Hello, Faithful Readers, and welcome to the holiday edition of Gothic Charm School. The tell-tale signs of the holiday season are upon us: fake snow in window displays, every storefront covered in twinkly lights, and glazed expressions on the on the faces of salesclerks from non-stop exposure to piped-in holiday music.
Now, last year, the Lady of the Manners explained to you how to keep family harmony during the holidays by being polite, friendly, courteous, and practicing at keeping a somewhat cheerful, but neutral facial expression when asked, “so, aren’t you done with this weird phase yet?” by well-intentioned but clueless relatives. This year, the Lady of the Manners is going to cover some other points of surviving the holidays: shopping, and holiday parties ”” both the attending and throwing thereof.
First off, shopping. Shopping during the holiday season is one of the most annoying things about the holidays. (Not THE most annoying thing ”” that would be those hideous singing, talking artificial Christmas trees. The Lady of the Manners is quite certain about that, so don’t try to talk her out of it.) Besides the mounting confused sense of “What am I going to get for ______?”, there is dealing with the crowds at the local malls and shopping centers. The Lady of the Manners in NOT going to give you advice on selecting presents for people. Sorry, she has her hands full dealing with her family and friends. However, she can pass on some hard-learned tips about going shopping to you.
1. Shop on-line. If you feel comfortable with internet-based commerce, then by all means, log on, surf the web, and send your credit card into those secure servers. The up side is that there aren’t any long lines or piped-in Christmas carols to turn your brain to mush; the down side is that you’ll have to pay shipping charges, you’ll most likely have to still wrap everything yourself, and if something is wrong or defective with the gift, returning it will be somewhat of a pain.
2. DON’T go to the malls during the weekend. The Lady of the Manners is well aware that the weekends are almost the only time everyone has to get anything done, but no one should willingly enter a shopping mall on the weekend during the holiday season. If you MUST enter one of the temples of retail despair and frenzy, keep some things in mind. Things including, if you walk through the mall with a steady stride, and a focused determined expression on your face, by and large the crowds of mall-lemmings will scurry out of your path. Be willing to accept the fact that the droves of holiday shopping families will glance at you in a nervous manner out of the corners of their eyes, and exploit that. (Usually, the Lady of the Manners would NOT recommend making people nervous just to achieve your goals, but everyone is on edge during the holidays, so there isn’t much you can do to avoid it.) Another vital component to successful holiday gift-buying is to have a list of what you need to get, and don’t deviate from it. Even if you’ve found a store with lots of neat things marked down by 50%. Are they things on your shopping list? Do YOU need them? If not, then put the shiny things down and leave the store.
Of course, you don’t have to buy people gifts. Homemade presents are wonderful, inexpensive, and a way to showcase one of your talents or skills. At a loss for what to make? Do a web search for ”˜crafts’, and learn how to make bath salts, candles, cookies, and throw-pillows. Go to the library and flip through back issues of Martha Stewart Living; yes, yes, the woman is only able to present such a flawless image by having a dedicated staff of helpers, but the magazine does have a lot of interesting ideas for craft projects and do-it-yourself gifts.
Another solution to gift-giving is to donate money to charities that your loved ones support. Don’t raise your eyebrow at the Lady of the Manners for that suggestion ”” it’s a perfectly good one, and you all need to stop being so cynical. Besides, it’s time to move on to discussing holiday parties . . . .
What is a goth to do during the holiday party season? Well, first off, any self-respecting goth with some spare cash to spend on themselves should hunt through local clothing stores; winter equals jewel-tones and black velvet galore, so stock up while you have the chance. (Or, take the budget-conscious view and go shopping after the holidays, when the winter formalwear will be languishing on the clearance racks to make room for the spring pastels.)
But as to the holiday parties themselves? Well, there are several different types. There’s the workplace holiday party”¦don’t expect to hear music you would necessarily choose yourself, wear slightly more formal clothes than you go to work in, and for heaven’s sake, don’t drink enough that you’re tempted to get into a deep and meaningful discussion of Where the Company Is Headed with your supervisor. Work parties are where you (yet again) get to practice a pleasant neutral facial expression. Your best hope is to find the other (if any) goths and weirdoes that you work with and form a tight little conversational group. Be polite, friendly, and try not to get trapped in any “what is the TRUE meaning of Christmas” conversations, because they tend to become . . . heated, and with no graceful way out of them.
Another type of holiday gathering is, of course, the family social event. The same rules pretty much apply to those as to the workplace festivities, except one would hope that people could be a touch more open with relatives. If you are very lucky (as the Lady of the Manners is) your family is accepting and . . . dare she say it? . . . cool enough to not bat an eye at your behavior or lifestyle, then it’s plain sailing for you. If not, that means you have to watch what you say and how you behave. This includes not starting family discussions or arguments by announcing (to those that would disapprove) your sexual orientation, your choice of religion, or what part of your body you’re intending to get pierced next. Don’t dress to shock or annoy various relatives, even if they deserve it. It just makes you look juvenile (which, even if you are a juvenile, is something to be avoided).
Now, as to parties and events you want to put on yourself? Well, other than keeping in mind the personalities and tastes of the potential guests, you have complete freedom as to the type of event you put together. Potluck meals are fun during the holidays, as are cookie-decorating parties, video-watching gatherings, and cocktail parties. Don’t feel you have to follow a traditional theme just because it’s the holiday season: if you want to host a “Holiday Horrors” party and show splatter movies, go right ahead. But, there are some basic niceties to keep in mind.
* If someone is standing, unbeknownst to them, underneath the mistletoe, make sure they want to be kissed before planting one on them.
* No going out and telling neighbor children there is no Santa Claus. (Or even that there is no Sanity Clause.) Let them keep their illusions.
* Offer food and beverages to your guests. If you can’t manage that, plan a potluck.
* Make sure everyone likes Christmas carols (or other holiday music) before filling the CD player with it. People who are working in retail will most likely have an aversion to most of the standard, “traditional” holiday music.
* If, during a gift exchange, a friend presents you with something you don’t like, you still have to smile gracefully, say “thank you,” and act like you’re happy. You don’t get to sulk, inquire to the state of their mental health, or make any other disparaging comments.
So with those few details in mind, go forth and have as happy a holiday season as you can manage. But be sure to come back next month, when the Lady of the Manners answers various questions from Faithful Readers that she has received lately. And as always, if you (yes, you, the one slouching in front of the computer there) have a delicate question of etiquette, then please do send mail off to email@example.com.