Etiquette Hell = Where the ill-mannered deserve to go


Main Page/Home

The Faux Pas Archives
Wedding Etiquette

Bridesmaids and Beastmen
Bridal Showers
Bridezillas and Groomonsters
Faux Pas of the Year
Gimme, Gimme, Gimme
Guests From Hell
Tacky Invitations
Wedding Rugrats
Just Plain Tacky
Tacky Toasts
Thank You Notes From Hell
Tacky Vendors
Wedding From Hell
Wicked Witches of the Wedding
Perfect Bride
Bridesmaid Dress Incinerator



Everyday Etiquette

Baby Showers
The Dating Game
Ooops! Foot in Mouth Disease
Funeral Etiquette
Gimme Hell
Holiday Hell
Just Plain Tacky
It's all Relatives
Every Day RugRats
Road Rage

Business Etiquette

Bad Business Etiquette
Merchants of Etiquette Hell
Bad Bosses

Faux Pas of the Year




Press Room/Contact


Holiday Hell

2002 Archive

(I know that this is not wedding etiquette, but I was so horrified by the behavior of my brother-in-law's second wife, that I had to write. I hope that you can find some use for this.)

My sister-in-law, my brother-in-law's second wife, has been a thorn in the family's side ever since he began dating her. One of her most egregious acts was during the children's gift exchange several years ago. We have 18 grandchildren in my husband's family so buying Christmas presents for each one of them is wildly expensive. The gift exchange was for the children to purchase each other a gift under ten dollars, the names drawn at Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law spent much more than the limit, in an attempt to impress the family. 

When her infant son received a video and a small toy from his cousin, she decided that it was too cheap and sent it back to the nine year old girl who gave it to him. She wrote a nasty letter that explained exactly why she was returning it. I had never seen such behavior before, but unfortunately, that was not her swan song. In a way, it's fascinating to see what horrors she will come up with next! It has the same effect as rubbernecking at a car accident. Her husband is besotted with her, which of course gives her carte blanche to behave badly. Holiday0113-03

I have two nephews, who are now ages 13 and 10. My sister is many years older than me, so we're not EXTREMELY close. But I love my nephews dearly...and on their birthdays and at Christmas I've always tried really hard to pick out presents that they'll like according to their current interests (sports, bugs, Harry Potter, etc.) I have searched high and low on eBay and other stores to find stuff that I hope they'll actually like and use! And this has HONESTLY been fun for me, I have ENJOYED shopping for the boys and like picking things out for them. 

However, for a NUMBER of years now, ever since the oldest was about 6, there has been NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of the gifts! On each occasion I have had to contact my sister and say, "Did "Billy" and "Johnny" get the package in the mail?" just because I want to make sure it didn't get lost. I know she's a working mom, and is busy, and I don't even expect a hand-written note from the boys (even though I think that's a good thing to teach your children how to do)...even just an email from her that says "Hey, we got the stuff." would be fine! I finally just quit asking because it was embarrassing to ME, and I'm not the one with bad manners. 

Maybe I'm just a monster at heart...but the Christmas before last was the FINAL STRAW. I just got finally fed up with it after yet again not having the presents for the boys acknowledged. I figure...if someone is so busy that they can't even bother to say "We got your package in the mail," then you better believe I'm too busy to shop, wrap, and mail the gifts. So, for over a year, I've just sent a card at birthdays and a "family gift" at Christmas (instead of individual gifts for everyone) like a nice ornament for the tree. I still feel like a monster sometimes for not sending special gifts for the boys, but it's better than getting my feelings hurt every Christmas and at birthdays.  holiday0204-03

I never really got along with my sister-in-law's family because of their extreme religious views. This wasn't much of a problem until the great aunt who used to host all the family celebrations sold her house and sister-in-law took over. Even this wasn't a problem until about the third year when sis-in-law decided they would divide the crowd into "adults" who would eat in the living room and a children's table in the family room. The problem was sister-in-law designated that anyone under 30 would sit at the children's table. You guessed it, I was the only adult under 30. My husband came and sat with me and so did a cousin and her husband who were over 30 but who had small children. This was when I decided to cut to the bone the number of celebrations I attend at his sister's house. Holiday0210-03

A certain couple in our extended family has always been known for spending a lot of money on themselves, then complaining to everyone that they have no money and are going to have to live on the street any second. For instance, last year, they spent $10,000 on a trip to Canada, but then two weeks after they came home they had to "borrow" money to pay their mortgage payment. You can guess that borrowed money is pretty much never repaid.

