to both families, because you can't go to one without going to the other. Is it unreasonable for me to want to stay home? Thanks! Love the column and chat.

Carolyn Hax: No. Say the travel has become too stressful; people who are thinking of themselves will fuss, but people who care about you will deal. If you really do want to see these families, suggest a rotating schedule, where you stay home a year, see one family the next, stay home the next, see the other family the next. Or something.


Carolyn Hax: Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through the place

Politicians were dealing

With egg on the face.

The stockings got hung

by the chimney, and then

I tripped on a pull toy

And slid into the den.

The children were nestled

All cozy and snug,

Their pet armadillo

Was asleep on the rug.

When out on the lawn

There arose such a ruckus,

I quickly stopped snoring

And choked on some muckus.

Away to the window

I flew like a dart.

Stomach felt queasy,

Stopped briefly to burp.

The moon on the breast

Of the new-fallen snow

Lit up the trash cans,

All in a row.

When what to my wondering

Eyes should appear,

But a guy in a sled,

Whipping some deer.

The little old driver

Was lively and quick.

When the deer slowed down

He gave 'em a kick.

More rapid than eagles,

His coursers they trotted.

And he whistled and shouted

As if he was potted.

On Karl, on Jessica!

On Hillary and Bill!

On JLo, on Howard!

On Jack and Jill!

To the top of the porch,

Then off to the mall,

Which was decorated for Christmas

Ever since fall.

As dry leaves before

The wild leaf blower fly,

When they meet with the yard shed

Mount to the sky.

On up to the housetop

Were the coursers in flight--

Coursers, I thought,

Were to make fat tummies tight ...

And then in a twinkling,

I heard over my shoulder--

How long is a twinkling?

Longer when it's colder.

As I drew in my head

And was turning about,

Down the flue came a fat guy

With soot in his snout.

He was dressed all in fur

From his head to his feet.

It was sooty and greasy,

But his hairstyle was neat.

A bundle of toys

He'd pulled off the rack.

There were Barbie Dolls for Jill,

Explosives for Jack.

His eyes how they twinkled,

His dimples how merry;

His boom box was playing

Christina Aguilarie.

His droll little mouth

Was drawn up like a bow.

When he bent over,

His undies would show.

The stump of a pipe

He held tight in his teeth.

It made him talk funny;

"Feet" came out "feeth."

He had a broad face

And a round little belly.

Did he go to the gym?

No, he sat and watched telly.

He laughed and he laughed,

A right jolly old geezer.

His wife went along with him--

He rarely could please her.

With a wink of his eye

And a twist of his torso,

He started out achy

And now he was more so.

He spoke not a word,

But went straight to his task.

Then he sat down

And emptied his flask.

He then lay his finger

Aside of his nose.

That is the side where

A shiny wart grows.

He sprang to his sleigh,

To his team gave a yell,

Then a call to his broker

With orders to sell.

But I heard him exclaim

As he drove out of sight,

"The economy's down,

This year will be tight!"


Poetry that bad can be only one thing: Pops's "Night Before Christmas," 2005 Edition.

And Pops's "Night Before Christmas," 2005 Edition, can mean only one thing: It's time for the whateverth annual Holiday Chat. Don your Bacon Pants, hang your shellacked reindeer poop, wiggle into your Death Chair, set your hair on fire, click on the annual photo of my kids (from left, Gus, Jonas, Percy), and share with us what passes for tradition in your twisted family. Bonus points if it involves inappropriate use of a barfing chicken pitcher.


Holiday gift question: Which is a better gift: evil clown nesting dolls or a reindeer that poops brown candy pellets?

Carolyn Hax: Evil clown nesting dolls. Duh.


Carolyn Hax: No wait--pooping reindeer.


Starting the unravel...: I hate holiday pictures. Hate them. My mother still insists on the in front of the tree, all gussied up, whole family (including the dogs)holiday picture. My brother's constant complaints of stomach irritations due to bad brie, or that he's worried his head will be cut off yet again, are the only reason we smile in these pictures. It's awful. Mom insists they will be used for next year's Christmas card, however like every year, they end up in a shoebox under her bed.

But - boy do I love looking through that shoebox. It's one thing I love to hate about Christmas.

Carolyn Hax: Good thing you realize this now, and not After It's Too Late the way most of us do.


Silver Spring, Md.: Remind me that I really need to start using the word "doink" more often.

