Dear Miriam | How Can I Avoid a High Holiday Gathering?


rosh_hashanah2.jpgDear Miriam, 

During the first two High Holiday seasons of the pandemic, it wasn’t safe or feasible to get together for the big dinners that everyone in my family was used to. This year, it feels like a safe enough option, but one I’ve lost interest in. If my entire extended family gets together (something they generally seem excited about), should I attend even though I don’t really want to? If not, what’s the best way to bow out gracefully?


Rosh Hashanah RSVP 

Dear RSVP,

The past two years have provided a myriad of excuses to get out of social engagements: you’ve been exposed to COVID, you want to avoid being exposed to COVID, you can’t travel, you won’t travel, you don’t see eye-to-eye with the other attendees on masks or vaccines, etc. Many people have also had the opportunity to reflect on what types of experiences lift them up and energize them and what types of experiences were actually a welcome pandemic casualty.

Now that you’re faced with a return to a previous long-term family tradition, you’re realizing you’re just not that into the experience, and that’s OK! I’m going to tell you that you are not obligated to go, but be prepared that I’m going to contradict myself before I close.

There are all kinds of reasons why a large family holiday dinner may be unappealing. It might be inconvenient to get to, or not your style. You might not really like the people there, or you might rather spend the holiday alone or with friends. Your reasons might be about COVID, and even if it feels like everyone else has moved on, you’re entitled to feel how you feel.

If you are directly invited, you can say to the person doing the inviting, “I’m so glad you’re all able to gather this year. I won’t be able to make it.” Unless there is something that the host or assembled group could do to make you want to attend, don’t bother even sharing your reasons. Having a reason might mean that there is also a solution. Not wanting to be there is probably not something anyone can solve for you, and you may hurt more feelings by being specific than by being vague.

If a relative that you do want to see asks you why you won’t be there, consider using that conversation as a chance to make alternative plans together for some other time in the new year. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t!) break all ties because you bow out of one meal. Similarly, if someone you’re close to asks you for a reason — and you don’t think it will get back to everyone else — you can be honest about your thought process, not because your admission will change anything but because you’re entitled to open up about your feelings.

And, on the other hand: Barring terrible relationships and irreconcilable challenges, having dinner with your family once a year on a special occasion can be worthwhile. You get to reconnect with people with whom you share a history. You get to see a lot of people in one place instead of needing to arrange separate meetings. You get to bring joy to people who like seeing their family gathered for the holiday. You can come late and leave early. You can bring a friend as moral support. You can decide that you’ll only go to this dinner every third year, so going this year earns you the next two years off.

You don’t have to, and you might not choose to in the end, but I hope it’s helpful to remember that attending this event doesn’t have to be all or nothing, it doesn’t have to be a forever decision either way, and you’re entitled to make independent choices about how you spend the holiday.

And if you independently decide to see your family for a few hours, it may not be the worst way to start the new year. Most importantly, you are the best judge of what is at stake and what will be best for you.

Shanah tova, and be well,



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