Is it awful to say no to last-minute guests at Christmas dinner?
December 22, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I hate to be a scrooge, but my small Christmas dinner keeps getting bigger.

My boyfriend and I are planning our very first Christmas dinner together this year. It's small - my cousin and her boyfriend, his brothers and their girlfriends. On two separate occasions, his friends (both married) have called and said they are going to be 'around' for Christmas and have 'nothing else' to do. While I can't say that they are inviting themselves over - they have no idea we're having dinner - my boyfriend keeps feeling bad about it and wants to have them as well.

I am doing the cooking, and we've planned a fairly difficult menu, so I am anxious for it to go well. His friends are from out of town, and will be drinking, so they will probably spend the night, and be here on Christmas Day (we are having dinner on Xmas Eve so all the respective couples will be enjoying Xmas day together). They are also probably going to be getting together New Years' Eve, which I am more than happy to have a big, loud party for... I'm not an uptight b*tch, although it certainly sounds that way.

Here's the thing: I feel bad saying no because, well, it's Christmas and I don't want to be whiny and difficult. At the same time, while both of us are hosting this, I refrained from inviting my friends because it was all supposed to be family. My boyfriend has already said no to one of his friends, and didn't make a big deal about it. Now, it's his best friend. I really, really don't want them over, not just because my friends aren't going to be there, but also because I hate last-minute changes. Would it be awful if I said I didn't want his best friend and wife over? Am I being ridiculously selfish?
posted by Everydayville to Human Relations (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you invite them over for dessert? That might be a compromise solution that doesn't add to the stress of cooking for the day (you could buy extra bakery desserts), but allows them to come by and have fun with everybody.
posted by xingcat at 1:30 PM on December 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Am I being ridiculously selfish?

Kind of. It's Christmas - in general, it is the meal that keeps on growing. It's not about the food - that's just an excuse to bring people together. And not to be a Pollyanna about it, but you might consider that you are very, very fortunate to have friends and family who want to congregate around you for the holidays. That is a wonderful, wonderful role to be able to fill.

But given that you already said No to your boyfriend's single, best friend I am not at all sure how you can say yes to these two couples now. Either make room for five more, or no more - and plan for additional guests next year!
posted by DarlingBri at 1:31 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

You aren't being selfish; planning a dinner is a big deal, and it sounds like you already have 8-9 people; changing your plans at the last minute will create a different kind of event than the one you have planned.

Could you perhaps invite the extra people over for after-dinner drink, or coffee? "We already have Christmas dinner plans, but we'd love to have you over for late-night drinks in front of the fireplace."

On preview: yup, what xingcat said. =)
posted by archofatlas at 1:31 PM on December 22, 2009

You're not being selfish but you are being controlling. You need to ask yourself whether you care more about trying to have the party you envisioned, or if you care about providing a place for his friends to come as well. If it were me, I'd try to let go of the "but we didn't invite my friends!" thing -- that seems like a red herring to me.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:32 PM on December 22, 2009

You've already got at least 8 people coming by my count, which is challenging enough. Unless your BF is offering to pitch in (and I have to say, unless entertaining is something you simply adore, I'm surprised you let the dinner get so big already if you're doing it on your own), draw the line in the sand.

Notwithstanding the ironic context of the story of Joseph and Mary and the birth of tender baby Jesus, who the fuck are these people inviting themselves over for Christmas Eve on December 22? Bah humbug.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2009 [11 favorites]

I like the drinks compromise. This may get simpler if you have a finite dining space, and if the extra bodies would need to end up on the couch in the living room or something. I would politely beg off, saying that you have space and a menu set for X number of people, but that you'd love for them to join you for drinks/dessert.
posted by craven_morhead at 1:34 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

You are not being ridiculously selfish.
If it was a matter of adding another bag of spaghetti to the pot and cleaning another head of lettuce for the salad, the case could be made they you are being selfish.
However, with a carefully planned meal, you are well within your rights to deny another 4 people.

But, if the food isn't purchased yet and you are willing to revise your plan, you could invite more people and make an easier dinner that would allow you to socialize, too.
Ideally, I believe, a holiday dinner should be easy; more about the people than the dinner. But that is me. I'd save the event dinner for a dinner party.
posted by Seamus at 1:39 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you are doing this with your boyfriend, see what he thinks. If he is doing this even steven with you and thinks you can swing it, invite them and try to have fun with this. (And you may want to check back in with your close friends too. to see if they would like to come.)

