Dealing with the Unexpected this Holiday Season

Amber Randhawa Homeowner and Homebuyer Tips

Photo Credit: Anastasiia Chepinska @anastasiiachepinska

You’ve made your grocery and gift shopping lists, planned the timing of your guests’ incoming drives and/or flights, and checked the seating arrangements for dinner and downtime meticulously, in expectation of a smooth and enjoyable holiday gathering. However, no matter how much thought you put into your holiday hosting duties, it seems that there are always one or two things that don’t go quite as planned. This is even more so the case lately, with rises in Covid cases, supply chain and labor issues, and just the general unpredictable nature of things in a pandemic world. The holiday season can already be a stressful time, especially if you are playing the part of host. Here are a few tips for dealing with the unexpected this holiday season.

You or Family Members are Quarantining

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This is a big one this year. As we began to head into the second holiday season of Covid, many of us believed 2021 would be markedly different from 2020 in terms of family gatherings and festivities. However, the Omicron variant seems determined to thwart many of our carefully laid travel and party plans. Even fully vaccinated friends and family are falling prey to this new variant in unexpected numbers, and while for many the symptoms are manageable, the disappointment over quarantines and changes of plans is not. Qurantines and Covid infections may mean that you are unexpectedly not hosting at all anymore.

If you are quarantining alone, try to pass the time doing things you enjoy and can focus on, rather than allowing thoughts of disappointment and what you are missing out on occupy your mind. Watch favorite moves, catch up on your reading, and stay connected with friends and family via frequent texts, phone calls and video chats. You can even “attend” your other gatherings in a remote format so that you don’t miss out. If you’ve purchased a lot of food in expectation of guests, go ahead and enjoy the process of cooking, perhaps even experimenting with new versions of your recipes.

If you are sequestered as a family unit with just your kids, you might find it even more challenging to keep them content and comfortable while their usual holiday excitement is missing. Now is a time to create new rituals, such as pajama day, karaoke holiday carols, or a family game night. Take the quarantine on the road and drive through your neighborhood and others close by to see how each house has decorated for the holidays, especially their light shows at night.

The more you can act as if the quarantine time is an opportunity for things you might not always get to do, the better. You might even find that in years to come, your kids request certain aspects of this year’s holiday season be repeated as a new family tradition. So pour some hot chocolate into travel mugs or pop some popcorn and grab blankets for your trip to look at lights – your kids may even ask for this to continue during Decembers to come.

Accommodating Extra Guests

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Of course we all want to embrace the generosity and “more the merrier” sentiment this holiday season, but that isn’t always practical, especially if more than one of your invited guests has decided to extend your invitation to an additional friend or two. As a rule of thumb, when planning food and space for a holiday gathering, as the host you should always add a few to the headcount and overestimate your needs when it comes to food, drink and sitting areas. Most of the time a guest who is looking to spread the holiday cheer to others will call first and ask if it is OK to bring company. If this happens, you are well within your rights to explain that you have planned only for the number of guests invited, and that you will have to leave additional party-goers out at this time.

Turning someone down may not feel comfortable to you though, and in some cases you are not given any sort of advance warning. This is why we suggest planning for a few unexpected mouths to feed. If the party you are hosting will also include the opportunity for gift-giving, you shouldn’t need to worry about your unexpected guests feeling as though they should be participating in a gift exchange. However, if you want to go above and beyond as a host, keeping a few “spare” gifts on hand is never a bad idea, especially if you want to leave everyone feeling welcome. Good options for such “emergency gifts” include a bottle of wine, planner or scented candle.

Accommodating Diet Restrictions

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In a perfect world, anyone with food allergies and sensitivities would let you know ahead of time, and even offer to bring their own versions of common foods to the party. Luckily many people do handle their special diet needs themselves, while others may have become so accustomed to always having what they need on hand, that they may simply forget to mention to you until it’s too late that they need to avoid things like dairy, gluten or shellfish. For this reason, we suggest including this question with any invitations you send out, whether written or verbal. Simply ask each guest if there are any dietary restrictions you need to be aware of prior to the festivities.

What happens if you were not given advance warning? Don’t take it personally if a guest declares mid-meal that there is something they are unable to eat. They will likely still be able to piece together a meal from the menu items that are on their safe list. To assist with this issue, when you are still in the planning stages of a holiday gathering, go ahead and plan to include at least one vegetarian and one gluten free food option, even if it is a side dish or appetizer.

Steering Away From Political Discussions

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It used to be common knowledge that you should never bring up politics at a party, but lately many people seem to have a harder time resisting the urge. No one wants a heated political argument ruining their holiday gathering though, and no host wants to see any of his or her guests made to feel uncomfortable, no matter their political persuasion. This is such a hot button issue lately that you, as the host, can feel free to make an announcement up front that your gathering has been officially declared a “politics free zone.” This quick reminder should be all that is needed to keep most of your guests in check when it comes to political matters.

If this reminder is forgotten, or you have a guest who simply doesn’t seem to care or notice that others are uncomfortable by their chosen topics of discussion, do what you can to politely redirect any conversations that arise. If you feel like the matter must be addressed, try to wait until after the holidays or at least your gathering have passed. In the moment you should be able to make the point by continuing to change the subject anytime political divides start to arise.

You Forgot a Planned or Expected Gift

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We don’t mean to insinuate that anyone in your family or friend circle is necessarily expecting a gift from you, but if you have certain people you exchange with every year, it’s fair for them to expect the tradition to continue. So what happens if you forgot an important person who is normally on your list? It’s certainly no fun to realize your omission just as that certain someone is handing you a beautifully wrapped box. This is another situation where keeping a few spare gifts on hand can really help you out of an otherwise awkward situation. Simply say “oh let me run upstairs/downstairs/to my office, I must have forgotten to bring all of the gifts out,” then retrieve one of the gifts you have on hand for just such an occasion.

If you don’t have something suitable wrapped and ready, you have two ways you can handle such a faux pas. It’s definitely a believable excuse this year more than any other to say that you have several packages that missed their delivery window and the missing gift is still in transit. Then offer to meet for lunch in the following week or two for a make-up gift exchange. Or you can go the route of direct honesty and admit to your mistake. While we certainly don’t want to condone or encourage lying, during this stressful time, we must suggest you choose the option that will cause you the least additional anxiety.

Receiving Unwanted Gifts

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We’re sure you were raised to graciously accept any gift you are given, and to offer a genuine thank you, no matter how garish the sweater or useless the gadget. What complicates matters is when a gift breaks a rule in your home, especially if it is given to one of your children. Aunt Louise may not know that your 10 year old daughter isn’t allowed to wear makeup. Uncle Pete may mean well, but not realize that you’ve decided not to let your young son have a pocket knife.

The easiest solution might be to tell friends and family prior to the holiday season that you are limiting gifts to the kids this year, in favor of experiences and quality time, rather than an accumulation of stuff. Many people will take the hint from this alone and give gift cards or cash if they still would like to be generous toward your kids. Other people may not, so the best solution is to have a conversation with your kids prior to any gift exchanges. Remind them that manners are the most important part of the equation, and that they should offer a hearty thank you to anyone who gives them a gift. There should be no outbursts along the lines of “oh thats not allowed here.” Then later simply remind them privately of the house rules and offer them assistance with returning or exchanging the gift for something more appropriate.