17 holiday blunders (and how to avoid them)

Don’t bring an uninvited pet to a holiday function.
Don’t bring an uninvited pet to a holiday function.(Shutterstock)


From picking the wrong line at the grocery store to overspending on a gift the recipient won’t even like, it’s easy to self-destruct this time of year. Below, a sampling of scenarios that are best to avoid:

1. Clean-ageddon: Tax preparers have their busy season. And appliance repairmen have theirs. Come holiday time, appliance stores are slammed by "panicky" customers who thought using the "self-clean" function right before making a holiday meal was a good idea — and find themselves facing an oven that won't unlock itself, or worse, reports Gabriella Diblasi, of Jarvis Appliance in Wellesley. "The oven gets so hot that it can short out the controls," she said. "People feel that it's the end of the world."

2. All the Single Ladies (and Gentlemen): Franklin hair stylist Kaylee Mitchell, 24, has been single for the last three years, and at holiday parties, says she's often asked the same annoying question: "Are you seeing anybody?' followed by, 'That's OK, you'll find someone.' It's very condescending."


3. Slow and Furious: Amid the holiday grocery shopping madness, every line feels like the wrong one. And yet, some are wronger than others. Given equally capable cashiers, you are often better off bypassing the express lane. Research conducted at a large, unnamed, California grocery store found that while each item adds 3 seconds to the check-out time, it takes 41 seconds for a person to move through the line even before their items are added to the tally. Bottom line: The big time-consumers are not the items, but the small talk and the paying, says Dan Meyer, who has a doctorate in math education from Stanford University.

4. The Forgotten: "Shopping without a list is the biggest mistake people make," said famed coupon expert Kathy Spencer, of Boxford. "You are going to forget the cranberry sauce, or a baking ingredient for grandma's dessert. It's going to be chaotic in the stores, and you can't think clearly." People think they can wing it, she added, "but they end up having to go back." Or worse — they send the non-shopping spouse to the store, who inevitably returns claiming the store didn't have the needed item.


5. Great Expectations: Rhode Island family therapist Larry Shushansky says people make the mistake of wishing that this year's family holiday celebration will be different from past years', and more in line with the way they want them to be. "While this is optimistic, it actually sets you up for failure because more often than not the same issues [and] conflicts arise," he warns.

6. Present Tense: "Bargains" are a big source of gift misfires, says consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow. "Someone sees something at an 'amazing price' and thinks, 'This will make a great gift.' They don't have a recipient in mind and sure enough — it's not really great for anyone on their list. But damn, someone's got to get it."

7. Lassie, Go Home: Marblehead etiquette expert Jodi R.R. Smith has some very basic rules: Unless you've cleared it with the host, don't arrive with extra guests in tow. Don't agree to bring a dish and then show up empty-handed, or bring something assigned to someone else. And by all means, don't bring your pet unless he or she is on the guest list.

8. There's No Such Thing as Free Wi-Fi: Before you sit in that cafe and order gifts online, listen to Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based identity-theft expert with McAfee. "Have you ever read the terms and conditions when logging into free public Wi-Fi?" he says. "If you bothered, then you probably wouldn't dare logging in. It'll say 'free Wi-Fi is generally un-encrypted,' which means with the right hardware and software, anyone, including criminals, can 'sniff out' 'packets' of Wi-Fi data including usernames, passwords, and credit card information."


9. Goodbye Job: No matter how great the temptation of the open bar, or how festive the decorations look, please remember that the office party is not a regular party. Think of it as the cafeteria with slightly better food and drink. Workplace experts advise employees to limit their drinks to one or two at the most, and to keep their mouths shut and their hands to themselves.

10. You're So Vain: "Snarky in the Suburbs" blogger Sherry Kuehl advises against humblebragging and/or out-and-out bragging: "I beg everyone to not give in to posting about your family's gift haul under the cutesy status update, 'Wow, Santa must have thought we were really good this year,' and then attempt to justify crowing about your present inventory with a 'Jesus is the reason for the season' quote, and a praying hands icon."

11. The Hunger Gains: The good news is that despite the widely held belief that most Americans pack on between 7 and 10 pounds during the holiday season, we do not actually gain that much, according to a 2000 piece in The New England Journal of Medicine. The bad news: While we "only" gain an average of just 1 pound, we never really lose it. As the NEJM reports: "The net 0.48-kg [1.05 pound] weight gain in the fall and winter probably contributes to the increase in body weight that frequently occurs during adulthood." Common sense recommendation: Before heading to a party, stuff yourself with fresh vegetables and seltzer; it will give you a fighting chance against the holiday treats.


12. Bad Santa: As "Snarky in the Suburbs" warns: "Doing an office Secret Santa doesn't jingle anyone's bells, especially if it's management's way of cheaping out of throwing a holiday party." But, she adds: "Even though nobody has ever said, 'Yay, buying gifts for the man who smells like cheese 14 cubicles down sounds like fun,' that doesn't mean you can Grinch it. If you give a co-worker hand sanitizer for a gift, it's going to come back and get you."

13. Not the Brightest Bulb on the Tree: You know that vague memory you have of being rushed while you were putting away the Christmas tree lights last year? And how you figured you wouldn't mind dealing with the knots this year because you'd be in the holiday spirit? Yeah, right. As Joshua Piven, coauthor of "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays," points out, untangling can take hours. His advice: remain calm; unplug the connected strands so your tangle contains several sections; work each free end through the knot; never pull it tighter; and above all, do your future self a favor and pack them up right. "We always wind our lights around paper towel [or wrapping paper] rolls," he said.


14. Good Luck Pahking the Cah in Hahvahd Yahd: When it comes to holiday parking, the experts say don't waste time or gas circling for a close spot, and instead head straight for the periphery of the lot or garage. The walk won't be that far, and the stroll will do you good.

15. To Thine Own Feet Be True: No matter how good those high heels look in the store — and how much thinner you look with them on — remember that if they are not comfortable when you're trying them on, the situation will not be improved by several hours spent on your feet mingling.

16. Recycling Is for Plastics, Not Presents: "Don't regift unless you're a person who gets sent giant wheels of cheese, and bracelets from Cartier, and first editions of rare books," says Sloane Crosley, author of the new novel "The Clasp." "In which case, definitely regift."

17. Enjoy Yourself: Don't be dour. As Will Rogers famously said: "We are all here for a spell; get all the good laughs you can."

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.