10 Tips For Holiday Hosting Etiquette

If you are having people over for the holidays, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on hosting etiquette. Certified etiquette specialist August Abbott from JustAnswer.com, who has more than 40 years of experience in the field, shares ten tips for making sure you are the hostess with the mostess. Impress your guests with fantastic holiday etiquette this season.

1. Table Manners

A couple complaining to a waitress at a cafe table.
Photo Credit: Rommel Canlas/Shutterstock.

Table manners seem to have gone the way of actual silverware these days, with serving dishes being styrofoam-covered deliveries or fast food cardboard trays and the infamous ‘spork’ utensil.  Still, with never-ending hope that coming generations will one day appreciate the gracious style of table etiquette, I remind everyone of the very basics. No elbows on the table, ever. Use the right utensils. Never speak with food in your mouth. 

2.  Actual Holiday Cards

Female hands slide a holiday card into an envelope.
Photo Credit: Ostanina Anna/Shutterstock.

Christmas cards have morphed into digital messages, which are nice, but there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned effort of addressing the cards, writing something personal in them, and then stamping and sending them.   The thoughtfulness of selecting something for an individual and taking the time out of your life to devote to them in this simple effort shows genuine care and love.

3. Snail Mail Those Invitations

A smiling man opens an invitation.
Photo Credit: G-Stock Studio/Shuitterstock.

Party invitations shouldn’t be tricky.  Again, the internet is quick and easy, but the invitations that come in the mail are so much more official and help people feel special.  because they are not part of a mass emailing.

4.  Say No Politely

A little girl with blond hair holds up her index finger with a scowl on her face.
Photo Credit: Jihan Nafiaa Zahri/Shutterstock.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to say ‘no’ to such invitations, and the reason- especially if it’s something personal against another guest – is improper and gauche if you mention it.  A simple, “I’m sorry, I have a previous promise to fulfill that day/evening” will suffice. 

A proper host will not ask why; however, if this happens, stay strong and vague.  You’ve simply got something else going on that day, and if the host is insistent, reassure them you’ll explain more after the holiday. Hopefully, by then, they’ve forgotten, but if not, it’s better to air your feelings afterward rather than prior to or during.

5. Politics

A family argues at a dinner table.
Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.

The host taps their glass with a spoon, and once everyone is paying attention, they announce, with a smile, “This is a politics and religion-free space for this evening.  Please respect this one rule “  and then choose someone particularly opinionated and ask them “(name) I’ve always wondered what you were like at 12 years old.  What did you want to be or do in life?” These are the best and most fun conversations you can imagine.  Get everyone to join in. 

6. Regifting

A woman opens a gift with a scowl on her face.
Photo Credit: F01 PHOTO/Shutterstock.

Regifting is a frequent concern, to which I offer two schools of thought:  First, it’s fine to do so if the original gifter does not know the person now receiving the gift.  It would be wise to regift it to Auntie Alice in Argentina rather than Cousin Connie in Connecticut if you and the original gift giver live in Connecticut.  You don’t want to regift artwork if the gift giver will be visiting your home regularly.  This is one of those comedies where when a gift giver is coming by, you quickly switch out a hung artwork with their artwork for the extent of their visit. 

The second option is kind honesty or even asking permission:  “(name) I love the thought behind that painting you gave me and my auntie/cousin/whoever gushed so much over it that I offered it to them – and they jumped at the chance.  I did it without even thinking they’d say yes, but I thought you’d enjoy knowing that it’s somewhere being loved and shown off” 

OK – so there’s some exaggeration in the explanation, but sometimes it’s okay to make sure feelings aren’t hurt.  

Actually, there’s a third option:  Ask!  After a reasonable period of time wherein you’ve supposedly been enjoying the gift, ask the gift giver if you can re-gift it.  Again, the explanation isn’t that you don’t like it, but you know someone who will gush over it and who ‘needs’ it.

7.   Proper Pricing

A woman counting cash with a wrapped gift sitting next to her.
Photo Credit: Ostanina Anna/Shutterstock.

If you’re in a gift-giving group with a price established – stay with it.  Never spend less than the suggested expenditure and never more than about $5.00 over that suggested price point.   

By spending more, you make others feel jealous, judgemental, and ‘lesser than’- nobody wants to feel these negative things during the holidays.  

If there is no price point on gift giving – never spend more than the receiver could spend on you. It creates feelings of guilt in the person you give the gift to.

The exception here is within the family.  Children giving parents extravagant gifts are fine; parents giving children, brothers and sisters exchanges, etc., are all (usually) acceptable. Once again, though, if it’s just showing off that you’re doing better than the recipient, please don’t.  

8. Returns

A woman returning a shirt in a store.
Photo Credit: Odua Images/Shutterstock.

When it comes to returning gifts – as long as the giver includes a receipt or gift return option – they expect that you might and are okay with it.  It’s your ‘permission’.

When you have to ask for a receipt to make a return, and it’s not because you have the wrong size (clothing gifts) – this gets sticky.  Honesty dictates: “(name) I like the (gift) you gave me and recently saw something else along the same lines – would it be ok if I exchanged this for that?” 

Then you have the no receipt exchange or, worse, money back.  It’s hard to tell someone you need the money more than the gift, but sometimes that’s the case.  Here, you need to decide whether or not to tell.  If the gift giver will never, ever know,  I wouldn’t tell.  Otherwise, just keep the gift. 

9.  Introductions

A couple greeting somebody at their door.
Photo Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.

It’s the evening of the big holiday party at Samantha and Joe’s house.  You are greeted at the door by Samantha or Joe or a designated greeter, often a dear friend or relative to the hosts. if you aren’t terribly close to them, then you need to introduce yourselves.  “Hi, I’m Jane, and this is Jim, my husband/significant other/partner/roommate” 

At this point the greeter should usher you in and make introductions:  “Everyone, this is Samantha and Joe. Samantha and Joe, let me introduce you around,” and with that, you are taken to the eldest in the party first.  From there introduced to the next eldest and so on until ending with the youngest.  

Do you need to walk in with something?  Absolutely.  The more typical gifts are bottles of wine, but don’t let that rule you.  There are fun-related items such as animal-shaped wine bottle holders, unique sets of cork or screw top replacers, or live plants (no poinsettias, please). Steer clear of gift cards – you don’t want this to feel like a party with an admission price. 

Do not feel slighted if your gift of wine isn’t opened or if other gifts aren’t shown around.  This isn’t what you brought it for – so remember that.  It’s for the hosts to enjoy at their leisure.  An especially good host will ask you if you’d like them to open your bottle so they can have some.  Many guests will bring their own wine because it’s one they know they like. 

10. Saying Thank You

A woman writing thank you notes at a desk.
Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.

Finally, a snail-mail ‘thank you’ note for being invited shows consideration. If someone goes out of their way to share something special with us, be it a gift or event, it is just plain rude and even arrogant not to say ‘thank you.’ 

You should also expect a thank you note from your party hosts for whatever it is you brought to the event, and that includes just showing up.

August Abbot is a certified etiquette specialist, answering all your questions at JustAnswer.com.

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