DEAR MISS MANNERS: Each holiday season, my husband and I and our two young children drive 300 miles to visit my parents and some of my husband's relatives who live in the same area, then we fly three hours to visit his parents in another state for Christmas Day.
Last year, several of his aunts and uncles gave us gifts for both our family and my in-laws before we flew out in order that we should take these gifts with us to be opened on Christmas and (presumably) spare them the time and expense of mailing them themselves.
This was quite a burden on us. We try to pack as lightly as possible given the kids and their paraphernalia and our own gifts and don't have any extra room in our suitcases.
Also, with security the way it is, extra suitcases can be more than just a slight nuisance. Someone even gave us a fruit basket to take down! I didn't feel that I could say no without offense, since my doing so would mean their gifts wouldn't arrive on time and they were sending gifts for us, too (which we were expected to haul down, open up and then haul back).
I would like to prevent this from happening again this year, but I can't think of how to mention it without sounding crass. If I bring it up well enough in advance, it sounds like I'm expecting to get gifts, which I shouldn't be, and if I wait until they are pressing them upon me, I am then left with being the Grinch who wouldn't deliver the gifts. It doesn't help that my relationship with my husband's parents is already strained (though I generally get on well with the aunts and uncles). Can you offer any sage advice?
GENTLE READER: You are in need of some airport horror stories. Miss Manners understands that these are very easy to come by nowadays. If you don't have any of your own, try reading passengers' blogs or standing by a luggage carousel in your local airport and chatting up the people who are left when no more bags are forthcoming.
Now is the time to open a conversation with your relatives about luggage being lost, damaged or confiscated. Having established the unlikelihood of any packages surviving the flight, you can then demure, saying you would not want to take the responsibility.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My family is Catholic, and my son's babysitter is Jewish. She takes wonderful care of him, taking him to and from pre-school and other various things while I am at work.
With the holiday season upon us, I would like to get her something to show my appreciation. Should I give it to her just before Christmas or during Hanukkah? (I am not familiar with Jewish holidays.)
GENTLE READER: Neither. This is a business relationship, however warm, and what the lady deserves is not a present but a year's end bonus, along with an expression of gratitude and good wishes.
But even with friends, being familiar with Hanukkah would not help. Some Jews have adapted secular traditions associated with Christmas; others consider Hanukkah a minor holiday, not to be offered as a substitute. And there are numerous other approaches. Miss Manners suggests you simply give them "holiday presents" on neither holiday.