Holiday Ethics Quiz: The Family Stuffing Dilemma

Families can fight about anything.

Further proof that families can fight about anything.

In the category of the kind of ethics controversy only families can devise comes this one, from an old friend from high school, who just e-mailed me for advice:

She is having her sister and her sister’s family, all adults, over for Christmas dinner. She is cooking all of it, turkey, stuffing, chestnuts roasting on a open fire, Andy Williams on a spit—the works. Today her sister tells her that her daughter will be bringing her own turkey stuffing, because she likes her recipe best. My friend said, “Fine,” and hung up. Now she is quietly fuming. She asks, “What kind of behavior is that? I’m inviting them to dinner. Who brings their own private courses because it’s their personal preference?” (She adds that nobody has ever complained about her stuffing. I can personally vouch for that: I’ve eaten it in past years, and it’s excellent.)

My friend thinks the whole idea is an insult and bad manners, and wants to call up her sister to say, oh, lots of possible things, like “You know Christmas Eve when we’re coming over to your house for dinner? Well, my daughter will be bringing hamburgers, because she thinks the food you serve is crap,” or, Tell Phyllis she’s welcome to make her own stuffing and get her ass over here at 6 AM to stuff it in our bird, or she can live with what I’m serving,” or “Why don’t you all just bring your favorite damn dishes and we can just have pot luck?”

So it’s a two-part Christmas Ethics Quiz for the Ethics Alarms faithful:

1. Is the daughter’s conduct inexcusably rude?

2. Should my friend say anything about it?

Hurry up with your advice, because a battle seems to be brewing. My take: yes, it’s rude, but really, so what? It’s a family Christmas dinner; if the picky daughter’s  own special stuffing will make her merry, why turn it into a family feud? After Christmas, like a few days after, it would be kind to then explain to Phyllis that she missed a class or two in Manners and Consideration 101: bringing your own food when you’ve been invited to dinner and aren’t under food restrictions for medical reasons is tacky. Setting off a Christmas Cataclysm by telling her to stuff it, however, is tackier, and shows a lack of proportion.

17 thoughts on “Holiday Ethics Quiz: The Family Stuffing Dilemma

  1. 1. Yes, it is rude. (I think the sister should have told her daughter to be nice and just don’t eat the stuffing)
    2. I wouldn’t say anything to sister or niece. To do so would only cause family strife–it is only stuffing.

  2. Kids can be finicky eaters and there may be unknown family dynamics at play that are being resolved by letting the daughter bring her favorite stuffing. For some kids what they eat is the one thing they have some control of in their lives and large family get-togethers is not the place and time to deal with it.

    Turkey stuffing is one of those special things you may have only once or twice a year and is associated with much more than just occupying a slot in the menu.

    For me, it is more strongly associated with childhood memories of past holiday meals than turkey itself and I think the creation of positive holiday memories for the kids trumps all the other considerations.

    Think of it more like a pot-luck dinner than a competition because in the end this means one thing for sure: MORE STUFFING! Yes!

      • I first read that as “emaciated adult” and thought she must be really hungry…

        Putting up with weird relatives at family gatherings is a tradition that must go back to the times depicted in the opening scene from 2001

  3. Rude yes.

    Need to point out its rudeness and ruin the holidays? No. Everyone is intelligent enough to know its rudeness and will adjust their own attitude appropriately. Don’t counter rude behavior with an argument that will not solve the problem before the holiday.

  4. Rude? Yes.

    Make sure to tell (not ask) her to make enough for everybody, and bring it in early. Mention that the cranberry sauce has to be home-made too, from fresh cranberries – she should bring enough of that as well.

    Also give her thanks for being so thoughtful.

    Who knows, it might become a family tradition.

  5. Since there are slam-dunk correct answers here, all I can do is hope than none involved are admirers of personal weaponry, nor prone to violence. Sadly, I have seen holiday meals seriously spoiled over less serious issues.

    What ever happened to asking “what can we bring?”

    Double stuffing! Can’t beat that!
    Bon apatite!

  6. Let the young woman bring her own dressing. One would hope she will make enough for everyone. Don’t make a big deal because always remember, what goes up and around comes down and around. A humble lesson is in the future for this picky eater. Merry Christmas.

  7. That’s a weird situation because the rudeness is usually the other way around: Someone invites you to their party and then tells they want you to bring stuff. Perhaps the daughter is just used to that kind of party. Or perhaps she just feels like she should contribute and wants to share a favorite dish. Or maybe not. Whatever the case, the best response is to respond as if she’s not acting out of rudeness. There is nothing to be gained by a confrontation.

  8. When you’re invited to a holiday banquet such as Thanksgiving or Christmas- and in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, if ever- one should ask the host what he’d like them to contribute to the meal. Often, you’ll be told first off, “Oh, just bring your appetite”. However, the discerning guest should then propose a contribution consistant with previous successes- if any! If the reply is, “Wellllll… you do make good cornbread stuffing.”, then the guest’s duty is clear and honor is satisfied!

    There’s an old adage, though, that used to be the basis of all diplomacy. “Eat what is set before you.” If you are a guest at a dinner affair, you have a moral obligation AS a guest. One is that you do not insult the founder of the feast by bringing hamburgers to a turkey dinner with all the fixin’s. If your young person isn’t sufficiently schooled in that concept, then you’ve not been entirely successful as a parent. If a minor in your home, you tell him he WILL come along, he WILL eat the food and he WILL be courteous if he treasures his social life. If he’s grown, then he can enjoy his Christmas dinner at Pedro’s Panderia for all you care.

    This is COMMON courtesy, people!

  9. Actually I think she should talk about it and tell both the sister & the daughter about it. It is her party, eat what is provided by the host, at YOUR house eat your stuffing. When did it become wrong to let people know your honest opinion/feelings? The hostess has rights just like the daughter, I rather talk about it them let it turn into resentment. And for the record its not just stuffing but its about respect for other peoples feelings.

    • Well, I guess the situation was handled badly from the start. If the daughter wanted to bring her own stuffing, she, not her mother, should have called and asked, “Aunt ______, do you mind if I bring my stuffing too? I’m really interested in getting your opinion on my recipe.” Admittedly, the last part does not necessarily reflect her true motives, but it would certainly have eased any possible hurt feelings. However, this did not happen. Simply announcing that her daughter was bringing a dish that she preferred was rude because, by this action, the sister and her daughter failed to account for the feelings of the hostess. The statement, “I like mine better”, brings with it an implied criticism of the hostess’s efforts. To thoughtlessly not anticipate this is rude.
      That being said, if the woman’s mission in hosting Christmas is to celebrate fellowship and familial bonds, then I think it would be wrong and unethical to say anything. Certainly, she has a right to voice her “honest opinion/feelings”, but the larger question she should ask herself is, “Would exercising this right contribute to the celebration, or would it simply be an effort to validate my resentment?”
      If, on the other hand, she is hosting Christmas so that she can bask in kudos from her grateful guests, then by all means, she should say something and make the event even more about her.
      Wisdom I learned from my Mother: You can’t control how people behave, but you can control how you react to their behavior. The hostess should put aside her justifiably hurt feeling so that everyone can enjoy the holiday.

  10. Of course it is rude, unless the eater of the special dish has an allergy (gluten, oysters, etc.) to the ingredients in the Hostess’ stuffing and is tired of getting sick or going to the hospital after dinner.

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