Dear Miss Manners: How does one respond to Christmas carolers?

The caroling outside the door is delightful, but I lived all my life in the city and I'm quite embarrassed to say I don't know what to do when they arrive. Even the carolers don't know.We wave, smile and say, "Merry Christmas, thank you."

Gentle Reader: With a sweetly seasonal smile playing about her lips, Miss Manners was all set to prattle to you about cookies and hot chocolate when the dreaded modern reflex kicked in:

What if they're hoping to lure you outside in order to mug you? What if they're casing the neighborhood to see whom to burglarize on New Year's Eve?

Miss Manners obviously needs a Christmas vacation. Throughout the year, just about every time she has suggested a kind, or just decent, gesture of humanity, someone has written in a worst-case result, in which a person who extended him or herself in that way ended up being victimized.

But never mind. We are not going to let the But-What-If . . . Factor scare us out of all good will and joy, are we?

So do, please, greet your carolers in the traditional way, with a treat that they can enjoy quickly, as they go on their way. And let us hope that they do not refuse out of the fear that you probably poisoned it first.

Dear Miss Manners: Each Christmas Eve, I hostess an open house for both sides of the family. I love doing it, spare no expense as far as food and spirits go, and always refuse help with the refreshments, just wishing people to come and enjoy themselves.

Last year, a 6-year-old grandnephew asked me if I had a present for him, as did his parents.

Is it expected that I buy for all the little ones? The cost and the time spent shopping and wrapping would be prohibitive, as there are many little ones. There is otherwise no exchanging of gifts at this party.

Gentle Reader: Humming along, as she prepared to explain the gentle task of dealing with a pre-civilized child, who had not yet learned to conceal his greed with manners, and to do this without embarrassing his parents, Miss Manners suddenly came to a screeching halt.

His parents asked, too?

"What did you get for Zachary?"

Or perhaps, "What did you get for us?"

So the child also has pre-civilized parents. It sounds as if he doesn't stand much of a chance.

But since they are relatives of yours, let us try. Before the party, you might remind the parents of the child's expectation last year, adding, "I hope Zachary won't be disappointed that this is just a party, not an exchange of presents. Perhaps he's a little young to appreciate the value of family gatherings, so I hope you'll explain it to him, because I'm eager to see him, and I want him to have a good time."

Dear Miss Manners: A dear friend sent my daughter a Christmas ornament, which says "Baby's First Christmas." It's lovely. However, my husband and I are Jewish. We do not celebrate Christmas. My friend may have forgotten this, as we now live far apart.

Occasionally, I also receive religious Christmas cards from friends or family (some of my husband's relatives are Christian). I realize they may have forgotten our background, and try to appreciate that they remembered us. I send generic "Season's Greetings" cards and thank-you notes when appropriate.

What do I do about the ornament? How do I politely avoid getting any more? What do I do about people who know we are Jewish and still send Christian cards?

Gentle Reader: Many Christmas customs have become so far removed from associations with religion that Miss Manners has always counseled assuming that only a vague, all-purpose goodwill is intended in cards and presents sent to Jews and other non-Christians by their Christian - and sometimes even their non-Christian - acquaintances.

But when a dear friend, and your husband's own relatives don't remember that you are Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas, something is wrong - either with their attitude, or with the situation.

Miss Manners prefers to share your assumption that it is the latter. Nevertheless, it should be corrected.

The polite way to let them know is to let some time go by between the inappropriate gesture and the reminder. "Thank you, but you made a terrible gaffe" is not kind.

But just a week later, a holiday peculiarly suited to such a reference presents itself. In a New Year's letter, you can both acknowledge their kindly remembering you and find occasion to mention that you do your real New Year's celebrating in the fall. Later, a card at the Jewish New Year can serve as a pleasant reminder.

Dear Miss Manners: An office manager in our area ordered gifts for our three supervisors, tallied up the cost, and handed each employee an adding machine tape with a total circled at the bottom. She announced to each, "This is your share, so give me a check in the next few days."

There had been no prior discussion on this, and several of us refused to become involved. I have always heard, read and been of the opinion that it is not at all proper to give a gift to one's employer. We would like an answer printed that we can place on her desk for future reference.

Gentle Reader: Yes, there is a custom against giving presents to one's employer. There is also a rule against requiring anyone to contribute to a present he or she doesn't want to give, and a law against extortion.

View Comments

Presents are only exchanged among equals, and while we are all equal socially, we are not all equal professionally. A boss is a boss. There is nothing to prevent - indeed, a lot to encourage - a boss from rewarding employees at Christmastime, but this should be done in the form of a Christmas bonus.

Anyone who considers whether employees should get together and give their boss a bonus for being such a nice boss all year, will immediately grasp why presents for a boss (unless that person happens to be a particular employee's social friend in addition) are ridiculous.

Besides, Miss Manners has a hunch that the office manager has not been running around urging all the supervisors to contribute to buying presents for the employees.

Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of the Deseret News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110. The quill shortage prevents Miss Manners from answering questions except through this column.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.