Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. We dove into the Dear Prudie archives to share a selection of classic holiday letters with our readers.
I am 19 years old, and a few months ago I came out to my parents and siblings. Everyone has been very accepting and loving. The problem is this: My younger sister told my uncle and aunt that I am a lesbian. (It was not done maliciously.) They’re top-of-the-line homophobes. They told my grandmother, who is now banning me from Christmas festivities that we celebrate every year.
I told my parents to just go without me and, while reluctant, they would like to go just to smooth things over. As we get closer to Christmas, I am getting depressed at the thought of being alone for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I could go to my friend’s house, but that seems pathetic. Please help!
It is not pathetic to spend Christmas with friends. I have several friends joining me and my family for Christmas this year, and I can’t wait for them to get here. I’ve spent Christmas with family in the past, and I’ve spent Christmas with friends in the past, and it’s always been meaningful and joyful.
That said, I think it’s fine if you want to tell your parents that you’re feeling hurt about the prospect of being “banned” from this year’s family celebration because you’re gay. You don’t have to ask them not to go (although I’m inclined to think that they shouldn’t), but you can still be honest with them about how you’re feeling. It sounds like they care about and support you, and I think they’d want to know if you’re having a hard time. Even if they still decide to attend, you might feel better for having stated your feelings out loud to them, and they might be able to offer more meaningful support if they know you’re struggling with this. —Danny M. Lavery
From: Help! My Grandma Found Out I’m Gay and Banned Me From Christmas. (Dec. 19, 2016)
My in-laws are kind, delightful people, and I enjoy spending time with them, except on Christmas. Their family tradition is for everyone to take turns unwrapping gifts. Last year, we unwrapped gifts for almost two hours, stopped for lunch, and then unwrapped gifts for another hour after lunch. Each person receives a modest number of gifts, so it’s not quantity that is causing the problem. The recipient is expected to carefully unpackage and read product instructions before moving along to the next gift, and, when there are no instructions or awkward packaging, the recipient will wax poetic for 10 minutes about how the sweater reminds them of their deceased grandmother’s beloved cocker spaniel, etc. My husband agrees it is out of hand, but we don’t know how to politely speed things along. Any advice, or do we just need to keep quiet?
This year you two should insist going first. Then give each other Fitbits, put them on, explain how you both are so excited about getting into better shape that you’re going to use them right now—then sprint out the door and don’t return until the excruciating performance-art project “Endless Unwrapping” is done. Your husband needs to have a talk with his parents and say the gift exchange needs to be speeded along, that an hour is more than sufficient (insanely so) for this, and he’ll be in charge of keeping things moving. If your in-laws insist on this torturous ritual, it’s perfectly fine for you two to say you’ve got to stretch your legs, then don’t make a return appearance until it’s time for lunch. —Emily Yoffe
From: Help! My In-Laws Spend Half the Day Unwrapping Christmas Gifts. (Dec. 15, 2014)
My problem is that the holidays are the only time that everyone gets together. It is crowded, hectic, and fun. Except my sister insists that her autistic son be involved in all activities with his cousins. He is sensitive to noise, flashing lights, and can melt down into tantrums that leave holes in walls. Last year, he threw a lamp into a TV while several of the boys played video games. My sons will do puzzles and spend time with him but have asked me why they are being punished by having to “babysit” him all the time. I keep biting my tongue, but how do I tell her I think she is the problem here?
There are, I think, two issues here. One is safety—if your sister’s son is getting violent and throwing things at the holiday gathering, your main concern should be calmly separating the children and making sure that everyone is unharmed. If he threatens himself or other children, it is absolutely appropriate for you to end playtime and for your sister to help calm him down.
The other is whether or not you should accommodate a neuroatypical child’s needs when you see him once a year. I think that is not only reasonable, but a good thing to do! Surely you want your children to be comfortable around, and friendly with, all types of people, regardless of their neurological makeup. Explain to them that being with their cousin while not playing video games for a few hours is not a punishment. Your sister’s not asking you to rearrange your whole world, she’s asking you to include her special-needs son (who it does not sound like is included in many things) once a year. This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate empathy and compassion. Don’t miss it. —DL
I am fortunate to have a large extended family living in close proximity, including four grandparents. My mother-in-law sees my children regularly and never forgets their birthdays, which is wonderful. Traditionally, our families gather the weekend before Christmas for a gift exchange. We always have a nice time. This year I discovered, through a conversation with my niece, that Grandma travels to their home on Christmas morning to cook them a special breakfast and celebrate what my niece describes as “real Christmas when Grandma brings our big gifts.” This year, my niece explained, she expects some expensive electronics and gift cards from my MIL in addition to the gifts she’d opened that day at our gathering. My feelings were hurt, and I told my husband. He admitted that he knew about these other Christmas celebrations but sees no need to confront his mother about them because “our children don’t need those gifts.” I agree that we do not need any more gifts, but this “secret Christmas” celebration seems wrong and hurtful to me, and I worry about what might happen when my daughters are old enough to feel left out if they discover them, too. Should I confront my MIL? If not, what do I tell my children when they inevitably hear about this?
Dealings with your mother-in-law are the territory of your husband. He seems completely untroubled by his mother’s extra time with his sister and their kids, and you should follow his lead. You don’t explain it here, but perhaps your sister-in-law and her family are in the kind of financial straits that your family fortunately is not. So Grandma does something extra for this brood that yours does not need. You seem to have no other complaints about your mother-in-law and say she’s an excellent grandmother to your children. Leave this alone. An important lesson for children to learn is that fairness does not dictate exact equality. If they find out about Grandma’s special visit, you just shrug it off and point out some wonderful things in their lives that their cousins don’t have. If you want your children to have more time with your mother-in-law then facilitate that—just don’t make it about material possessions. —EY
From: Help! My Mother-in-Law Spends Christmas With Her Other Grandkids. (Dec. 24, 2012)
My dad passed away on Dec. 5, after a brief battle with cancer. My father and I were very close. I was the only girl of his four children. After being in denial about his illness, I’m having panic attacks and sleepless nights. I have spoken with my doctor for those issues. I’m struggling to control my emotions around my four children as to not ruin their Christmas. My youngest are 11 and 8 and very sensitive. With my mother’s help I have managed to shop for them. My problem is that I just can not get myself to do my normal shopping for family and friends or even send Christmas cards. I’m not sure everyone will understand.
Everyone will understand. You are in shock and mourning. I hope there is no one in your life who would say, “Hey, I’m sorry your father died suddenly, but I was expecting a card and a scarf!” You have already made sure there will be presents under the tree for the kids. But they are hurting, too, about the loss of their beloved grandfather. Don’t be afraid to be open with them about how much you miss him. Seeing you cry will tell them it’s OK for them to cry. You can also tell them it’s fine for them to have a happy Christmas, because their grandfather loved that holiday. Say he was a wise person and he knew that it’s possible to alternate between being happy and sad. I’m glad you’re getting help for your very normal grief. But don’t try to pretend to your children that Christmas will be just the same this year. —EY
From: Help! How Do I Mourn My Dad’s Death Without Ruining Christmas? (Dec. 22, 2014)
More Dear Prudence
I know the snow might make it feel like Christmas, but Christmas decorations in March seem a bit much. They put them up the first day of November and neighbors told me that last year they were lit up at night until mid-June. Is there a polite way to ask the neighbors if they can take down their Christmas decorations?