Carolyn Hax: You really need to start using the word "doink" more often.


For the Holiday Hour: My mom, who died many years ago, was a very proper and kind woman. One Christmas about 15 years ago, she gave stocking stuffer type gifts to my then-boyfriend and my sister's husband. You know the stuff those stress relief squeezy balls are made of? This item was called Pop Up Willy and was shaped like, well, a willy. And it had what looked like grass around the base. It wasn't until after her delighted children figured out what these things were that she gathered them up and we never saw them again. I still really wonder where she fould them.

Carolyn Hax: Great story, but even better typo.


HOLIDAY TRADITION: My sisters and I all sleep in the same bedroom, and then we wake up extra early and open our stockings together before our parents wake up. No poop, no Death Chair, but there it is.

Carolyn Hax: There's really no reason this tradition can't incorporate poop.


A yuletide stereotype: Ok, on a scale of 1-10, how much of a stereotype I am?

No kids. Went shopping last night to finish the last of the Christmas shopping (that is, presents for the dogs). I also needed to pick up something for their birthdays. And while I was there I picked up the gift for the cats. And then because I felt guilty that the dogs got two things and the cats were only getting one, I got something else for the cats.

If it helps, we lavished our nieces and nephews, too.

Carolyn Hax: Tell Me About It


The Washington Post

1150 15th St NW

Washington, DC 20071

In case you break down in the next two weeks and need to lavish gifts on someone else.


Paris, France: Hi Carolyn. Don't forget about the Christmas pot... in the bathroom! It's always my favorite part of the holiday cheer.

Carolyn Hax: That's the only proper way to honor the Christmas Pot--by forgetting about it. Thanks.


Mount Pleasant, Washington, D.C.: OMG, where can I get some Evil Clown nesting dolls?!

Carolyn Hax: They need to pay me commissions. Thanks Liz.


Popping for Christmas: So I have a six-year-old and will be having twins in a week and a half (If I make it). Any advice? I did not think I could handle more than one child when I had my first, which is why I waited so long for another, and now I'm pregnant with twins. I'm happy but YIKES. How am I going to make it thru?

Carolyn Hax: Don't look at the horizon, it's too scary. Look at the next 15 minutes, and then the next, and then the next.

Put your 6-year-old to work.

Cook ahead or ask others to--anyone who says, "What can I do to help?" (The only wrong answer to that is, "Oh, nothing, thanks." There is always something someone can do, and offers are made to be accepted.)

Good luck and have fun. No really.


Middle America, Nebraska: Can I jam my (sparkly, holiday) heel into the posterior of the next person who tells me this is "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?"

My husband and I are dealing with a (recent, necessary) estrangement with his family. His mother will not let things go, however, and as Christmas approaches has started a barrage of e-mails, middle of the night phone calls, packages, cards, letters and has even been caught by my sister driving down our street. (Which wouldn't be so bad -- except she lives hundreds of miles away). Her communication swings wildly between sobbing/pleading and abusive.

No, she won't get help. The rest of her kin backs her up.

Please tell me how to get her to leave things be, and how to make this season merry instead of the miserable, stressful, painful time she's made Christmas for her son nearly his whole life and for us as a couple these past eight years.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, that is not Difficult Mommy Behavior, that is Sick Mommy Behavior. Please consult with a psychiatrist. I'm betting the conversation will yield practical suggestions on how to deal with her behavior, but if it doesn't, I'd be surprised if you didn't at least come away with clarity and a good bit of validation. Which it sounds like you both really need.

And you know what? Even when this time of year sucks for you, the lights are still pretty.


They have waddling penguin poopers, too...: For those who were interested in the Avenging Unicorn, I found some at the Chocolate Moose store at the corner of Connecticut Ave. and L Streets (Washington, D.C.).

Carolyn Hax: Strip those shelves!


Silver Spring, Md.: Love the holiday photo. Just what exactly do you have to do to get three boys to sit still longer enough for a picture?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. A: Have three adults behind the photographer, jumping and flapping like complete morons.


Silver Spring, Md.: This probably is a really "duh" question, but is Liz the same Liz from Gene's chats? Yes. Duh.

Carolyn Hax: But she has many moods.