This particular time, they went way too far. They have an annoying dog, that they treat like their child. No, they treat it better than their grandchildren, and that's the problem. (I love dogs, but not this one. No one likes it but them.) It's about 6 years old, and it suddenly developed epilepsy (poor dog, but it's still a dog!). It has to have medicine each month that costs $300. The problem? This year, they gave their young grandchildren NO Christmas presents, because they claimed they couldn't afford ANYTHING. They are living in a very expensive place, eating out to dinner at fancy restaurants practically daily, spending $300 a month on a DOG, and they can't even get some small Christmas presents for their young grandchildren, whom they see weekly/daily. Not even ONE present. NOTHING. They only have a few grandchildren, it's not like there are 10 of them or something, and they are all under 7, so they're happy with small stuff. They couldn't even scrape $5 together for some stickers so that the little ones would know Grandma and Grandpa thought about them on Christmas?!?!?! That is the height of selfishness. Holiday0302-03

I married my husband one bright November day and was lucky enough to also become stepmom to his four boys (the oldest was 10)--he had physical custody of them. 

Christmas was rapidly approaching so I had the boys make a very nice gift for their bio-mom--something that would have sentimental significance. I used a lot of thought and the project took a great deal of time (and money). Bio-mom had moved about 2,000 miles away about six months before this time. Although she hadn't paid much attention to them before our marriage, she "suddenly" decided to renew contact. She told them she was coming out for Christmas, then she wasn't coming, then she was coming. I was waiting to see if she was really coming so the boys could give it to her if she were--but there was still plenty of time to mail it, if she decided not to come. 

Then after talking to bio-mom, my oldest stepson got off the phone and told me that "mom" felt really bad because the boys hadn't sent her a Christmas present yet. (This was two and a half weeks before Christmas.) Yikes! I didn't want that kind of manipulation going on. So, I just went ahead and sent her present.

Christmas came and went with no present from Bio-Mom. Finally she flies out and shows up on New Year's Day with their Christmas presents--Adult size T-shirts and combs that she had stolen from her work--they had the businesses logo--a stylized woman's face with giant red lips--which she told the boys I could remodel so that they would fit them! Now, I understand that sometimes people don't have a great deal of money, but bio-mom always has enough money to buy the things she wants. Anyway, this was just the first in a long line of tacky present giving--including used underwear that she had bought at a garage sale! Holiday0306-03

This happened to a co-worker many years ago. We were a rather small group and everyone knew each other very well. For the most part, folks got along, but for some reason two women in the group took a disliking to each other. It wasn't enormously messy, but they made it clear that they didn't care for each other's company. At Christmas time, we had a gift exchange. As luck would have it, one of these women (Lady A) drew the name of the other woman (LadyB) that she didn't like. When gift exchange time came around, we all stood around in a circle and happily opened our gifts. LadyB had received a large, rather bulky package and she opened it with gusto in full view of the other participants......only to find a bag of charcoal briquettes from Lady A! What a slap in the face! We all felt terrible for LadyB and it created a dark mood over what had started out to be a happy occasion. This event has followed me over the years and I've thought of it often, especially at the holiday time. Folks, please never, ever purposely embarrass another person publicly, no matter what sentiments you have towards them. Holiday0312-03

Reading through your site has certainly given me a lot to think about prior to planning my wedding. (My wedding party thanks you, I think I was too uptight about some things and your site has shown me the light!) My story however is for the Holiday or Tacky section.

I worked in the Washington DC area in computer security. In DC there are a lot of technology firms and salaries for computer people are quite high. As such, most firms try to out do each other when it comes to The Holiday Party. To give you an idea of the extravagance of it all, I have been to several firm's parties held in lavish hotels where they have given away new cars as door prizes.

