I’ve been planning on writing about the importance of civility through the holidays since Thanksgiving. It’s the main reason I do not participate in the Friday sales events that have gradually crept into Thursday and now compete with the turkey for center stage during the day when we are supposed to be counting our blessings and reconnecting with family. The savage attacks on stores offering a small number of huge bargains include pepper-spraying shoppers who intend to make certain no one makes off with the bargains, reckless driving, arguments over parking spaces, stampedes, and stalking lucky deal snatchers in order to remove the items from their shopping carts before they make it to check out. The one time I participated in this shopping mania, I actually reached for an item on the shelf of a chain home improvement store when a clerk grabbed them all off and into a basket. When I asked why, I was told it was to fulfill online orders. My argument that I was standing there in person mid-reach for the product, fell on deaf ears. Many of my friends and family said I should have complained, thrown a fit, demanded satisfaction. I just took my business elsewhere – not that they cared.

Many of us are faced with relatives who know how to push each other’s buttons and seem to wait for the opportunity – perhaps even plan for it – to stick it to someone they disagree with among the family. It doesn’t seem to take much to get a full fledged battle going. Perhaps it isn’t even overtly obvious, just the way grandma treats one of the grandchildren slightly more lovingly. Or dad slips a little cash to the ne’er-do-well brother while refusing a loan to his responsible daughter. These arguments are never about the surface situation, but spring from a deep well of resentments from all the holidays passed. It is often difficult to be gracious when it involves such close personal connections.

Then there are the holiday parties and the inevitable witty comment someone receives as sarcasm. One too many and we’re off to the races. There’s always someone who rakes on your nerves like screeching brakes on hot pavement. Perhaps knowing you are allergic to smoke, someone sidles up next to you puffing nearly in your face and follows you as you try to escape with your breath intact. They may even think it’s funny to listen to you cough and choke. I can’t explain it.

There is one area that is garnering some incivility that surprises me. I was reading a favorite blog – Miss Demure Restraint – and she noted that once she had the issue of two readers who commented on her posts get into an argument through her blog. She had her settings for moderation open, and although she removed the comments, it was disturbing.

I was shocked by this. Cyber altercations? Really? Have we run out of people to insult face-to-face and now troll for them online? Geez, perhaps it is just too easy to start an argument at Grandma’s and we’re looking for a challenge.

When I chose to allow comments, I expected to receive some that may not always be pleasant. But I never thought they would be directed at anybody except me. And I have read many blogs where ugly comments got posted. Again, the target was either the author or the subject matter of the blog post, never toward another commenter.

I have to say, it is appalling. No wonder many bloggers are now moderating comments.

So here we all are again, thrown into the soup of relationships and holiday gatherings and finding ourselves half-anticipating, half-dreading them. I have a few suggestions.

On Shopping:

– Never shop super sales if you enjoy civility, unless your town is very small and you know all the shoppers by name or you have an unlimited supply of nerve medication.

– Try to hit major malls and stores during non-peak hours. Some large box chains are open 24 hours. A friend decided to do all of her shopping in the wee hours before dawn – her own private 4 am bargain blast. Though the prices were the same, it saved her sanity and parking was a breeze! You can’t put a price on that. And while the rest of us were hitting the stores after work, she just went home and unloaded the trunk!

– Use the internet.

– Have a good idea and buy it in multiples. If you enjoy the ‘magic chopper’ why wouldn’t you give everybody on your list one?

– Give kids money. This is controversial in some families but I have to say most love it, and they want things you’ll never guess at – like crash test dummies.

On Holiday Parties:

– Remove yourself from the fray. If there is a person who always pushes your buttons, analyze when they are most likely to be there and go earlier or later.

– Don’t bring the past along – tuck it in for a long winter’s nap at home. Think of it as a gift.

– Change your response to them. Other people can only make us feel what we allow. Cousin Fred will be counting on the response he normally gets from you so surprise him with something altogether different.

– Don’t engage. If the above suggestion doesn’t work – remember this one.

– Bring along a buffer guest. This is my favorite solution. Bring someone whose presence will cause Nana to keep her teeth and her claws in – someone that the guests wouldn’t want to know about their bad behavior. This could be another relative, an elderly person, preacher, friend of theirs, exchange student – you get the idea. It works beautifully most of the time.

In General:

– Smile.

– Drink less, not more.

– Try to remember why you celebrate Christmas.

– Take a surprise gift to someone you don’t exchange gifts with – maybe an elderly person in your community. We spent Christmas Eve cutting wood for an elderly pair one year – didn’t even know them that well until we heard they were out of wood which they still used for heat. It turns out to be a favorite memory to this day. We thought we were giving to them, they gave us a blessing I’ll never forget.

– Don’t pull a cyber punch. I can get myself into trouble enough leaving what I think are humorous comments but that don’t translate well in print. If I ever slip up and leave one on your blog that seems odd, read it with laughter in your voice and it will probably make more sense. I never mean to leave a bad comment. If I disagree that strongly, I’ll leave none at all.

– Tell the people who aren’t a pain how much you love them.

– And last but most importantly – remember to take some time for yourself. A long walk, a good book, time with the furry friends, a holiday concert or play, a drive through a spectacularly lit neighborhood, etc. It will be over soon and you won’t want to miss the joy by focusing too much on the negativity.

Merry Christmas!

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