Family Tradition Flop: How to be polite when you can’t participate

by Daniel Post Senning on May 31, 2013

Q: My southern brother sends family fruitcake every year. I love it, but can no longer eat nuts due to medical condition. My other siblings receive and do not like it. They usually throw out or give it away.

The giftor is retired now. I feel badly that he is contributing effort and expense for these items yearly that are not graciously received. Should I tell him to discontinue the tradition? I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but don’t want him to continue to spend his money. What should I do?

A: We understand this tricky situation. We agree that these are thoughtful gifts, and it’s important not to hurt your brother’s feelings.

Since you have a medical condition that means you can’t consume nuts, we think that’s a very legitimate way to approach a conversation with him. You would write a gracious thank-you note for the gift, and then next time you speak with him, mention that although you have really enjoyed this gift-giving tradition, you’re afraid you aren’t able to enjoy the cakes anymore because of your health concern.

That said, if there’s someone else in your household or office who enjoys fruitcake and you think asking your brother to stop sending it could hurt his feelings, you could just keep the tradition going and not risk making him feel uncomfortable.

As for your siblings, we’d say it’s up to them to choose whether to accept the gifts and say nothing, or to mention ending the tradition on their own. You don’t need to speak for them (and they may prefer that you don’t).

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