Dear Professor Moriarty: How Do I Say No This Christmas?

This week's guest columnist is Professor Moriarty who reports that he is, contrary to rumors, very much alive and quite busy planning for a major event that you will all witness soon. Very soon.

Dear Professor Moriarty,

Every year, extra family and friends invite themselves to our house for Christmas dinner—or just show up—and it’s getting out of control. 

I cook and clean for days. Half the guests don’t bring a dish, and nobody RSVPs these days. Last year, I had to drag two folding tables from the garage at the last minute to seat my cousin, his wife, and their three sons—who spent three hours rummaging about the bedrooms upstairs while their parents drank all the red wine they could find.

The holidays are my favorite season, and I’m a generous person, but I can’t keep doing this. 

How can I politely say no to so many family members and friends, and what’s the right way to do it without alienating my husband’s five siblings and some of our best friends from church? 

—Not-So-Merry Christmas

Dear Not-So-Merry,

Oh, you do seem genuinely generous, and I would like to help you with a magical phrase or two. A little something you can say that makes this problem go away.

Except nothing I write will change the personality flaw that has caused this problem. 

You’re a doormat. A welcoming one, and a gracious host. But a doormat nonetheless. And these friends and family are walking all over you. 


Without consequence.

Believe me, there are no uninvited guests at my Christmas dinners—since they are always held at undisclosed locations with the guests arriving, blindfolded, after my couriers and drivers determine no one followed them. If this were a one-time problem or an issue with a particular brother-in-law or neighbor, I’d provide you with a number of options. 

For example, you could announce that next year you were having a smaller gathering, by invitation only, as such a large meal was becoming too much for you to handle. Or, you could turn the tables by inviting yourself to their home for dinner. Maybe you buy plane tickets for that date, so when they arrive at your home, the lights are off, the door is locked, and they get the message while you get a fine, relaxing dinner in London or Paris.

Yet those options won’t work for you. Not right away. Because you won’t want to offend anyone. So how shall we proceed? 

The lesson you truly need to learn is to stand up for yourself. My words won’t teach you this lesson, which must be physical and visceral.

Which is why I want you to get punched.

Research your local gyms—boxing, mixed-martial arts, it doesn’t matter—and sign up for the one that lets students put on gloves and do more than hit a leather bag stuffed with rags. There is nothing like getting punched in the nose to change your personality. You won’t apologize for hitting back. You’ll learn to defend yourself, and to attack.

And when you lose the fear of physical confrontation, a little social friction will seem like a trifle.

—Professor Moriarty

See also: Dear Professor Moriarty: A Company Christmas Dinner Disaster


Guy Bergstrom is a speechwriter and reformed journalist. He's represented by literary agent Jill Marr and can be found on Twitter @speechwriterguy or at his blog, For etiquette questions you want answered in this column, try

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