Not poop, but....: Hi Carolyn, When I was a little kid, I used to get myself so anxious and excited about Christmas, I would throw up! It was a ritual: As soon as our parents would let us downstairs to open gifts, I would swing by the bathroom first before embarking in the excitement of Christmas morn. Can you say neurotic?! (Unfortunately, I'm not that much different as an adult, I've just found new outlets for anxiety and have developed a stronger stomach.)

Happy holidays, all!

Carolyn Hax: Give this person some Christmas pot, stat.


Silver Spring, Md.: My sister is studying abroad this semester, and she won't be back until January. She's 20; I'm 23. I think Mom and Dad and I are going to wait and have Christmas (mostly) when she gets back. So my question is: Is it acceptable to wear bacon pants after New Year's Day?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, and if they are crisp, you can wear them with a jacket to office functions. Just don't sit, bend, twist or walk.


Waaaait a minute: Was this what it really said:

Away to the window

I flew like a dart.

Stomach felt queasy,

Stopped briefly to burp.

Or are you just cleanin' it up for us?

Carolyn Hax: Waaaait a minute, meet my dad's sense of humor. My dad's sense of humor, this is Waaaait a minute.

That's exactly as he wrote it. It'll hit big with the grandkids.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn, I hate New Year's Eve. I have had miserable times for the past six years, starting with one that vaguely resembles the horrible Thanksgiving from last weeks poster. After some soul searching, I decided to take some cold medicine early in the evening after doing some prep for a New Year's Day dinner and sleep the night away. This can get me through this year, but I would prefer not to drug myself to get through this night without hysterical crying in the future. I don't feel like I could be around my friends without bringing them down this year, but I guess I feel like I should be really disturbed with my plans for this year. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: There's nothing wrong with your plans for this year, but it does seem like a waste of time that could be spent on something more self-indulgent. I'm all for flipping New Year's the bird, but not at all for feeling -pathetic- for flipping New Year's the bird.


Washington, D.C.: Why is the holiday chat this Friday rather than closer to the actual holidays?

Carolyn Hax: Good point. Let's cancel it.


Baltimore, Md.: What are bacon pants?

Carolyn Hax: Clothing we want terrible people to wear whilst swimming in shark-infested waters. It's a Ghost of Transcripts Past. I know we linked to it a while back ... anyone still ahve that date handy?


New Year's Eve Tradition: In my family (we are from South America) on New Year's Eve, we eat 12 grapes for good luck, and pack a suitcase and walk it around the block at midnight. I live in a gardenstyle condo and my family all comes over. We eat and get a little drunk (no matter -- they spend the night or walk home -- they only live two blocks away), and then do the midnight walk with our suitcases. I know my neighbors think we're weird, but who cares?

Carolyn Hax: If they don't think you're weird, though, you probably should care.


Not Going Home: Hi Carolyn -- It's a tough year for my family (an uncle died in October and his three month old grandson is to undergo surgery Monday for a lump on his little lung). It's our turn to celebrate Christmas with my husband's family (love them to bits). How do I manage to "be there" for my family without actually "being there?"

Carolyn Hax: Either let your husband's family know what you're going through so they can rally for you, or chuck the whole "turns" thing and spend this one with people who might need you more. Surely they'd want to you show the same flexibility for them, the same regard for family, if it were their family that was in crisis.

I'll be thinking good thoughts of the baby, as others will be I'm sure.


Gravyboat Central: Every Christmas my mother insists

a."that's all the gravy there is" so that no one takes too much. Of course there's always left overs.

b. that this is her mother's last christmas. This is my grandmother's 27th annual last Christmas.

Carolyn Hax: Hide the Death Chair and pass the gravy.


Christmas Sweaters: I have a bunch of tacky Christmas sweaters that I have gotten over the years. You know, the ones with bells and bows and Santas on them, red and green and white and gold and sparkly and just awful. But I love to wear them. Is next week too soon to start wearing them?

Carolyn Hax: Only outside the house.


Takoma Park, Md.: For the woman about to have kids in the middle of december.

Right NOW swear that you will NEVER give them combined Christmas/birthday presents. Or Hanukah/birthday presents.

Make as big a deal out of their birthdays as you do out of the sib's birthday.

- Late December baby still whining about it

Carolyn Hax: Rarin'.

--Early December baby


New Year's Eve hater: Got friends or family with kids? Babysit. The parents get to have a adult's New Year's Eve. You get to make yourself useful and play with the kids; neither party when your heart's not into it, nor sit around feeling sorry for yourself.

