It’s not uncommon during the festive season for this idea that we’re rejecting a person by saying no to take hold. Or, we think that because it’s the festive season that we’re supposed to do everything and feel a particular way. We then conflate declining a request with declining (read: rejecting) the person and making us look like a ‘bad’ person. We might fear that we’re missing out and so we quickly comply to ease our discomfort instead of being conscious about what we’re consenting to. 

Even if you accept every request until the end of time you will still be unable to get inside people’s heads or control their reactions. This is why it’s best to say yes and no authentically so that not only do you and others know where you and they stand but also so that you don’t end up corroding your relationships with resentment and dishonesty. 

If you don’t say yes authentically, you say it resentfully and fearfully, and this leads to far more problems than if you’d said no in the first place. 

Someone who makes a request or invitation is not expecting every person to say yes. Sure, like a lot of humans, they hope that people will, especially if they’re excited or not feeling too great or they just haven’t considered other people’s positions. 

It’s beneficial for us to get in touch with the feelings and thoughts that drive our decisions because it’s very possible that we do things based on emotional blackmail–our own as well as other people’s. 

Compliance, so going along with things even when it’s contrary to how we feel inside and who we really are, is about obedience, guilt and fear. When we do things from a place of obligation, we turn that person into the authority of us and put ourselves into a ‘child role’. We confuse guilt, obligation and fear-driven relationships with being a ‘loving’ ones. When we stop being conscious about what we’re consenting to, whether it’s directly or inferred, we lose our way. We wind up consenting to crossing our boundaries out of a misplaced sense of obligation.

Here are a few festive ways to say no without feeling as if the sky is falling down:

  • Thank you for inviting me to X but on this occasion, I won’t be able to make it. I hope you have a lovely time!
  • That sounds really lovely what you’re planning but I’ve already made other plans. If you do it next year, do let me know and I’ll make sure to get it in the diary! Have a great time.
  • Thanks for the invitation, but I’ve already made plans. (Note this is particularly relevant if the person in question has a habit of thinking that you’re waiting around for the royal invite). You just assumed that I was about? Oh, that’s a shame. To be honest, when I hadn’t heard from you I went ahead and made my own plans. No worries though. If you’d like to meet up in the new year, let me know a date and we can get it in the diary.
  • I know you do this event/gathering every year and I’ve been along to each one, but on this occasion, I’ll have to miss it. It’s been great fun over the years–don’t say this if it’s not true–and I’m sure you’re all going to have a great time. Please pass on my love/best wishes to everyone.
  • Let me get back to you. When do you need to know by? (Ideal if you need to work out your schedule or work out if you want to go. Not ideal though if you are in the habit of using this as a delaying tactic. If they give you a deadline or you suggest one, stick to it.) You need to know right now? If that’s the case it will have to be a no, but thank you for the invite.
  • Thanks for inviting me, mom/dad/insert person of choice. Under the circumstances though (you’re not talking to each other, squabbling or whatever), I’ve made other plans. That said, it would be really great if we could have lunch/brunch/dinner on X date and have a proper catchup. 

And here are some pandemic versions:

  • Thank you for inviting me to X, but what with everything going on with the pandemic, I won’t be able to make it. I hope you have a lovely time!
  • That sounds really lovely what you’re planning but as I’m planning to spend a few days with my family over Christmas, I’m not doing any social gatherings before then to minimise the possibility of getting ill or passing it to any of them. Let’s catch up in the new year
  • Thanks for the invite, but I’ve already got plans… Oh, you assumed that I would be about? What with everything that’s been going on, I’ve wanted to be settled about what I’m doing this year much earlier. Have a lovely time, and obviously depending on what’s happening with guidelines, we can hopefully catch up in the new year. 
  • To be honest, I assumed it wasn’t going to be happening this year. I’ve loved coming along to all of the previous events/gatherings, but this time, I’m going to give it a miss. Much as I appreciate that you’re keeping it small/opening windows/aiming to be Covid-secure, I know I won’t be relaxed. Have a wonderful time, and let’s touch base in the new year.

Believe it or not, you can leave it right there. However, if you do add anything, keep it brief. Like a couple of sentences, not an epic story or excuse.


The longer you talk, the more it sounds as if you’re trying to justify yourself or that you’re trying to make you feel better by almost eliciting guilt. And that’s not a good situation. Just say no! Yes, it will feel uncomfortable at the moment you say it and for a while afterwards but the alternative is to decline and then feel drained from telling a longwinded tale of excuses that ends up sounding like, “The dog ate my homework” or “Please feel bad about how much trouble I’m going to to say no so that I stop feeling bad!”

I have more pandemic-related no’s in this post about boundaries during the pandemic.

If you’d like more help with how to say no in general, check out my ebook of the same name which has over 400 scripts to help you say no when you need, should or want to.

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