I'd add that most people are willing to help out on a big event like this by bringing items or assisting . . . there is nothing wrong with asking for some aid.

I'd add that it is not worthwhile to get hung up on whose friends are whose, and whether more of "his" people are coming than "yours. " They are all people who care about both of you.
posted by bearwife at 1:39 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you can swing it, and they have nowhere else to be, invite them in. I mean, it's Christmas, ferchrissake!

At least, that's what this Jew has seen you guys do on all the sitcoms.
posted by thejoshu at 1:41 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

I would simplify the menu and open it up to the other guests, because Christmas is really about family and community.

However, should you decide not to, you are not being "an uptight bitch".
posted by Think_Long at 1:42 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I like the drinks compromise. This may get simpler if you have a finite dining space, and if the extra bodies would need to end up on the couch in the living room or something. I would politely beg off, saying that you have space and a menu set for X number of people, but that you'd love for them to join you for drinks/dessert.

I like this idea a lot. Having been the "single person with nowhere to go," it's not about getting a free meal or horning in on other people's good time. It's about having somewhere to go for at least a few hours, so you're not alone the whole day.

(of course if these are couples, they have each other, so I would feel less obligated.)
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:42 PM on December 22, 2009

Well-trained guests who are invited to dinner will bring a dish to share, not just Krispy-kreme donuts, so it's up to you if you want them there for dinner or much later. What ever you decide on make it clear to the guests as to when dinner starts and ends. That should spare embarrassment and prevent someone who isn't interested in eating hanging out and being annoying on the X-box until everyone is done eating. That said, if guests aren't well-trained, the guest list for next year is made that much easier.
posted by JJ86 at 1:43 PM on December 22, 2009

To most, Christmas is all about getting together with people we love, and the very last thing most of us would burden ourselves and others with is a "fairly difficult menu". Your family and friends don't want you to stress out and be anxiety-ridden and guilty. They want to be with you because they love you and enjoy your company, and they'd probably be just as happy with sandwiches as with your grand menu. Me, I would change plans, downgrade my menu, and invite everyone. It would just feel right.
posted by iconomy at 1:44 PM on December 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

I don't think you're being selfish at all. It's your house, with your food, that you're cooking. You get to decide who sits down at the table. If having extra guests is stressing you out, then don't have them. Something being socially expected doesn't mean you have have to do it.

If you're creating a fairly difficult menu then that's extra reason not to have last minute unexpected changes. Perhaps you could go visit the people who are "around" with "nothing else to do" at their houses?
posted by Solomon at 1:49 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just say no. Your party, your guest list. Especially considering that they'd end up at your place on Christmas day.
posted by yarly at 1:50 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I may have miscommunicated this... my boyfriend already said no to one friend and his wife. Just today his best friend called and he isn't single - he's married, too. And to be honest, I don't know any of these people - my boyfriend and I don't really see them often as they live out of town, and I've met them once, briefly... he's close though, because he's known them from grade school.

As for after-dinner drinks/ dessert... it's an idea, but we haven't really planned the rest of the evening out. Like I said, they live far away and will probably be here the whole day and part of the next.

I just feel Scrooge-y, but it's important to me that this go well, as it is also the first time we are hosting his family.
posted by Everydayville at 1:53 PM on December 22, 2009

Well, you clearly don't want them to come, given the list of reasons you've presented. Don't invite them if you'll resent them.
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

You're going to get (and have gotten) two camps of advice here: those who say, "Invite everyone! It's Christmas!" and those who say, "Yeah, no. They're rude for inviting themselves to your home."

This really depends on your personality and your boyfriend's personality. If he's only wanting them to come over because he feels badly for them, I'd see if maybe you guys can come up with something else for some other time. If he genuinely wants to spend the holiday with them, invite them and maybe change up the menu so it's not so difficult for you.

If, on the other hand, you're just really opposed to this for any reason, don't invite them. You'll only feel resentful on the day and you won't enjoy Christmas.

I don't think any of that makes either of you selfish. We all have our quirks and needs and wants. His are no more important than yours, and vice versa.
posted by cooker girl at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

1.You could say 'no'. Because-
a. You are the one cooking. 4?....later.....more??
b. No one has offered to really pitch in (including the b/f who is feeling bad for saying no to his friends).
c. You are setting a precedent by choosing whatever you do this time. You had a talk with the b/f and you both decided on something. Doing this now shows your plans are always flexible.
d.You can always tell the friends in question that you have other plans. Plans with family, so no, you won't be around to hang out or whatever. But you would love to get together next time.
e. Do what you "really, really" want to do. Keep it small and simple.