My firm at the time, however, was a start-up - barely 6 months old - and we didn't have the employees or revenue for that kind of party. The office had 6 workers: 2 Secretary's, 2 computer people, a President and a Vice President. So our holiday party was held at a nice enough chain restaurant nearby. I wish that had been the end of it.

The President and Vice President (who hadn't done any work the Christmas week) managed to arrive late with "presents" for all the employees. The presents were clearly just purchased minutes earlier and were "wrapped" in small brown paper bags like you would use for a child's lunch. While I tend towards the belief that any gift should be appreciated there does seem to be a time when perhaps it is better to give nothing. This was one of those times.

We played a typical holiday game for the area: Employee 1 picked & opened a gift. Employee 2 either stole 1's gift or picked a new one. Employee 3 stole from 1 or 2 or picked a new one. Until all employees were gifted. These gifts were all clearly from the dollar store - a small toy water gun, a plastic handheld pool table, child's hairclips, and a "cash prize" (one bag with money in it, but no one was allowed to tell how much).

It really was embarrassing for me as my computer programming boyfriend was there for this (his office had given away Weeks in the Caribbean). I know our office couldn't afford big gifts, but $3 in gifts for 4 employees was truly tacky - at that point just leave it at the dinner. Or even McDonalds gift certificates!

I selected the mystery cash since I was curious and had more use for a quarter then for child's hairclips. (There was 12 cents in the bag - dime, 2 pennies - enough to rattle around.) Even more embarrassing was when the game ended, my boss pulled out the grand prize - a $40 gift certificate to the restaurant we were in. It was awarded to the person who had the mystery cash bag - me! So I sat with my colleagues holding a $40 gift certificate (and 12 cents) while they had dollar store children's toys. Holiday0327-03

My mother has a cousin--I'll call her "Jane". No one in our family is particularly close to Jane, so you can imagine my parents' surprise when they received a Christmas card from her. However, their surprise turned to outrage when they discovered she had added a personal message to my father, "Dave", who is an exterminator-- "Dave, would you mind doing a termite inspection this spring?" Lord, how tacky! When the holiday season is referred to as the "season of giving", I doubt this is what is meant by the expression.

When I was in college, I lived in an off-campus apartment with 2 housemates. For Passover, I invited guests to a seder. Jews and non-Jews were invited, but I especially wanted Jews who didn't have a place to go for Passover to feel welcome. (For those not familiar with Passover or a seder, it is a holiday celebrated at home with a service and full meal with excellent cooking and wine. The themes of freedom and redemption are universal enough to be appreciated and enjoyed all round.) One roommate had a Jewish friend with nowhere to go for Passover. (Not having an invitation for Passover is a little like having nowhere to go for Thanksgiving. I suppose it isn't the end of the world, but most people prefer celebrating in a home with friends and a nice home cooked meal, especially if they've been living in a dorm all year as she had.) I'd met her, liked her, wouldn't have minded getting to know her better and invited her.

I wanted the meal and ceremony to be nice, but truly formal was out of the question. We were all still in college. This was a nice, relatively informal dinner. Guests arrived and either socialized or helped set up. No problem there. This one particular guest (I'll call her Rhonda) got me alone for a moment in the kitchen and asked how much her share of the groceries for dinner cost so she could pay. That was a very unusual offer. I'd never heard of collecting for dinner served in one's home, but I told myself that people come from all sorts of different backgrounds and perhaps this was normal where she came from. I had to accept it as a sincere offer meant in only the best way. I explained briefly that I was able to afford to entertain in this way. She seemed to accept that.

A few moments later my roommate counted up the number of guests and thought that we might not have enough wine. He said he'd go out for more. Rhonda went along. Remember this was informal; guests were socializing before dinner. There was nothing unusual about a last minute run out for supplies. (Wine is important to the service part of the ceremony. A seder is certainly no place to get drunk, but one doesn't wish to run out of wine either.) When the two of them got back, Rhonda said that she'd ended up buying the wine and asked to be reimbursed. I promptly paid, but again I thought it strange. Where I came from, if someone wanted to contribute to dinner, one didn't offer to pay cash for groceries, but one did bring a hostess gift. I couldn't understand why she didn't just say nothing about the cost of the wine. I shrugged it off. Remember, I liked this woman and wouldn't have minded becoming friends with her. The seder went off well. I believe everyone was well fed and enjoyed good friends and conversation. 

