Holidays and Birthdays: Conflicting Plans

Hello, Faithful Readers, and welcome to yet another round of advice from your devoted the Lady of the Manners.

While September seems a bit early for people to be worrying about the holiday season, one reader sent this touching plea for advice on what to do about a potential conflict in her holiday plans:

Dear Gothic Charm School,

At a recent Fourth of July party, my new fiance’s mother, who was visiting from out of town, invited me to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s with their family. (My fiance joked with her about beating him to it.) His family is a closeknit and party- hearty group who just love me–I got a million compliments on the vintage fifties dress I wore to the Fourth party (his mother and aunt both said that years ago, they had dresses just like it) and when I said I liked swing dancing, his mother, uncle, and aunt got out a bunch of old records and gave my fiance and me lessons.

So my beloved told me his Mom is planning Thanksgiving at a hotel in New Orleans, and Christmas is always a big bash at their family home in Colorado, which I hear my future mother-in-law decorates like something out of a Victorian novel. My fiance says at Christmas they always go skiing and make spiced wine and build gigantic snowmen, and at New Year’s they go to the local annual black tie ball. I’ve never seen or touched snow on the ground OR my fiance in a tux — both are awfully attractive.

My problem is — I don’t know what to do about my own family, with whom I’m not getting along. My dad bickers constantly with everyone about anything. My mother has, in the past, disinvited me from Thanksgiving because she was mad at me for something or another. And my brother has let me know quite plainly that goths are all lower than shit.

I’ve never spent a Thanksgiving or Christmas away from my parents’ house (barring the times my Mom excluded me from Thanksgiving.) So I told my Mom that I’d like to spend the holidays with my fiance’s family this year. She got upset, and said that she would be lonely without me. But the thought of asking my fiance to give up his traditional round of making merry to spend the holidays with my family, or telling him to go on alone and spending January 1, 2000 at home without him is too grim to bear.

What to do?

“Millennium Blues” Maddie

What to do? Well, the quick answer is: go to your fiance’s family for the holidays! For goodness’ sake, you’re being offered the chance to go to fancy parties where you’ll be encouraged to dress up, partake in charming traditional holiday merrymakin g such as spiced wine and snowmen, AND see your fiance in a tux; you would be very, very silly to pass on this opportunity.

Now, for the difficult part. You said your mother complained that she would be lonely without you there for the family holidays? Not to be impertinent, but what is she going to do when you’ve gotten married and have to perform the traditional married-person holiday chore of deciding whose family you visit for which event? She doesn’t expect you to neglect your husband-to-be’s family, does she?

Sit down with your mother and tell her that you are going to accept your future in-laws’ kind invitations to their family holidays. (Make sure you decide to have this talk with her at a time that you are completely in control of your emotions, and can be sure of not losing your temper, if possible.) When (not IF, mind you, but WHEN) your mother complains that she will be lonely, that is the time to remind her of her past habit of disinviting you for Thanksgiving. Don’t do it in a strident man ner, just point out that there have been past holidays where you have not taken part in the family festivities by her request. Firmly state (again) that you ARE going to go visit your fiance’s family for the holidays, and then don’t mention the sub ject again.

At various other times, your mother (or other family members whom she will most likely drag into the situation) will try and talk and/or deliver a guilt-trip to you about your plans for “neglecting” your family over the holidays. What you need to do t hen is say something along the lines of, “I’ve made my mind up, and I’m going to _____’s family for the holidays,” in a polite yet determined tone of voice, and then CHANGE THE SUBJECT.

DO NOT allow yourself to be drawn into an argument–you don’t need to defend your decision, you just need to avoid any extra stress that can be added to this situation. Do whatever you need to privately–scream, cry, flail about like a mad thing on th e dance floor–but try not to let your family drag you into a confrontation. Divert yourself by planning on what you’re going to pack for your various trips–the Lady of the Manners finds planning for a trip to be a marvelous distraction from unpleasa ntness.

Hopefully, by the time you are leaving for Thanksgiving, your family will have calmed down and realized that adult holiday traditions include gracefully accepting the fact that all the immediate family might not be present.


Now, another reader had an etiquette question about that important milestone in a person’s life, the twenty-first birthday party:

Dear Gothic Charm School,

I have that monument of birthdays, the 21st, coming up in a few months. The typical approach is to rent a local scout hall or boat club, fill the place with all available family and friends, and garnish with tacky decorations, a mobile DJ (read: BAD MUSIC) and _copius_ amounts of cheap alcohol. Now, while the alcohol is part of the plan (although not so much that mass stupidity will be induced) the rest of the above scene is just totally unacceptable.

Now, I’ve been able to arrange an alternative venue for the family to get misty eyed without having to see me and friends in various states of intoxication, but I am truly stumped as to how to create a good, memorable party which is also relatively inexpensive and goth-friendly. I also have the added problem of my birthday falling right in the middle of summertime. I am looking at inviting around 30-50 people, so any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

Also, another quick question which has been buggin me of late: what is an acceptable ‘goth’ alternative to red wine/spirits to take to a dinner occasion when you cannot drink any alcohol (ie: driving, medical reasons)?

Any reply/advice would be greatly appreciated..


Well, you’ll be 21, which means you will be of legal age to go nightclubbing, right? There is always the option of taking over a corner of the local goth club and having your birthday festivities there. Or, depending on how accepting and goth-friendly your parents are, you could ask them very nicely if you could have a “friends-only” gathering at your house. Parents might be even more receptive to that idea if you solemnly promise to clean up the house the day after the party. Ask your friends and see if one of them could lend their domicile for an evening of birthday madness.

However, the scout-hall or boat approach doesn’t have to be the horror you described it to be. For decor, you can always go to the local fabric store and buy yards and yards of black tulle netting, which you can then drape all over the place. The DJ problem could be solved by handing them a stack of cds and pre-arranged set list. (If you are hiring them, you can ask them to play the music you provide.) Perhaps you even have a friend who is a DJ who would be willing to play for your birthday party — explore what options are available to you before you write off the scout-hall location.

As to the “family to get misty eyed without having to see me and friends in various states of intoxication” bit, well…that’s one of the time-honored traditions of your 21st birthday, unfortunately. If you’re completely against the idea of you r family witnessing you and your friends getting staggeringly drunk, you need to look into some of the alternative birthday venues I suggested above.

Now, for your question about an alternative to wine or spirits to bring to a dinner occasion? Exotic fruit juices, sparkling grape or apple juice, some sort of interesting dessert item; all of those are perfectly acceptable substitutions. You could even make some sort of non-alcoholic punch to bring, if you felt ambitious and were momentarily possessed by the spirit of Martha Stewart. Don’t feel constrained by the idea that it has to be goth — many people will forego their gothness when presen ted with freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.

Well, that wraps up two readers’ difficulties! Come on back next month, when the Lady of the Manners tackles a subject near and dear to the hearts of everyone in Gothyland: Halloween, and its Dos and Don’ts.

As always, send me your burning etiquette questions at

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