Obviously, this solution depends on your actually enjoying kids, and knowing some whose parents would like the evening free, but it's something to consider.

Carolyn Hax: Nice one.

Or, invite over a fellow New Year's skeptic. (Preferably one you like.)


Holiday Chat: No need to cancel. I was just curious why we are holiday chatting in early December (probably for the same reason that stores start having holiday sales in early November).

Even Hanukkah is late this year.

Carolyn Hax: Oh good.

Guys, we're back on!

My choices were either this Friday or next; it's hardly Christmas on Halloween a la department stores.


Christmas tradition getting away from the gas man: My family used to all go to church together on Christmas eve. Our tradition was to fight over who had to ride my parents... specifically my dad who we referred to as the "gas factory." I only lost on one occasion. Now, thankfully, he's in the choir and has to go way before us. And thankfully the Christmas eve jostling to get into the right car is just a cherished memory.

Carolyn Hax: But the jostling to get out of the choir is growing violent.


Evil nesting clowns: Best gift ever: My 70-ish mom went on a trip to Russia, and for Christmas I got hand painted Russian nesting Elvises. Or would that be nesting Elvi?

Carolyn Hax: Or is it just Elvis, like moose or deer.


I'm the woman expecting twins: I was also born in December, so I totally agree. Thanks for the reminder.

Carolyn Hax: Happy birthday!


Happy Birthday, Carolyn!: Just needed to say that. (I'd sing but I'm tone-deaf.)

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! 39. I don't feel 39.


Re: Grayboat Central: This absolutely has to be my fiance writing, because it's been his mother's mother's last Christmas for many years...or any other time she wants us to do something her way.

Honey, pick up a half gallon of milk on your way home tonight please?

Carolyn Hax: Good thing he didn't marry his mother.


Virginia: I have another company holiday party to attend this evening. I'm new (by a few months) to the group but I hate attending these things because I really don't know anyone and I don't want to be clingy with the few people that I have gotten to know. I know it's a good chance to meet people, but these parties seem to be everyone's ONLY CHANCE to let loose with their coworkers and no one wants to play the "get to know the new person" game over booze and gossip with the regulars. Tips?

Carolyn Hax: Go, make an effort, don't be afraid to be alone for some of it (since you'd do that without a second thought if you were in a roomful of friends), enjoy the free dinner, go home when you don't feel like making any more effort or eating any more free food. No point in stressing.


Harrisonburg, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I'm sure this is a common thing this time of year, and I'd love to know if you have any suggestions. Basically, I do not celebrate Christmas. The reasons are many, but I have very strong opinions, which I am proud to say I keep to myself to avoid crushing others' holiday cheer. But it really, really bothers me when others say things like "Merry Christmas!" to me. Friends and family know better, and I know strangers and customers (I spend a good deal of my workday on the phone) are just trying to be nice, but I can't help feeling offended. It bugs me that people just assume everyone celebrates/enjoys Christmas, and it's an awkward moment when someone says that and I really don't feel right saying "you too." I try really hard not to be a scrouge, because I know other people enjoy the holiday and it may mean a lot to them, but I wish folks would be as considerate of my beliefs as I try to be of theirs. How do you suggest I respond to someone's "Merry Christmas?" and do you think there's any way I can be less offended by it?

Carolyn Hax: 1. "Thanks!"

2. Tell yourself they're trying to be friendly, which, IMHO, has as much if not more merit than trying to be sensitive. Certainly jollier.


Boston, Mass.: The canine and I are traveling to see my parents for Christmas. I am a bit concerned about this, because they are not "animal" people, and see nothing wrong with slapping them for being "bad" or just letting them outside. I am planning to give everyone a list of "rules" for being around the dog. Is that impolite/obnoxious? I don't want to be condescending, but it is very important to me that my dog continue to see, as he has in the past year, that people are not to be feared. (he was terrified of almost everyone a year ago. Now he practically invites himself into strangers houses/cars/whatever!) Beyond that, he is a greyhound and should someone let him outside, he could be 10 miles away very quickly. If I knew a responsible pet sitter I would leave him here, but my attempt at that last year failed miserably and I came home to a dog with serious seperation anxiety. Anyway, what do you think? How to protect the poor thing without stepping on two many toes?

Carolyn Hax: Stay somewhere else, and keep him with you when in your parents' house? Don't go?