Fast forward to the following school year. Classes hadn't started. I ran into Rhonda on campus, asked how she was, started chatting. She told me she was on her way home to her new apartment. That was on my way home too so I offered to walk with her. I wanted to see her new place. We got there. I came in, looked around and continued chatting for a few minutes when she rather abruptly told me that I'd seen the place and made it obvious that it was time for me to go. For a moment I was miffed since I'd only meant to pay a friendly social call, but later I realized she was right. I had invited myself over without making sure it was convenient for her, and in the long run I was glad she'd told me after only 5 minutes instead of letting me impose longer.

For the months that followed, we were not social friends. We never called each other. Whenever we saw each other on campus, I'd greet her and hope for a chance to sit outside and chat, but she was always busy. One time she did seem glad to see me, but that was only to ask if I knew of any apartments to rent. Apparently the one I'd seen hadn't worked out. She didn't linger after asking. None of this was ever any big deal. I assume that people either hit it off together and become friends, or they don't. I couldn't think of any reason why she wouldn't want to be friends with me, but it isn't like we had any classes together or anything. She was more of my roommate's friend than mine. I am sure, however, that I was always friendly and always rebuffed.

Next spring, I planned another Passover seder, sent out invitations, didn't invite her. Some guests from the previous year were invited a second time but not Rhonda. I thought nothing of that. It wasn't like we were great friends anyway. About a week after the invitations went out, I ran into Rhonda on campus again. Again I was friendly. This time she did sit on a bench outside to chat. I was surprised when she asked if I was "giving the seder again." I said yes. Then she piped in with "need any help?" I said no.

Apparently she was unsure of the difference between an invitation to a nice dinner at someone's home and a co-op or restaurant. I believe to this day that she's still not sure why she wasn't invited back. She must have thought I was the den mother of some big organization. It has probably never occurred to her that being friends with the hostess has something to do with being invited over. Holiday0407-03

Basic background: Ever since my now-husband and I began dating, Christmas Holidays were complicated. We lived, with my son, in City A. His family lived in City B, an hour and a half away from our city in good weather. My family lived in City C, an hour and a half away from our town in the opposite direction. However, we scramble and try to make every festivity. This involves getting up super early on Christmas Eve and driving to my dad's house (1 1/2 hour away) to attend his dinner/opening gifts with my siblings, niece, grandmother, etc., then driving to my husband's family (3 hours away from my dad's town) to visit his father's family. We then spend the night with my FIL, then get up and go to my MIL's for Christmas dinner/opening presents with my BIL, his fiancé, and both my MIL, her husband and my FIL (my husband's parents are divorced, but get along great--my husband has no idea how lucky he is!). THEN we drive back to our city, to have Christmas with my mother, sister, brother, and niece. We've done this for two years, and my father is well aware that in order to make it to my in-laws, we always have to leave by at least 2 p.m. It has never been that much of a problem. When I had talked to my sister earlier that week, she had said she was going to go down that week and stay with them and help with dinner. I reminded we had to leave by two (and had told my dad the same thing that very day).

This is a lot of maneuvering, and last year was more difficult than most, because the day after Christmas, my husband, son, our two dogs, and I were moving across the country, and had been frantically finishing packing all that week. My FIL took my husband's dog with him for the week, and my dog stayed with us.

However, we gamely got up early on Christmas Eve to discover it was snowing. HARD. No matter, we gamely loaded up into the car my FIL had been so generous to loan us (we'd sold our cars as we were moving to a city where cars were optional) and began the drive. We made it on time. As we pulled into the driveway at around 10 a.m., my father was getting out of his car. He saw my dog on my lap, and immediately started yelling at me for bringing him (even though he KNEW I was bringing him, I can't leave him home alone for a whole weekend! We ALWAYS bring him with us!), with much swearing. (I am used to this, my father is very rude, has a violent temper, and has a reputation for just being a general b**tard, but my husband was NOT --even though I had warned him.) My dog is small and very well-behaved (blue ribbon in obedience class), and I was holding him the whole time (which I had to do, since my father's dog is pervy and likes to try to hump him constantly. My dog, not my father!)

