The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Bowing out of the family Christmas


Hi, Carolyn:

This time of year is all about family and tradition. It’s not really about convenience.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I am 48 and the youngest of four children. We each have 2 to 4 children, some have grandchildren, plus our father. Before our mother passed, 13 years ago, Christmas dinner was held at our parents’. Now three out of four children rotate having Christmas for 25-28 people (one sibling lacks the space to host).

Last Christmas there were some difficulties with communication and settling on a date. My eldest sister ended up hosting, per my suggestion, out of turn, to settle the matter. This appeared to be the best solution at the time; however, at the end of the gathering she stated it was just too much and she is done.

It didn’t sit well with me because she did the bare minimum — I really mean bare minimum — and she had a good three weeks to throw it together. I assumed this was stress talking.

Three weeks ago, I e-mailed the whole family inquiring about date, time, etc. A few days later, my brother-in-law sends a very curt, one-line e-mail only to me, reminding me they are not participating this year. My sister indicated last year she wasn’t having it, not that she wasn’t coming!

In all of my 48 years, and her 58, our family has been together for Christmas. Now she has her husband e-mail me with a statement like that.

Since then, she has elaborated slightly that she would rather spend her time with her children, stepchildren and grandchildren. I really can appreciate that, but we all are in the same boat and we’re not cutting out our siblings and father. She lives nearby so distance is no issue. It’s really just that my sister is so intolerant of everyone.

My other siblings and I, as well as all our children, feel hurt that she so blatantly chose to carve us out. I just learned she is not even having her immediate family over, she is going to her daughter’s. This means she is not hosting Christmas for anyone.

I, on the other hand, have three grown children still living at home with a revolving door (this is the house that always has activity and guests overnighting in the spare bedroom). I bake tons of cookies, do lots of shopping and decorating. Yes, it gets stressful for me, too, but in a good way because I know it’s temporary. I don’t expect my sister to keep up with me but her complete lack of effort and commitment to her siblings, father and nieces/nephews is really disturbing and I don’t know how to move on without being bitter. My dad says, “To each their own,” but we’re really feeling dumped!

A Christmas Challenge

Maybe your sister has simply had enough of being told where she must be, how much hosting she must do, and what the “best solution” is to suit someone else’s definition of what “this time of year is all about.” You are you, she is not, and why is that so hard to take?

Please, for the love of all things Christmas, let your sister live her own life by her own terms. In her 58 years, and your 48, that also might be a first.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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