Holiday etiquette

Joey Garcia

The holidays are here again! Hey, will someone please tell Pat Robertson that the word “holiday” is a corruption of the words “holy day”? He needs to call off his holiday hate campaign (he wants us to boycott stores where employees fail to say “Merry Christmas”). Saying “Happy Holidays” recognizes a sacred season—that’s 30 days for inspiration and transformation—while “Merry Christmas” only acknowledges one day. In the spirit of the season, here are some tips to keep the days sweet and our relationships holy.

R.S.V.P. is an acronym for répondez s’il vous plaît:

That’s French for “Please be so kind as to reply.” When you receive an invitation that includes an R.S.V.P., immediately check your calendar and, in the next breath, respond yes or no to the event. Don’t wait to see if you are invited to something better. Don’t hesitate because you fear that your “no” will hurt the feelings of the person extending the invite. (Hint: People-pleasing behavior is not very pleasing.) And, if you fail to R.S.V.P., fail to attend the event and then see the person who invited you, don’t opt for one-upmanship, as in “I’m sorry I couldn’t attend your party; my foundation contributed $10,000 to a fund-raiser held that same evening.” Instead, simply apologize for your lack of savoir-faire and offer your wishes that the event was brilliant.

Extend invitations, not questions:

Don’t ask your single friends if they have plans for Christmas or winter solstice or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or New Year’s Eve or whatever holiday your clan celebrates. “What are you doing for Christmas?” seems innocent enough, but for anyone alone or estranged from family, it’s a ticket to emotional hell. So, withhold the question (and your misplaced curiosity). Inform friends that they always have a place at your table for the holidays.

Have a conversation conversion:

Many people claim that they dislike parties or similar social gatherings because small talk is required at such events. Well, there’s no need to shirk your social circle this December. Attend parties with the aim of inspiring people about the topics you’re passionate about. Of course, some of the people who insist that “small talk is a waste of time” are actually unable to listen well to others. Small talk requires patience, genuine interest in people and respect for different opinions. If you lack these qualities, parties are a great place to develop them.

Keep the holy-day spirit:

Yeah, that means not flipping the bird when someone cuts you off on the freeway or zips into that parking space you waited politely for. It means staying calm when the teenage sales clerk is text messaging her friends instead of ringing up customer purchases or when parents with strollers block store aisles and seem surprised that you need to pass through. (Remember, they’re sleep deprived and that’s why they expect you to drive carefully, but they fail to realize that they can’t talk on their cell phones, mind their little ones and drive too.) Annoying as people are—and we are all, at times, annoying—we are family. Let’s live accordingly, as a loving, functional family.

Add your global brothers and sisters to your gift list:

For each gift purchased at a retail shop, make two donations to a nonprofit that serves the poor in a developing country. Or, better still, buy holiday gifts from the catalogs of organizations like Heifer International ( Just $20 buys a flock of chicks and allows a poor family to begin farming. Plus, you receive a lovely card to send to the pal in whose name you made the purchase. It’s a wonderful way to keep the holidays truly spiritual.

Meditation of the week
“Politicians are like homies,” says Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who works with former gang members in Los Angeles. “You want to catch them in the act of doing something right.” Hmm, I feel the same way about televangelists.

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