Washington, D.C.: In my household we're big on the peppermint pig. It's a pink pig made out of hard candy. You put it in a red velvet bag and pass it around and everyone takes a crack at it with a silver hammer until its smashed to smithereens.

Good at getting aggression out and bringing out the meek ones in the bunch, like Aunt Ellen.

Carolyn Hax: This is me taking your word for it.


Holiday Tradition: Not funny, but useful. Since my 4 siblings and I have gotten married and starting having kids, my parents have done a combined Christmas and Thanksgiving weekend where we all come together in early December. It's been great because we all get to see each other, but then on the days themselves we don't have to have all the stress of holiday travel, who's family should we see, why can't we just stay home with our kids, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Funny--we're doing exactly that for the first time ever this year. I can't wait.


Holiday party survival: I had to go to my gf's office party to be introduced to the whole firm. This is how I got through it: accidentally ate something I'm allergic to, ran to bathroom to induce vomiting so I wouldn't stop breathing, let whole firm think I'm bulemic, found couple leaving the one seater bathroom, told everyone else about that, then later tripped down the main staircase (think sound of music like staircase) and broke both heels of my shoes. But I drank the free booze, went home early. I made it. You'll do better.

Carolyn Hax: Hope so. I'd buy tickets.


Bah, humbug: I celebrate Christmas, but refuse to buy 20-30 little "dollar stores" doo-dads (holiday mugs, dust collectors) to distribute to coworkers like all my coworkers do... For a couple of years I did "useful" card inserts like bookmarks or packets of specialty cocoa, but a card says all I want to say and I'd rather live without the added stress of selecting, buying, and wrapping (or "bagging") 20 additional gifts I know will just go immediately to Goodwill (or, worse be "regifted"). I'd really rather just skip the whole meaningless-worthless-gift-exchange out of obligation thing. How to do so without making a big speak about simple living and frugality or appearing rude

Carolyn Hax: How would it go over if you proposed a collection for needy kids? Ask everyone to bring in something--doesn't have to be expensive; $5 buys you a board book--and you'll play elf and deliver.


A Christmas event that is now a tradition: This isn't strictly a Christmas tradition, but it is now a regular joke between my husband and me that started at Christmas.

One year when I was wrapping and packaging up all the gifts for his family I asked him to seal a box and label it with an address. I was surrounded by mounds of wrapped and unwrapped gifts, paper, etc. - you get the picture. He tapes the box shut, writes the address on and says (with no trace of irony) "Whew, that's done!" I give him a look that could melt icicles and we both die laughing.

This is now the standard declaration anytime one of us does something of minor importance involving minimal effort.

Carolyn Hax: I think I'm going to start using that.


Sacramento, CA: Re: December birthdays

What's the big deal about birthday presents, anyway? I'll admit it would be bad to be really lopsided in how much you celebrate different kids' birthdays. But surely you don't equate love with presents, and you plan to give your kids plenty of love year-round.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I equate love with presents.


Baltimore, MD: What happened? I clicked "refresh" and the whole chat disappeared.

Carolyn Hax: If you ever figure it out, that's a function I could use.


Arlington, VA: AH! I've been in meetings all day and have practically missed the all-important Reindeer Poop!

Christmas Tradition in my family that causes ER visits, yet still is insisted upon: On Christmas morning we all troop down to see the tree together. However, it involves this bizarre ritual of singing carols, lining up from youngest to oldest, each covering the eyes of the person in front and the oldest oldest leading the pack (with eyes uncovered). After arriving at the tree, we are arranged around it and all open our eyes at the same time. Nice, huh? Not so much- my parents have moved into a multi-story house and for the past few years, we go down 2 flights of stairs with the eyes covered. Several ER trips have happened for bumps and breaks. They refuse to accept blindfolds or gathering on a lower floor. Should be fun!

Carolyn Hax: When you make the Darwin Awards, we'll say we knew you when ...


re: Spirit of the Season: I just told the guy I started seeing that I can't kiss him because I have a vicious cold sore.

You know what he said?

"You'll heal."

I am giddy with holiday joy!

Carolyn Hax: Well that just says it all.

Plus I've lost my connection 5 or 6 times in the last 15 minutes.

So, I'm going to call it a year. Happy second, third, and fourth weeks of December and happy New Year for those who live by our calendar and eschew cough syrup, and type to you next week.


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