2. You could say 'yes'. And-
a. Break your back working all on your own with avoidable, unnecessary stress. Can you really count on other people's aid at the last moment?
b. May or may not be able to enjoy the actual dinner/holiday coz of stress/anxiety/fatigue etc.
c. Find out whether you should have gone with what you thought and imagined or whether being spontaneous and flexible worked well (not to say that saying no means otherwise).
c. Keep up with the x-mas spirit and make everyone happy (but yourself, at least for now).

Of course, the weights for each point vary.
posted by xm at 2:05 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Reading your next comment, one more point in 1:

f. Doing it this way is really important, as this is the first time hosting his family.

(Does it really have to be this particular dinner for the best friend?)
posted by xm at 2:10 PM on December 22, 2009

Response by poster: Btw, thank you all for your input. I'm a little bit relieved to find that there are at least some of you who think I might be okay in saying no, but it makes me feel no less bad :-/ On the other hand, I'd rather have guests I'm going to enjoy as opposed to people I barely know that I resent NOT for themselves, but because their presence was an issue in the first place.

Thanks again, all. A very happy Christmas/ Hanukkah/ festive occasion to all of you, and a blessed New Year.
posted by Everydayville at 2:17 PM on December 22, 2009

All I have to say is that I am very, very thankful for friends in my current town that will be having us over last-minute because my boyfriend and I will not be able to make it back to our respective families due to epic blizzard.

I've definitely been on your end of an ever-growing guest list, and I know it can get expensive and time consuming. If you're worried about food, have them bring a dish or some beverages. I should hope they are grateful enough for the invite that they can put forth a little bit of effort in helping out out!

Good luck, and Merry Christmas.
posted by sararah at 2:36 PM on December 22, 2009

I feel very strongly that you should not invite more people. It sounds like you have a big group already. It's going to be hard enough for you to enjoy yourself serving 8 people a lovely dinner, don't add to your stress. Do not invite extra people for dessert. Just have the event you planned on having. These other people, dear as they may be, had months to plan something for themselves and just didn't get around to it. The whole "Christmas spirit" thing is not the point here. The real Christmas spirit would be to scrap the whole dinner and tell everyone they will be volunteering to give away their coats and warm blankets to the homeless. The holidays are also about celebrating with family and putting on a special occasion. Which is what you are doing. That's OK!

Here's a way to deal with the guilt. Talk with your bf about other days you can entertain these other friends. Maybe they want to come over for brunch on Sunday? You might have yummy leftovers. For anyone who you feel guilty about not inviting, think of something else you can invite them to do. It doesn't even have to be you hosting, either--maybe they want to go out for a meal together, or go ice skating, or whatever.

It is great to have people who want to spend time with you, but that doesn't make you the den mother.
posted by tk at 2:41 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you're getting this stressed about unfamiliar guests and it's only the 22nd (still a few days to go, not really that last minute), then your S.O. should probably know you well enough by now to not fight you on this. See about a compromise visit on the 25th or something (like breakfast/brunch?) for the other people, and everyone can help cook.

Regardless, If I were the one coming to town to meet you for the first time, I'd understand maybe that's too many people for you to handle all at once. The holidays are already stressful enough.
posted by lizbunny at 2:42 PM on December 22, 2009

If you've been on the end of preparing a meal for others and have actually gone through the process of planning, shopping, preparing, cooking, baking, wtvr, you would know how much work goes behind the scenes in preparing a meal. I'm sure anyone looking on the outside would just say what's the big deal with two extra or more people, but they probably haven't had to deal with hosting and all the things that come with it. Sorry, but it's just going to make you look bad if you don't add on these additional people. Unfortunately, I would just say let them join along. In the grand scheme of things it may not even make that big of a difference. Maybe since it's a close friend of your bf, you can send him the msg along to offer to bring some bread/wine?
posted by proficiency101 at 3:03 PM on December 22, 2009

Oh, lordy do I feel your pain on this one. I had initially planned to have a quiet Christmas Eve/Christmas Day at home this year. But over the course of the last two weeks I've somehow accumulated 6 dinner guests for Xmas Eve, 4 more for drinks after, and my entire family (!!) for Christmas morning. I don't know how it happens. Wait. No, I do... It's because I rarely say no to company. I host a lot of parties and holidays for family and friends. I genuinely enjoy doing it. I am also of the, "Sure you can invite your cousin's brother's girlfriend and her 10 best friends! We'll make room!" school.

