DEAR MISS MANNERS: Every year my mother-in-law buys us bags of Christmas decorations and candies. Last year she gave me 12 boxes of red balls for the tree, which I gave to Good Will, and enough candy canes that the people in my office were still working on them at Easter.
Every year she gives us each a new stocking, and most years we put up the stocking my son and I made the year he was 5 and his sister was just born. This year she even pre-stuffed them. I always pick out a few items to keep and give the rest to charity.
The problem? I am starting to feel guilty, and my son says I am being rude not to put the huge pea-green balls on my tree with my cherished ornaments. Sometimes she gives us beautiful things, which I add to my cherished collection.
But to me, Christmas is about tradition. New ornaments every year leans towards being a tribute to consumerism.
Please just re-affirm for me it is OK to keep accepting her gifts and giving them away as soon as she heads home (which is 1,000 miles away).
GENTLE READER: You've got Miss Manners on the question of whether presents may be given away if the donor doesn't find out. Yes -- yours. You can give away your stocking.
Others get to decide what they want to do with theirs, and everyone gets a say in what to do with things given to the whole family.
If Christmas is about tradition, perhaps you had better explain to Miss Manners how you define tradition. It is not only your mother-in-law whom you want to exclude from contributing. You over-rode your son's feelings about how the family tree should be decorated. Surely Christmas is about many things, tradition and family among them. But you have given the impression that it is about your cherished collection.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please help me understand why it bothers me so much when people give me unsolicited advice.
The people I'm talking about are not people who have an obligation to do so, such as my doctor, my boss, or a police officer. These are simply people I interact with on a regular basis, such as my relatives, my neighbors and coworkers.
"You should sweep your front porch more often, your carpets will stay cleaner." "You should dress up more for work. A smart-looking blazer would be great." "Why let your husband have all the glory? You should run for city council yourself."
I am a conscientious person who is generally respected for keeping my life in good order, so I am surprised when people seem to think I need their advice. I usually just nod politely in a noncommittal way, but inside I'm annoyed. Am I just being terribly oversensitive? Or do I have a valid reason for being bothered?
GENTLE READER: You don't need a psychological reason to dislike busybodies. You are bothered by them because they presume that they know better than you how to run your life -- because, in short, they are bothersome.
Miss Manners suspects you may also be bothered by the fact that your good manners prevent you from telling them to mind their own business. She cannot release you from that, but she can assure you that it should be a point of pride.