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7 Ways to Squelch Holiday Squabbles

Etiquette expert Peggy Post shares tips for a harmonious holiday season.

4. Define 'On Time'

"Being on time is really respecting other people's time," Post says. "Communicate about what 'on time' means to you. It means different things to different people."

Post also advises to call if you're running late and check with the host first if you plan to arrive early. If you are the host, let family members know what time you would like them to arrive, rather than what time you plan to start the meal. Don't assume people will come early to help unless you ask them directly.

5. Avoid Re-Gifting

"You don't have to break the bank for a really nice gift," Post says. "The key is to find something the person will really like. Stay away from re-gifting, because people's feelings will be hurt" if the gift seems too generic (or if they recognize it from last year).

Post says some families have reined in holiday spending while improving the quality of gifts by drawing names. "You focus on one family member each year and really get something special for that person."

When receiving gifts, Post says to apply the principle of "benevolent honesty." If you don't like a present, find something nice to say about it without lying. "Always be appreciative and thank the person up front."

6. Avoid Awkward Surprises

It's a familiar dilemma for many families: What do you do if your parents (or in-laws or close friends) are divorced and don't get along, but you want to invite them both?

"Sometimes you have to have separate celebrations for the sake of family harmony," Post says. But if you're set on having everyone together, run it by the ex-spouses first. "Take your cue from the one you're closest to," Post advises. "Say, 'I'd love to invite John, too. Is that OK with you?'" Whatever you decide, inform both parties ahead of time so they don't show up and feel surprised.

A similar strategy can help in other awkward scenarios. For example, if your brother wants to bring his partner home for Christmas, and you're worried your grandparents will disapprove, give them advance notice. "Tell them to be on their best behavior and put aside their differences at holiday time," Wish says. "If they start to act up, pull them aside and tell them it's unacceptable."

7. Be Inclusive

If your family includes people of different religions or ethnicities, Post suggests including traditions that will make everyone feel welcome. "Some families have made it work out beautifully to celebrate all religions," she tells WebMD. This doesn't mean you must join in any rituals that make you uncomfortable. "If there is a prayer going on, you don't have to participate," she says. "You can just quietly sit there."

Wish agrees that honoring your relatives' traditions can promote harmony at holiday gatherings. "Don't let people feel left out," he says. "Have something there that celebrates for everyone."

Reviewed on November 30, 2007

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