Common ground in Christmas standoff

Carolyn Hax, Advice Columnist

Updated: Friday, September 29, 2017, 3:01 AM

Question: My husband has opted out of giving me anything for Christmas for the last 10 years. He puts lights up and insists on a tree. I have been using empty boxes wrapped in beautiful paper to make the scene enchanting.

This year will be the first in 25 years that I don't give him anything, either. He says he won't give gifts because Christmas has become "a consumerist holiday." Never mind surprising one another or making someone happy. There has to be a better way than a standoff.

Answer: "Insists on a tree."

Shoved where? I want to ask.

But I won't because this standoff is touchy enough where no standoff ever belonged.

He thinks Christmas has become too commercial. Surely we can grant him that.

You think surprises are worthwhile. I hope he'd grant you that.

Concede these points to each other, and you've got the start of a productive conversation about what kind of Christmas would satisfy both his principles and your spirit.

It's hardly new ground. Christmas Inc. has inspired plenty of people to bring love and principle together to create new traditions based on service to others, or craftsmanship, or gifts of experiences, or items to consume vs. wedge onto an overstuffed shelf. Candles, stationery, wine.

Not only does that sound several orders of magnitude less depressing than an empty-box shrine, but it also makes a lot more sense than another 10 years of wanting what you already know you can't have.

Would it have been nice if your husband had chosen a decade ago to weigh your preferences against his own, to find some middle ground? Yes, yes it would have. I can also see how humoring him now might feel more like a loss than a friendly concession. Plus, unilateral action in a marriage against the other's wishes tends to mean there are other problems afoot.

But at some point, you need to think carefully about how much of yourself you're willing to martyr to old expectations.

Mull it over now; you've got time. Then, when you're ready with some ideas, run them by Mr. Scrooge. Start small, even: You do lights while he takes charge of his tree.

Question: My friend frequently complains that he is broke and underpaid. I got my company to offer him a part-time freelance job he could do from home, on his schedule, that pays pretty well. He turned it down.

He's obviously free to turn down a job he doesn't want to do, but is there a polite way for me to tell him I no longer want to hear about his financial situation?

Answer: Common helper's mistake - to see complaints as an invitation to find a solution.

It's OK. You clearly meant well, and the gift of a job opportunity is something you should never hesitate to give, this experience notwithstanding.

The lesson for next time is not to expect your friend to receive your unasked-for help the way you think he should. He's entitled to his own reasons for turning it down.

You are also entitled to respond to his complaints by asking what he plans to do about them. It's a pointed precursor to saying that you feel for him and that you've talked this subject to death.

Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at

Carolyn Hax, Advice Columnist

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