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Column catch-up & various adventures

Posted by Robin Abrahams  December 2, 2013 07:38 AM

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Sunday's column featured a convoluted tale of a family that thrives on financial secrets--specifically, a woman who lent her grandson $6,000 to purchase a car ... from her own husband. Now the Letter Writer has been let in on the unhappy facts and wants an outsider's take. Miss Conduct says, don't play that!

People who want their secrets kept keep them. Your mother wants her money back or her grandson punished, but she doesn't want to take responsibility for anyone getting angry or sad, so she tells you. Tag, you're It. She has put you in a situation where it is impossible to do the right thing by her. Protect her interest, you betray her confidence; keep her confidence, let her be taken advantage of. Of course, whatever you do is going to be wrong. She set it up that way. You can let that paralyze or liberate you.

Last Sunday's column is one I was particularly proud of, in which I took the historical anomaly of "Thanksgivukkah" as a jumping-off point to muse on the holiday season writ large:

1) Celebrate this year's holiday. Don't make yourself crazy by trying to re-create some nostalgic fantasy or by deciding that every Christmas must be the "best Christmas ever." Try to make it the most 2013 Christmas ever. Holidays should be about acknowledging the passage of time, not trying to stop it. Sometimes this means a radical break with traditions--I took my mother to New York for Christmas the year after my father's death. Sometimes it is as simple as everyone taking a moment before Thanksgiving dinner to say what they are grateful for this year.   

2) If you can't celebrate, observe. Jews "observe" holidays, primarily because celebrating Yom Kippur is doing it wrong. It's a humane and useful distinction: Holidays aren't always fun, fun, fun, and there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that. There are social rituals worth participating in (office parties, I'm looking at you), even if you don't enjoy them. If you are mourning a loved one, maybe Christmas intensifies that. Don?t judge your feelings.

3) If you can't have a good time, have a good story. Plans for our first Thanksgiving in Boston fell through the night before, leaving my boyfriend and me no time to make alternative arrangements. Ignorant of blue laws, we tramped 10 miles in search of a store that would sell us booze, winding up at the Bull & Finch, where nobody knew our name or even seemed aware of our presence. Drinking overpriced shots in a tourist-crammed stage set, with nothing in the cupboard but ramen, I decided this city would not break me. I would plan better and learn its ways and become what I didn't yet know was Boston Strong. It was the worst Thanksgiving ever. It was the best Thanksgiving ever.


Now, writing a big ol' essay about how you should celebrate/observe the holiday you have, rather than the holiday you want, is pretty much daring God or Fate to take a crack at you, no? So no one should have been surprised that last Friday I fractured my elbow and sprained my knee helping my mother out of her wheelchair. 

I cut my trip to the Midwest short, because I was too disabled to be on my own--and was immensely grateful that I was able to do so, over a busy holiday week. (Also, flying injured is the next best thing to first class. They are so nice to you!)

And this, my friends, was Thanksgivukkah 2013.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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Curious if you should say "bless you" to a sneezing atheist? How to host a dinner party for carbophobes, vegans, and Atkins disciples—all at the same time? The finer points of regifting? Ask it here, or email

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