We then go into the house where my father announces that dinner won't be ready until at least 3. I told him calmly that we needed to leave at 2 in order to make it to the in-laws, and that in fact, with the weather being what it was, we may need to leave even earlier. My step-grandmother jumps in, snorting that it doesn't take that long to drive to my in-laws' town (um, excuse me, we timed it, and she never drives anywhere!). It went downhill from there. My dad started shouting that no one had told him we were going to have to leave at two, and "!@$!@$@$ it, we've ruined this whole holiday." By then I told him that we could leave right then, whereupon he told me, "I don't care if your husband is here or not, I'll knock your teeth in!" My husband is a gentle person, and smaller than my father, but when he heard that, he looked plenty angry and took me out of the room. I was humiliated, crying hysterically telling him I never wanted to come back. He calmed me down and he went out to tell everyone we were leaving. My brother came in and told me to just "suck it up." My stepmother insisted we open our presents, even though no one was allowed to open anything we had bought them. We all had to sit there opening presents in our coats while everyone watched silently (no one ever crosses my father but me -- which is probably why I bear the brunt of his temper). On our way out the door, my brother asks my dad if he's going to come up with everyone the next day to see us off on our cross-country move. He said, "NO." When my brother asked why, he said, "Because I don't want to." He then told me it was a good thing I was attending law school in another state, that way when I flunked out, I wouldn't disgrace anyone in the family, because no one would have to know about it (he never even went to college). Later that day, my stepmother told my sister it was all her fault for not telling them we had to leave at two, even though I had told them myself earlier that week! MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

Luckily, we made it to my in-laws, where they welcomed us with open arms. Ahh, I LOVE my in-laws. The day after Christmas, as we were getting ready to leave, my brother asked me if we would be flying home next Christmas. I just burst out laughing! Spend a ton of money to come visit these nut jobs?? I don't think so! Luckily, my in-laws told us not to feel obligated to come home every Christmas, that they could come visit us sometimes. (Did I mention I love my in-laws?)

About a month ago, after talking to my father on the phone, my son made a comment that "Mom always starts fights with Papa." My husband set him straight REALLY quick!

Etiquette faux pas does not even begin to describe my father, whom I have not spoken to since Christmas Eve. Holiday0422-03

My holiday hell story is kind of a capper on a whole life of hell saga. My father has bipolar mood disorder (AKA manic-depressive mental illness). To say that this has made him very hard to live with would be like saying the arctic tundra in January is very cold. When he's depressed, he's mostly morose and angry, but at least rational; when he's manic, he's aggressive to the point of being dangerous, given to almost psychotic outbursts of rage, has delusions of grandiosity, and is completely irrational. Very rarely he's on an even keel and is a decent person to be around. I left home at 16 to get away from an environment that had become just plain intolerable. I put myself through college, worked for a year after I graduated, then went to grad school. While I was in grad school I got married to the most wonderful man on the planet, a sweetheart who was completely unfazed when I had to tell him that my father was mentally ill and unstable.

From the time we got married, we would have occasional get-togethers with my mother and father, mainly so I could stay in touch with my mom, who tried hard to get along with my father and to maintain some semblance of normalcy in the family. My father was usually cold, distant and borderline rude to me and my husband during these get-togethers, and they always filled me with anxiety.

In 1984 my husband and I finally bought our first house. As much as I wanted to show it to my family, I had misgivings. But my mom wanted to see it, and I wanted her to see it, so I invited my family over for dinner and an early Christmas gift-exchange (it was about two weeks to Christmas). I can't begin to describe how tense I felt as I prepared for the family visit. I cleaned and prepared the house, and the day of the visit spent the morning preparing for dinner and wrapping presents for the family. For my father, my husband and I had bought a silver Roman Republic denarius from the time of Julius Caesar, a coin that had the word "Caesar" spelled out on the obverse. My father was a little bit of a biblical history buff, and had once commented that he'd like a coin from the time of Julius Caesar. My father was always a difficult person to buy things for, and this time I felt sure that I'd found him a gift that would make his face light up. At least I hoped so-- I really wanted to make him happy. An additional anxiety about the visit had to do with my mother and father smoking. They were both heavy smokers, and I'm allergic to cigarette smoke. When they had visited us at the apartment we used to rent, I had requested that they not smoke inside. My mom had been compliant but my dad had raised hell about the request-- that it was rude for me to ask him, my own father, to do such a thing, I should be glad he'd even come to my place, and so on. So after that initial visit to the apartment, we'd always been to their condominium after that, so that he didn't have to refrain from smoking.

