Manners & Misdemeanors

How to Tell Your Family You Won't Be at Your Christmas Reunion

Because some just need to break with tradition once in a while.
IMAGE ABC Television/ Wikimedia Commons

There are families for which the holidays are a joyous time to gather. They look forward to spending endless hours in each other's company, gorging on turkey while passionately discussing the book they all agreed to read during their multigenerational summer reunion. And then there are the rest of us.

Are you among those who contemplate prescription drug addiction to make it through the season's emotional minefield where old resentments erupt over a game of Scrabble? Do your relatives pick the holiday gathering as the perfect time to catalogue all of your manifold shortcomings, turning Christmas into Judgement Day with eggnog? Unless you are this century's Eugene O'Neill and intend to turn your torments into a literary classic, your family may not be worth enduring.

Do your relatives pick the holiday gathering as the perfect time to catalogue all of your manifold shortcomings, turning Christmas into Judgement Day with eggnog?

Even if the situation is far more tolerable than grim, especially after a few trips to the punch bowl, you have a God given right as an adult to break with tradition once in a while.

But how do I tell my parents?
In the words of the song, break it to them gently. Start backing out early. Call at a time when you are available to have a full conversation, not in the five minutes between meetings. You want to give your loved ones the time to express what they feel, not make the announcement to them and hang up, like that lover who dumped you via text message.

What if they say "Why? Don't you love us?"
You can say anything to anyone, it's all in how you put it. Reassure them that your affections are eternal, you just want to celebrate your holidays a bit differently. If you are newlyweds, you have the excuse that in order to be fair to both sets of in laws, you've opted to take a romantic trip. No one will begrudge you a second honeymoon. If you are already married and have children, let your parents know you want to begin establishing your own traditions before your children leave the nest. Invite them to join you at your home and offer to pamper them. If such an arrangement would lead to scenes out of one of the aforementioned Eugene O'Neill's tragedies, plan to take your children on a trip. This can also lead to a best of both worlds scenario. Celebrate early with the grandparents a few days before. Christmas Day, for example, is a great days to travel, roads and airports are clear. That is when you make your escape.


The holiday season is about love, and you deserve some too.

But what if my grandmother cries?
Stay on the phone till the torrent of tears subsides. Assure your mother/father/grandmother that you love her/him/her and tell them you will phone on the morrow to continue the conversation. Use the next 24 hours as a cooling off period for your loved ones, and a period of reflection for yourself. Factor in your loved ones' ages and state of health. Think about what you will regret the most: missing one of their final holidays, or being with your friends on that beach in Thailand. Even if your relationship with your parents has cost you a tidy fortune in therapy bills, how will you feel if this season turns out to be their last? Only you can answer that. If you decide that in fact you cannot escape tradition, just make certain to have a great reward for yourself once you get back to your own home, and an appointment with your therapist first thing the next morning. The holiday season is about love, and you deserve some too.

Susan Fales-Hill is an author, arts advocate, and host of the New York Public Radio podcast "Icons and Innovators." A member of the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, she lives in Manhattan with her husband, her teenage daughter, and a labrador/pit bull rescue who has had the grace never to demolish a pair of her shoes. Now that's manners.

This story originally appeared on
* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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