BUT. I am also a master at pawning off a lot of the work on my guests without them really realizing it. I do a lot of potluck and I get away with it because I plan on throwing a main dish in the over and then I call people and say things like, "Oh, Aunt Suzy, are you going to bring your green brean casserole? Everyone raved about it so much last year and they've been asking me if you're making it again this time." Or, I'll call my best friend and say, "Argh! We need a bottle of wine and I'm hopeless at picking it out. Could you bring something good?" I really have no shame. My broke friends can always help me cook or set up or pick up after, and occasionally people don't do anything, but I still enjoy their company anyway. But most people will if you ask nicely.

On the other hand, if you're slaving away by yourself to make everything awesome, it's not really selfish to set limits on how many people can come. Especially if this is your first gathering and you're doing all the work. Don't be afraid to say no if you don't think you can handle everything.

Even if you're not going to invite those other extra people, you should still enlist help. This is your greatest asset as a hostess. I know you're planning a difficult menu, but seriously- make people bring stuff or help do stuff. Your boyfriend should also be helping, whether it's to clean the house beforehand, or to make something, or to do the dishes afterward. If he doesn't help, he doesn't get to invite tons of extra people while you kill yourself and he sits on his ass and does nothing. Make that clear if it already isn't.

The suggestions about having the other people either for drinks/dessert or brunch the day after are a good compromise. But only if you want to, not because you feel pressured to. If not, go with the ever-polite, "I'm sorry, it's just not possible, we've already got a full house. But we'd love to have you for New Years/Kwanzaa/Boxing Day/4th of July/Etc." But this is a really easy and informal way to have everyone over.

Then you can break out some bad Christmas movies, some board games and defrost one of those Sara Lee pies or get a tube of sugar cookie dough and let everyone frost and bake their own, or set out a cheese and fruit plate. Make people bring either a game, a movie or some booze. I do this all the time. It's great. But again. If you don't feel comfortable with that, don't do it. Because seriously, you will stew with resentment the entire time and that's just no fun.

That's the last thing. Don't forget that this is supposed to be enjoyable, and adjust accordingly. Because that's the reason you're having these people over, right? So if something like having a bunch of people you don't like over seems like a drag, just don't do it.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 3:34 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

On any other night and for any other dinner I'd say tell them no, you already have plans, but would they like to come for dessert and drinks afterwards?

On Christmas I'd say the more the merrier, and just ask that they pitch in by bringing food and/or booze. I would also simplify the menu, if necessary, and try to keeo in mind that the Son of God was born in a dirty old barn because some dickhead innkeeper made a pregnant, laboring woman go out with the sheep and horses instead of making room for her by his warm toasty hearth.

But I realize Christmas doesn't mean the same thing to everyone who celebrates it, so that guilt trip might not work on you.

I agree with proficiency101 that refusing them will make you look quite Scroogey indeed. And I would say that if your boyfriend feels so bad about excluding his friends, he should absolutely expect to pitch in as needed and take some of the pressure off your shoulders. You're hosting this together, right?
posted by balls at 5:44 PM on December 22, 2009

If you really want to keep it small, invite the extra people over for a night of drinking and games. However, do note that as a general rule, your life will be much easier if you never plan "first" and "difficult" things together.

I suggest you might consider abandoning the difficult menu, opening your doors to all comers (asking them to bring a dish, of course) and being open that "you know, we were going to do a small dinner with a big, elaborate menu, but I could never have pulled it off for this many people, and I realized that I'd rather eat mac 'n cheese with you than something fancy-schmancy without you."
posted by davejay at 6:48 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Think back on every Christmas dinner you've ever had. Are any of those memories about the food?
posted by anildash at 6:56 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Anildash, are you freaking kidding me?! Three words: Grandma's homemade dressing.
posted by runningwithscissors at 7:30 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

You want to have a lovely meal with your boyfriend's family.

You don't want to turn down people at Christmas.

Is there a need to make both of these the same event?