I had asked my mom, at the time I tendered my invitation, to tell me dad I would not allow him to smoke inside. We had a nice sheltered front porch where he could smoke if he wanted to; we live in Southern California, with very mild winter weather, so this was no hardship. I was absolutely determined that the inside of the house was going to be kept smoke-free so I could breath easier. My mom promised she would keep her smoking outside, and that she'd talk to my dad.

When their car drove up, I went out to greet them. In those first moments, my heart sank to the bottom of my shoes: it was apparent that my father was in a manic swing, and a real severe one at that. He was talking fourteen to the dozen and getting mad at my mom when she tried to speak up, and behaving with the kind of grandiosity that I knew from past experience could turn into a rage in the blink of an eye. For some reason, he was carrying a crumpled-up brown paper bag, which he handed to me and demanded that I take it into the kitchen "in case he needed it." Inside the bag was a jar of flavored cheese spread, a box of crackers, and a knife. My mom was giving me "the look" that practically begged me to not do anything to set my father off. For her sake I gritted my teeth and tried to bear up as we all went into the house. My father was launched off on a long monologue that was part story about the house he'd grown up in, part rant about living in a condo now. I tried to be polite to him while showing the house to the family. My husband managed to engage him in conversation long enough for my mom to apologize for his condition, and for me to tell her it was okay, we'd try to see things through.

After they'd seen the house, my mother, father and three younger brothers all settled down in the living room. My mom said she'd like to help me in the kitchen. My father demanded the bag with the cheese and crackers and I handed it to him. He then pulled out a pack of cigarettes and started to light up. As politely as I could, I asked him to please go outside to smoke.

Well, he went off like a bunker-buster bomb. Exploded into screaming about what an awful daughter I was, and how sharper than a serpent's tooth was the ingratitude of a rotten child, and so forth, and then turned and stomped out of the house, got into his car and drove away.

My mom was almost in tears at this, but at the same time it was a relief to her that he'd left. We went into the kitchen and spent some time getting dinner ready together, and just talking mother-daughter talk. My husband asked me what we should do about my father, and my mom and I told him there was nothing we could do. He might come back or he might not. Well, he came back about forty minutes before dinner. He'd bought some flowers from a street vendor and made a big deal about presenting them to me and to my mom, and went off on tangent about Christmas spirit and so forth. I suggested that he sit down in the living room and watch TV while my mom and I finished getting dinner ready, but he followed us into the kitchen. Trying to be polite, I asked him if he wanted to eat or drink anything. He stared at me for a moment, and then screamed out, "WHAT, ARE YOU TRYING TO POISON ME? DO YOU WANT TO KILL ME?" Even for my father in a mood swing, this was pretty extreme. I asked him what on earth he meant. He started screaming that he was hypoglycemic and that anything that wasn't a part of his "rations" (here he grabbed the bag with his crackers and cheese) could kill him, and I had to know that, and since I had to know that, I must be trying to kill him. "I didn't know you were hypoglycemic!" I protested, because that was news to me. "Well, your mother knows, and since you two have been here talking together since we came over, she must have told you!" he shouted. My mom was shaking her head and broke in, saying that we hadn't talked about it, I had no way of knowing. My father just glared at us, took his "rations" and stalked back into the living room. My mom, almost in tears now, told me that my father had been off-and-on delusional, and had been alternately convinced that he was hypoglycemic or had malaria from when he was stationed on Guam in the Navy, thirty years earlier.

