DEAR MISS MANNERS: We hold open house every Christmas, inviting some people in advance and bringing others back from church with us -- just people we happen to see but hadn't thought of beforehand.
My question is about those who bring presents. They're not really supposed to, but a few people do. I'm always afraid of this embarrassing other guests, who might then think they were supposed to, and I also feel funny about accepting these presents because I'm not giving them anything (or I'd have to have something for everyone and the whole open house idea would be impossible).
Should I open the presents when they are given to me? Should I send those people presents afterwards? One other question: I invited some Jewish friends, and they said they couldn't come. Was it wrong to invite them -- were they offended because they don't celebrate Christmas?
GENTLE READER: Unless you can open the presents inconspicuously -- and how can you, with other guests to greet? -- it is better to put them aside and thank the people the next day, by note. You don't owe them presents; you gave them a lovely day. There is a whole range of reasons that your Jewish friends might have had for refusing your invitation -- from not wanting to participate in a Christmas celebration to having another Christmas celebration to attend. But however differently Jews, Muslims or others may regard Christmas -- from a religious holiday that they do not celebrate to a winter festival that they might -- they are all aware that it exists, and it cannot be considered offensive to mention it.