Could you call the people already invited, and say "due to last minute changes, I've decided to go with the Christmas spirit and open my door to a few extras. With that in mind, my planned fancy feast is now a pot-luck. I'll have something delicious for you all, but if you could bring along a plate of something it would be quite welcome. And don't worry- I'll be sure to have the fancy feast sometime in the new year."

Your brother's family still gets their wonderful meal (albeit a little later), your boyfriend's friends get to have somewhere to be at Christmas, you don't have to worry about being a scrooge or ruining your big meal, and as an added bonus Christmas Eve turns from a stressful dinner for 8 into a relaxed pot-luck for 12.
posted by twirlypen at 8:08 PM on December 22, 2009

As any holiday movie worth its salt will tell us, turning people without a place to be on Christmas will result in unpleasant side effects such as being visited by multiple ghosts/having to view an alternate future in which your life is miserable and lonely, etc. Do you really want to bring that upon yourself?

Seriously, though--I agree with previous posters. Is your vision of a perfectly coordinated Christmas dinner perhaps superseding the main point of the holiday--extending hospitality, celebrating together, and being thankful for the people in your life who care enough to want to actually show up and spend time with you? Being a gracious hostess is not about controlling details of your happy occasion to the point where you are turning friends (even if they aren't your friends, but your partner's) away. Being gracious is about being flexible, being hospitable, and always finding an extra chair or an extra plate when needed to roll out the welcome mat--just because you're that classy. Invite them for drinks and dessert afterward, or make an extra place at the table and tactfully let them know that anything they'd like to bring would be welcome, or whatever. And, while you're at it, tie an apron on your boyfriend so he can share some of the work, too. He can help prep, since this is obviously an event for both of your circles of acquaintance. By the way, if his friends are coming, why not invite the ones you turned away, too?

Best of luck getting this sorted, and happy holidays.
posted by teamparka at 8:13 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

(Sorry--turning away people. Edit function, please!)
posted by teamparka at 8:16 PM on December 22, 2009

Clearly opinions are split here so you have to go with your gut but I'd like to point out one thing.

You've mentioned that one of the reasons you are reluctant to say yes to this new couple is that you barely know them, but keep in mind that he's your husbands BEST FRIEND and it's his Christmas too.

Maybe you can use this as leverage to get your husband to do extra work (shopping, cleaning, table setting, etc.)

If you end up saying no don't feel like a Scrooge though, you're the only one here who knows all the details and if it really is just too much extra work to do then it's too much extra work to do.

Merry Christmas.
posted by Bonzai at 8:27 PM on December 22, 2009

I think that you're not saying no firmly enough, actually.

Instead of letting these people hint that they want an invite without getting one, they should be told directly: "Listen, we are doing something really small and intimate and family this year, and we just can't have any more people. It's nothing personal."

And then your boyfriend's friends can fuck off and do something else.

If you're not having a good time yourself, it's going to be a lot harder to be a good hostess, right? Better to have a little unpleasantness with your boyfriend now, than a lot more later.

"We should have had them over" is always going to be a much, much smaller fight than "We shouldn't have had them over."
posted by bingo at 8:48 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

It is ALWAYS ok to say no to something you really don't want to do.

You do need to communicate with your boyfriend more about it though. If this is his best friend and it is important to him you should consider what your real priorities are. Sit down and just explain where you are coming from. Find out what he would ideally want to do.

Then prepare to try and find a compromise. Perhaps they could join you for dessert, or an after dinner social? Maybe your boyfriend will agree and you can do the party thing other days.

This is a perfect opportunity to practice the messy relationship thing of working out differences. It probably won't be easy or perfect, but you get most of the points for trying.

Whatever the final decision is, be a sport about it. It isn't worth letting friendships or the unexpected ruin a holiday.
posted by meinvt at 9:50 PM on December 22, 2009

If you're planning a sit down meal for 9 people, that's fairly complex. This isn't a pot luck. You need to get multiple courses on the table all served hot and in the correct sequence. Unless you've got a great kitchen complete with a large stove, that's pretty challenging. You've also got to have appropriate dishes and serving pieces, stemware, and a table that can seat this crowd. How large is your dining room table?

Are you rude to refuse to host everyone? No.
Could you change your menu to accommodate them. Yes.
Are they rude to call and hint for an invite. Yes.

It's your boyfriends Christmas and his best friend's Christmas, but it's also your Christmas. If you don't want to spend your holiday shopping, cooking, serving and cleaning up for 5 extra strangers, then that's okay.
posted by 26.2 at 11:02 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

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