Somehow my husband, bless him, got my father distracted. I suggested that my father and brothers open their presents while they waited for dinner. My father opened the little box with the Roman coin in it, stared blankly at it, and shoved the box in the pocket of his jacket without a word. My mom and I finished getting dinner ready and brought it out to the table. My father insisted on bringing his "rations" to the table with him. We passed the food around and for a few brief minutes things were quiet. Then my father started talking quite loudly about Thomas Jefferson keeping one of his slaves as a mistress, using very graphic racial and sexual epithets. Where that came from, who knows. He aggressively demanded to know what my husband thought of that. Mike just smiled blandly and said it wasn't really a subject that interested him at all. I tried to follow up by asking my mother a question about how her volunteer work at the hospital was doing. My father loudly began talking about Jefferson and his mistress again, and asked me what I'd learned in school about that. I tried taking my husband's tack and repeated that it wasn't something I really knew about or had any interest in. Well, that lit my father's fuse again. He stood up and started screaming at me, about how I'd been a rotten child and had only gotten worse, and he was glad I was gone from his household, it had been the best thing I'd ever done and more than he'd thought I'd ever do to find some fool to marry me-- if indeed we really were married, which was probably a lie since I was a horrible liar-- and he never wanted to see me again. With that, he shoved his chair back from the dinner table and strode out the door, slamming it so hard the house shook. Then he turned around, threw the door open, and without a word threw the box with his Christmas present in it back at me so hard it hit me on the chin. Then he thundered out again, went to his car and drove away, tires screaming on the pavement as he floored the accelerator.

My mom just sat there quivering as she dissolved into tears. She sobbed that she really had been afraid of something like this happening, but she so wanted to see the new house. My husband and I spent half an hour calming her down and we finally all settled down to eat. My father didn't return to our house, he went on a driving jag, which he sometimes did when he when he was manic. So my mother and brothers were stranded there. When he didn't return by the end of the evening, I drove them home, an hour away, myself.

My father refused to see me for the next six years, until my mother died suddenly and unexpectedly of heart disease. My mom and brothers and I would meet when he wasn't around, but it was an awful time. No one knows what hell on earth is like unless they've had a family member who is mentally ill.  holiday0409-03

This is one of those I can't believe she said that stories. We were on our way to my grandfather's and step-grandmother's house for Christmas. My dad's mother had passed away when he was 17, and my grandfather (my dad's father) had just passed away earlier that year and this was our first Christmas at my dad's stepmother's house without my grandpa. He had been sick for a long time and couldn't even get out of bed without help for months before he passed away. Even so, his death came all to suddenly and unexpectedly for my father and his four brothers. That day I saw four grown men, that never shed a tear in their lives, all break down. 

So with my grandfather heavy on everybody's minds I figured it would be an emotional Christmas for us all. And it turns out my mother, who is known for her tactlessness, was thinking about him too, only she was on a different page then the rest of us. On our way to the house my mother looks my father right in the face and says to him, "You know, we don't have to stay for very long this year, your father is not going to be here." It was the rudest thing I have ever heard someone say in my entire life, I mean my jaw literally hit the floor! She basically told my dad that his father was dead so there is no reason to go to his family Christmas anymore. Could anyone be more cold-hearted! Holiday0618-03

Hey, just been reading your site and I thought of a story for your 'Holiday Hell' section. Even though I'm grown, every year my mother gives me a stocking. I give her one, too, these days. Well, her financial situation has gotten more and more dire as the years go by, but instead of ending the stocking tradition (it would be okay, really, I'm 26 and I don't believe in Santa anymore) she started stuffing it with free drug rep promos from her work (doctor's office). Worse, now I have a stepdaughter and she sends HER a stocking like this too! I didn't even know what to say when my stepdaughter asked me why my mom gave her Band-Aids!

