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How to (Politely) Decline a Holiday Gathering

Published:
January 9, 2024
November 6, 2023
Learn how to politely decline an invitation to a holiday party with these tips to take you through the season.|Learn how to love your broken family and heal from your past while still bettering yourself for future relationships.|Learn how to love your broken family and heal from your past while still bettering yourself for future relationships.|Learn how to politely decline an invitation to a holiday party with these tips to take you through the season.

The holidays can be a tricky time — family gatherings, holiday soirees, white elephant gift exchanges, and workplace parties can put pressure on the need to feel festive. And in an effort to power through, to make every event, to RSVP “yes” to each invitation, we find ourselves depleted, overwhelmed, tired, and lacking the joy we were searching for in the first place. By the time the new year comes around, our intentions become “do less” or “say no” because the holidays were a reminder that overscheduling isn’t sustainable. 

This isn’t to say that all holiday gatherings are a negative occurrence on the calendar, but trying to navigate the barrage of seasonal events can be challenging. Many of us find reasons as to why we need to attend, justifying this or that, cramming in back-to-back parties in order to satisfy a desire to be everywhere for everyone. But the real question remains, do we need to be?

Before seasonal events begin this year, consider the impact overscheduling can have on your mental and physical health. Whether it’s a lack of sleep, or a deep need for alone time, it’s important to set boundaries and decide which events matter to you and which events can be scratched off the calendar this year. Follow along as we provide polite ways to decline that RSVP this holiday season.

Find your “no” 

Declining an invite to a holiday party or an event can be difficult. Many of us have trouble finding the right way to navigate these social situations — and often we find excuses as to why we should just go, despite our inner voice telling us no. Rachel Wilkerson Miller, the Editor-in-Chief of SELF, explains that before you decide to ultimately accept or decline an invitation, you should consider your resources, such as time, money, and energy. She explains, “...if you don’t decide how you want to spend your TME (time, money, energy) and then protect those resources accordingly, other people will decide for you.” It is considerably hard to find peace if you abdicate this responsibility to other people. That essentially means you need to set a boundary around your time, and only you can decide how much or how little you want to give of yourself. 

For instance, your best friend’s gift exchange is the highlight of your year and fills your emotional cup, allowing you to catch up with old friends — this event would seem like a definite yes on the calendar. However, Aunt Dot’s cookie exchange may feel exhausting and emotionally draining — this event may be a no on the calendar this year, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you love Aunt Dot any less, but allocating your resources is an important part of the decision-making process. As Miller explains, “When you realize that you have the right and ability to say ‘no thanks’ or ‘I’m not into that’ without the world coming to an end, it’s pretty life-changing.”

Decline the invitation early

It can be mentally draining to carry the weight of an RSVP, whether you want to go or not, and it can cause inner turmoil, especially for those who are introverted. Therefore, when you receive an invitation, it is important to accept or decline early rather than wait to see if your feelings around the situation change. This is where making the decision ahead of time can benefit you and your calendar. Saying yes to an event that feels overwhelming can cause feelings of dread for days or weeks on end, which ultimately can affect your emotional and physical health. Thus, if an event isn’t a heck yes, then it’s a no, which means you can make the final decision on your attendance well before the RSVP is due. 

The no-excuse rule 

When it comes to declining an invitation, as a general rule, you don’t need to provide an excuse. Resist your people-pleasing tendencies! A truly gracious host will not ask you why when it comes to a declined RSVP. According to Southern Living, “A simple, but vague ‘I have a prior commitment’ should suffice if your nosy host presses you for an explanation. Pair your deflection with a sincere thanks for the invitation.” And although it can be difficult to decline any event, concocting a fake excuse is never the best way to proceed. Instead, if you feel badly that you can’t make it to this specific party, finding a time to hang out with the host individually can help soften the message.

Practice the CARE method

So, how do you actually say “no”? According to Kristi Spencer, an etiquette instructor and founder of the Polite Company, consider using the CARE method. “CARE is an acronym that stands for consider, appreciate, respond, and empathize.” 

Consider the invitation: First and foremost, it is important to think about your response when an invitation arrives. Showing that you genuinely thought about the event allows your host to know that you care. As Spencer explains, “It’s perfectly acceptable to say, ‘Let me think about that, and I’ll get back to you.” She notes that the important part of this process is to actually respond. 

Appreciate the invitation: Acknowledging the host when accepting or declining any invitation is important and shows respect, as well as kindness. You may say, “Thank you for including me,” or “Thank you for thinking of me,” to express appreciation for the invitation, even if you ultimately decide not to attend. 

Response: Consider the general no-excuse rule, and respond as such: “Thank you for thinking of me, I cannot make your party this year.” If you would like to attend an event the next time it happens, you can tell the host that although you can’t make it this year, you would love to make the next gathering. Honesty and direct responses can help your relationship with the host because most people are understanding when it comes to attending or not attending their event. 

Empathize: Finding the right way to connect is a vital part of this CARE step. Phrases may include: “I hope to see you soon” or “I hope you have a great time.” This small step shows your host that you do care about his or her well being, regardless of your ability to make it to the party or not. Lastly, your friends or family members may truly feel disappointment when you decline, but you are not responsible for their emotions. You are only responsible for your own emotions and making that a priority is a practice that should be seasonless. 

The holiday scene can be a legitimate blur. But when it comes to slowing down and enjoying this season, it is important to consider where you spend your time and attention. And while declining an event never feels great, we most likely put an inordinate amount of pressure on our attendance, when in reality the party will go on whether we are there or not. Rather than obsess over being everywhere for everyone this season, we should consider how to show up for ourselves. 

Creators:
Lauren Lawson
Published:
January 9, 2024
November 6, 2023
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