Here's How To Decline Holiday Invitations When You Have A Hard Time Saying No

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
A mother hugging her son next to a Christmas tree during holidays

‘Twas the last few days until Christmas, and you’ve yet to work up the courage to decline that celebratory holiday invitation. Maybe you absolutely hate going to your great uncle’s house because he smokes heavily and can’t shut up about the 2016 presidential election. Maybe your work party isn’t how you want to spend your Saturday night. Whatever the event, and whatever the reason, you need to decline—ASAP.

The question is, how to decline invitations gracefully? How can you say “thanks, but no thanks” without coming across as a jerk to your boss or dear relative? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. You can, and will, say no.

Don’t apologize.

You don’t need to offer an apology for not attending. First, what, exactly, are you apologizing for? You are basically saying, “Sorry, not sorry.” Instead of being insincerely or sheepish with a faux, automatic apology, keep the apology out of your RSVP, please.

Don’t explain yourself.

Women, especially, are conditioned to be people pleasers. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you aren’t attending an event. That’s your business. Plus, not everyone actually cares why you aren’t attending. You don’t need to try to self-validate or ease anyone else’s feelings about you not showing up by offering some tangled, lengthy explanation.

Don’t lie.

Don’t bother making some sort of fake excuse about why you can’t attend. You’re just asking for drama. If you say you or your kids are sick, everyone is going to think you have COVID — of course. If you say something came up, like car trouble, you’ll totally get busted when someone sees your Instagram story. You are definitely not stranded by the side of the road. You are in your PJs watching a Christmas movie with your kids.

Don’t break your promises.

If the event requires something from you, even though you aren’t attending, that’s OK. Maybe the family is expecting the two pies that you usually bake every year. Offer to drop them off the week before. Perhaps you offered to contribute to the white elephant gift exchange — just do so in advance. Whatever your prior commitment was, fulfill it. There’s no need to leave someone else in a bind which will only breed resentment.

Don’t beat yourself up.

Make a decision and stick to it. If your inclination is not to attend, and your reasons truly matter to you, that’s it. There’s no reason to pine over the event, check out the social media posts of those who are attending, or worry how others are reacting to you not being there. Instead, do what you want to do. Maybe you’re wrapping up your holiday shopping, enjoying takeout with your partner, or reading a book in bed. Give yourself permission to relish in your good decision.

Don’t backtrack later.

If you get any pushback after the event for not attending, don’t fall back on old habits. Again, you don’t have to apologize, explain yourself, lie, or beat yourself up for not attending. You can ignore the inquiry, or you can keep it simple with a “I wasn’t able to attend this year. Thanks for checking in on me. I hope you had a nice time!” Leave it at that.

Now, you know what you shouldn’t do, but perhaps you’re wondering what you should do. How, exactly, do you decline an invitation? You can say, “Thank you for the invitation, but I have to decline.” You can also take the perky route with something like “That sounds like fun, but I can’t make it this year.” There’s always the option to say, quite bluntly, “I am unable to attend.” Keep it brief and honest.

The likelihood is that you’re making the process of declining a way bigger deal than it actually is—and your procrastination is only making you feel worse. Plus, you’re taking the lead here. If you’re vague, overly detailed, or insincere, you will create the very drama you were trying to avoid in the first place. When and how you decline invitations sets the tone—in part—for what will follow.

It’s been said before that no is a complete sentence. Remember that the holidays aren’t just about making other people happy. This season is also about finding peace and joy, relaxing, and reflecting on the past year. Pour yourself a glass of champagne and toast yourself for putting a healthy boundary in place. It’s a great skill to have — all year long.

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