 This last Christmas my mom was living in Florida. She couldn't pull herself together in time to mail our Christmas gifts, and she was moving back to the area in the spring, so she figured she'd just bring them up then. She put all her stuff in a storage locker upon her arrival and a couple weeks later came over to watch the three of us open our presents. Turns out the presents weren't all in the box she brought - somewhere in her storage locker is another box with other gifts. My STEPDAUGHTER'S gifts. Yup, my stepdaughter got the supreme enjoyment of watching her father and myself opening Christmas presents and not receiving any. (Mom doled out gifts so we didn't know they weren't all there till we had already opened ours.) That was March; it's now June and still no presents for my stepdaughter. She still asks me about it every few weeks or so and I don't really know just what to tell her! Holiday0729-03

 This story is about my husband's adoptive family (at least, at this point, I'm pretty sure he was adopted or bought from gypsies). My husband's brother is almost a decade younger than he is, and he has never been expected to be accountable for his actions. Prodigal Son eloped a year or so ago. Mrs. Prodigal Son has never really warmed to my in-laws. This has caused a certain amount of tension within their house, which has spilled over into our relationship. My husband and I have been cautioned to turn a blind eye towards certain rudenesses so as not to alienate Mrs. Prodigal Son, which we have done (against our better judgment) for the sake of his parents. For instance, we ignored Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son when they spent an hour drive necking - loudly - in the backseat of our car, when we drove them - as a favor - to tea. When Mrs. Prodigal Son refused to come to Christmas Eve festivities which had been specifically arranged for her to allow her to spend Christmas Day with her family, we kept a stiff upper lip. We didn't comment when Prodigal Son cancelled their attendance at a birthday dinner in Mrs. Prodigal Son's honor one hour before the dinner -- he had a headache. But the events of last Christmas have us researching exactly what Christmas in Vegas or Jackson Hole or Detroit or anywhere else would be like.

For Christmas day, my husband and I have always opened our presents to each other at our own home, and joined the in-laws for breakfast so as to not hold up their gift exchange. Last year, Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son announced that they would be opening all their presents at our in-laws' house and would be there very early. Since my husband and I were hosting Christmas Eve's festivities and knew we'd be tired from a late night cleaning up and an early morning of present-opening, we compromised with them on a time of 8AM for Christmas morning. At 8AM, we were at my in-laws' house, presents in hand, ready for breakfast, with no sign of Mr. or Mrs. Prodigal Son. One hour turned very slowly to two, and no cinnamon roll, no matter how wonderful, can be stretched to two hours long between four people.

At 10 AM, Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son arrived, with no apologies for the wait. They also announced - as they had been announcing for weeks - that they had no money so everyone would be receiving homemade gifts, and made a big show of passing out Popsicle stick picture frames to everyone. I had been taught by my proper mother that even if you receive the most hideous gift, the only proper response is some variant, "Oh, wow, just what I needed, thank you ever so much." So I was attempting to come up with a not-too-smarmy expression of gratitude when Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son broke into laughter at their great joke. Ah yes, they're clever.

On to present-opening proper, where I discovered other differences between my mother and my husband's theories of present-opening. I was taught to make sure the person who gave me a gift got to see me either open the gift or admire the just-opened gift, as most of the pleasure in gift-giving ties into seeing the receiver's happiness. Apparently, this is a concept my mother-in-law taught her older son and not the younger one. Before I knew it, Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son had blown through their piles of presents and I was looking under discarded wrapping paper, thinking that some presents had gotten lost because we hadn't been thanked for them. I would later get a thank you card from Mrs. Prodigal Son thanking us for about half the presents they received from us. I guess the other presents were just not good.

Last year, Christmas happened to fall on my regular Meals-on-Wheels delivery day, so after presents, my husband and I went out for an hour to deliver meals to the elderly and infirm. (Shameless plug: Support your local Meals-on-Wheels!) When I got back, I was surprised to find Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son and my father-in-law playing a game I had just received that morning - indeed, I hadn't even taken it out of its protective shrink wrap yet. While I would have happily shared it had I been asked, I would have liked to put together the pieces and enjoy its newness myself. Plus, I just couldn't believe that they couldn't have waited until we got back from doing MOW. Due to the lateness, the presents, the game, and just sleep deprivation, I went to the bathroom to get a grip. My husband asked his mother about the situation. "Oh, we thought it would bring Mrs. Prodigal Son out of her shell," she told him. They will have ample opportunities to bring Mrs. Prodigal Son out of her shell, since we're going to go elsewhere this year for the holidays. Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son just announced that they'll be having a child, so we're probably going to move since we don't want to have to turn a blind eye to the rudenesses of an entire Mr. and Mrs. Prodigal Son clan on a weekly basis. holiday0728-03

Page Last Updated May 18, 2007