The holidays are full of family, friends, coworkers and mere acquaintances, and sometimes that can lead to really awkward situations. We went to several local tastemakers, including an event planner, photographer and the president of the Junior League, for advice on how to gracefully glide through uncomfortable situations that may arise at holiday affairs.
Whether someone’s indulged in a little too much holiday cheer, won’t pose for your family photo or has spilled something on your brand new couch, we have you covered on how to handle anything that’s thrown your way this holiday season.
Awkward situation: According to your mother-in-law, you are serving the wrong wine with your meal.
Brooke Lowry of the blog TrueGrit suggests using humor and maybe even a snarky comeback like, “Oh, I KNEW you would notice, you have such impeccable taste. I made coq au vin last night for the garden club, and those lushes drank all my good stuff.”
Or we suggest using the tried-and-true Southern classic, “bless your heart,” in your nicest drawl.
Awkward situation: Let’s say you are the recipient of a gift you find to be just awful. How should you respond?
Elizabeth White of Twine & Twig handles this uncomfortable situation with grace as well as charity. “It’s the thought that counts! You always smile and say ‘thank you.’ Then donate it after a little time has passed,” she suggests.
Awkward situation: Your uncle spills red wine on your beautiful cream couch.
Interior designer, Lauren Clement of Lauren Nicole Designs suggests gracefully handling the situation with kindness, cookies and performance fabrics. “Say, ‘Uncle Phil, it’s your lucky day! That sofa is covered in a Sunbrella fabric, and LOOK! We’ll just clean it right up. Trust me between kids and dogs, I’m cleaning something off of this sofa everyday. Have a cookie and I’ll refill your glass.'”
Awkward situation: What do you do when your little cousin won’t put down his iPad and engage?
As Executive Director of the Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte, Mona Johnson-Gibson works with kids day in and day out and suggests finding a fun activity that he would enjoy. She suggests, “Say, ‘Hey would you like to bake some cookies with me for Santa? That way we can have our eye towards the sky in case he and his reindeer fly by.’”
Awkward situation: You’re trying to snap the perfect family picture, but no one will cooperate. What do you do?
“Let go of your expectations and give the kids a chance to be silly in exchange for what you want them to do. Bribing with candy or the promise of this or that only works temporarily and sometimes just results in more whining and bad behavior,” says Piper Warlick of Piper Warlick Photography. “Instead, ask them to do something interactive with one another to burn off some energy and, hopefully, elicit some giggles.
“Just recently I photographed two sisters. They were holding hands and running around under a canopy of fall leaves. It was a lovely scene, but I couldn’t quite get the same emotion from them at the same time. I asked them to run towards me while seeing who could holler the loudest. It’s hard to look serious or bored when you are running around and screaming like fools. The resulting image was not only hysterical to capture, but even better in print. Such incredible joy and connection between two girls who were simply asked to be themselves. After running around for a bit, the girls happily collapsed into a tender cuddle with one another and gave me some more sweet and quiet poses,” Piper adds.
She also mentions that family portraits work well when the subjects are given direction followed by freedom, and if you repeat a few times, you’re sure to get something everyone will love!
Awkward situation: Let’s say you find yourself having a little too much of the holiday spirits. What’s the best way to minimize the damage to your reputation?
Sarah Baucom of Pink Social says she’d use humor in this situation — and we agree with her, because being “over-served” happens to the best of us. “It all depends on the situation, but I would love it if an over-served friend (a few days later) handed me an artisanal bread and jam basket with a note that said, ‘I guess I should have had a bite before the party.’ That would smooth things over a bit with some humor. And if that doesn’t work, you can always move to a new city before the new year!” she offers.
Awkward situation: You see a guest moving your strategically placed name cards around.
Event planner Ivy Robinson says she’d assess the situation first and then react accordingly. “Depending on the person and my relationship with them, I would go pop their hand and ask if they were crazy moving my cards. If it’s someone I didn’t know well, I would have my BFF go distract them and move them back.” (We’d probably pop them too, Ivy! How rude!)
Awkward situation: Your daughter brings her gluten-free, vegan friend to dinner with no heads up to the chef.
Alyssa Wilen of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen says she sees this a lot — an impromptu guest with special requirements. “While it can be frustrating after all this preparation, now you’ve got a sudden curveball. Relax — it can be accomplished! This is the type of situation we chefs encounter often. So take a breath and start to problem solve! The first thing I do is talk to them and ask some questions. In my experience, people’s dietary choices aren’t something they want you to feel burdened with — but on the same hand, as the host, you want to make your guests feel at home,” Alyssa explains. “I would have them walk the kitchen area with you and see what they might be interested in adding to their plate to fill it out. Do you have a can of chickpeas you can add some fresh herbs and spices to? You might have some vegetables in the refrigerator that can be used as crudites for the dip, or maybe there are some extra roasted potatoes that didn’t get added to the casserole. Try to identify something that can be spruced up quickly.”
Alyssa also suggests coming up with some go-to things that are quick to throw together and that have some good seasonal flavor —mix up those toasted nuts in the pantry with some dried fruit or fresh apples. Then add some chopped rosemary, sea salt and a dash of cayenne pepper. Even if you don’t have fresh, use dry herbs. This can make a great topper to some veggies and make your guest feel part of the holiday table.
Awkward situation: How do you handle when you’re given a gift, but don’t have one for the giver?
“I would definitely try to be overly gracious — I am always sincerely taken aback by just how thoughtful people are and would respond with an overwhelming gratitude that they would think of me,” says Junior League of Charlotte President Shannon Vandiver.
Thank you to the amazing Charlotte women who contributed to this article! We hope this is the least awkward holiday season yet!
Keep up with the very best of Charlotte and the South. Follow us on Instagram — @StyleBlueprintCharlotte.
And be sure you’re signed up for StyleBlueprint Charlotte emails to get exclusive offers, fabulous content and the best “me moment” of your day! Sign up HERE.