Holiday Fallout, Vol. 12, Issue 1

Dear Etiquetteer:

An ex of mine and I tried unsuccessfully to be friends. Historically his efforts at outreach during "friendship" mode were on the manipulative side and our mutual friends advised we leave each other alone. We are not a part of each other's lives, nor do we correspond; he lives with his current BF.

He just sent me an Xmas gift. One friend suggested I throw the gift out. I am inclined to keep it and ignore it as any further action is an over-reaction. Ignoring it (and, specifically, not sending a thank you note) horrified my mother. While propriety generally would suggest I thank him, is it acceptable in this case to ignore?

Dear Gifted:

Oh my goodness.

Action on your part is required. Keeping this unwelcome gift from your ex without acknowledging its receipt may prompt him to contact you to ask if you received it, and it doesn't sound as if you want your ex calling, texting, or knocking on your door. This leaves two options: a) keeping the gift and sending a Civil Note of Thanks, or b) returning the gift with a Civil Note of Thanks.

Since you have no interest in resuming any sort of contact at all with your ex, Etiquetteer recommends the latter. Keeping the gift - or even donating it to a Charity of Your Choice - implies a resumption of social intercourse, even at the most superficial level. And actually, there's a history of recipients returning gifts because they didn't think they could accept the terms. Anna Leonowens, real life heroine of "The King and I," wrote in her memoir "An English Governess at the Siamese Court" about receiving a beautiful diamond ring from her employer, King Mongkut, along with a Meaningful Look. Knowing that a search for a comely European lady or two for the king's harem was in progress, Mrs. Leonowens shortly returned the ring after some deliberation, feeling that she could not receive it in the spirit in which it was intended. [NOTE: A hasty search of this engaging but sometimes ponderous memoir does not actually yield the necessary passage to verify this story; Etiquetteer fears it must be read in its entirety to find it.]

Your Civil Note of Thanks may be quite brief, along the lines of

Dear Ex,

Thank you for the gift of _________, but I regret that I am unable to accept it. I am enclosing it herewith so that someone else can enjoy it.

Yours truly, (Yours sincerely is more intimate, so stick with truly)


This should be chilly enough to prevent future Unwelcome Outbursts of Rapprochement.

Dear Etiquetteer:

I have a holiday party question. What do you do about former spouses and family members who are otherwise estranged, when you are still friendly to all of the people involved? Do you choose? Invite and warn them? Invite and let them sort it out?

Dear Partying:

Etiquetteer always makes it a practice to remain friendly with both sides of a separated couple, and therefore invites both to large gatherings. Family gatherings can be tricky; by its being a family event, anyone in the family should be able to attend. Etiquetteer's mother's explanation of the Daughters of the American Revolution pretty much settles it: "If you can prove you belong, they have to let you in." Often a divorced parent will join a holiday meal with ex-inlaws because his or her children will be there.

Admission, however, does not mean submission to Bad Behavior. Unsurprisingly, it's extremely rude to start a fight at a party, whether one is throwing words, dishes, or fists. Most people will accept the presence of a blood enemy at a Family Holiday Function without Making a Scene. Those who don't feel they can control themselves have a duty to decline the invitations, so that they can spare others embarrassment. Hosts help by providing information, along the lines of "We're inviting everyone in the family, and of course [Insert Name of Blood Enemy Here] will be here, too."