INTERIORS

MIND YOUR MANNERS WITH THESE ETIQUETTE HOLIDAY TIPS

Managing manners for the party season.

December 14, 2021

Christmas is one of the biggest celebrations of the year,  but it can also be one of the most stressful. Between crowded shops and people’s expectations, we all run the risk of feeling let down, which can lead to tension and bad behaviour. Avoid letting this happen by taking breaks to think about what the holiday is truly about. At its core, Christmas has nothing to do with standing in long lines, drinking too much, or expecting expensive gifts. It’s more meaningful and rewarding to think of others.

Take a few minutes and enjoy some quiet moments with your children to help prevent your tension from affecting them and remind yourself of a few simple rules. Tell your host whether you’re attending, be on time, be a willing participant, offer to help when you can, don’t overindulge, thank your host twice. Be yourself – and allow others to treat you with respect. And don’t criticise or complain.

Maybe modern-day manners are not as formal as in generations past, but in some ways, they’ve improved — they’re less about what fork to use and more about tolerance and respect for others’ differences.

Be observant and modify your manners to each connection you make. You have to learn as you go. It quickly becomes easy. When you are with someone with great manners. You will never want to leave their side. Read more, ‘Dinner Party Rules And Etiquette At A Party.’

Making good on social obligations never goes out of fashion. Photo: @Aerin

The most important tip: Greet every guest 

Greet everyone at the door and make small talk with everyone. Introduce guests to each other. Ask a family member, friend or professional to be on hand to help out with other things, so you can be available to say “Merry Christmas” to each guest as he or she arrives. Complement people. Find something you admire, and say so.

Manners are the kindness we give without sarcasm, judgment or expectation.

When it is Acceptable to Make a Dash for It

People always worry that it’s rude to leave a party early. Actually, it’s ruder to overstay. Because – within reason – if you leave and they mind, they are terrorist friends and you need to examine the power balance. The general rule is you can leave a lunch or dinner after pudding but before coffee. If you are at a wedding, it really is best to stay for speeches.  If it’s a weekday dinner and they serve the meal at 10, then it’s perfectly acceptable to leave after the main course.

Martha Stewart famously tells guests overstaying their welcome, “I will see you at the next party” – and leaves the room. Brilliant.

Christmas Cards 

You don’t have to send one every year. Cards don’t have to be reciprocal, however, if someone sends you a card and they hadn’t been on your “send list” and you have extras, send one. Or add them to your list for next year. You don’t have to be wordy, but a nice thought above your signature can make someone’s day. Keep it brief and positive.

Holiday greeting cards are a great way to spread cheer and good wishes.

People always worry that it’s rude to leave a party early. Actually, it’s ruder to overstay.  Photo: Architecturaldigest.com

DO’S AND DON’TS FOR THE CHRISTMAS PARTY SEASON

Stick to the Plan 

Dates and times for the arrival and departure of weekend holiday guests should not only be clearly communicated, they should be considered something of a contractual obligation. As guests suddenly decide to play their visit by ear, depending on the weather, a hostess can be left high and dry with one lonely bachelor and a large side of salmon on her hands, or flooded with guests and have to make one chicken do for Sunday lunch. Anyone who has ever spent the day organising the house and stocking the fridge for weekend or lunch guests, that backs out at the last minute will agree. Read more, ‘How To Throw A Very Successful Party.’

Making good on social obligations never goes out of fashion.

About gifts

Do give a small Christmas gift to your neighbours. Do be kind when you open your gifts this year. Never say “this isn’t my kind of thing” when you open a present – even if it clearly isn’t. Read more, ‘Let’s Discuss: The Etiquette of Asking, ‘Where Did You Get That.’

Showing your displeasure at a present is plain, bad manners.

Being a Host 

We tend to put a lot of effort into looking after others at Christmas, but finding five minutes for yourself can do wonders to get you through the chaos. If might feel selfish, but prioritising your own joy over the holidays can help you figure out what you need to do and what you can miss this year. Read more, ‘Get The Party Started: How To Be The Perfect Host.’

Being a Guest 

If someone has invited you for a holiday dinner, party, or overnight, be a gracious guest and mind your manners. Take a gift. If you drop or spill something, clean it up to the best of your ability and let the host or hostess know. Read more, ’20 Little Social Etiquette Rules Everyone Should Follow.’

Don’t be Rude

When someone starts talking politics, conspiracy theories, or when your aunt ramps up with the crazy, do nothing. You are not going to change anyone’s mind at Christmas, not about anything. Just smile and listen, then ask for seconds, for thirds, and clear the table when it’s all done.

Don’t prosecute. Don’t inveigh. Just listen.

Maybe modern-day manners are not as formal as in generations past, but in some ways, they’ve improved — they’re less about what fork to use and more about tolerance and respect for others’ differences. Photo: @Aerin

Ting-Ting

Make a brief speech if you must, but on no account go around the table asking guests to hold forth – it is a tedious act that sucks the fun out of the evening.

Speaking of fun – never stand up and say anything that starts with the phrase ‘I thought it would be fun if…’ People will die inside.

About Tipping

To all the meanies out there, not having any cash, is no longer an excuse – you can transfer straight from your phone. It’s always important to be generous with tips after you receive good service, but it’s especially important during the holidays when you want to spread good cheer.

Don’t Bring Uninvited Guests With You

Bringing uninvited companions puts you in the danger zone of rudeness. Read more, ‘MP X BELLE: How To Host A Sparkling Dinner Party.’

Do Find Time to Dance

The one thing you absolutely must do? Dancing is one of life’s joys. You can have three left feet, be practically passed out on mango margaritas and still look cool.

Say thank you

They are the two hardest words in the English language for most people to say, but they work wonders.

Say hello

If you pass someone you recognise at a party, greet them. Don’t scuttle past like a cockroach. Saying hello makes everyone feel better. Read more, ‘An Entertaining Plan To Maximise Mingling.’

Tell your host whether you’re attending, be on time, be a willing participant, offer to help when you can, don’t overindulge, thank your host twice. Photo: @zarahome

Don’t do anything that makes others feel uncomfortable

Whether it’s swearing or talking about money.

Be on time

We’re all busy, so don’t make anyone wait for you over the holidays which is one of the busiest times of year.

Listen, listen, listen

If all you can hear is your own voice, shut up.

Put down that mobile

Even cradling it in your hand when you’re talking to someone in the flesh is a subtle sign that there’s someone you’d rather be chatting to.

Look at the person who is speaking to you. Seriously. Look up from your smartphone.

Dress for the Occasion

‘Dressing up’ to go out will take on a new meaning this holiday season. It will energise events after the confines of the pandemic.

Be Generous 

You don’t have to spend a fortune on gifts, but it is nice to have something for all your friends and family members. If funds are tight, bake cookies, divide them up, put them in clear bags, and decorate the package with colourful ribbons.

Since proper etiquette is all about being respectful and gracious, here are some ideas to make this holiday season even more special: Do a good deed. Photo: @Aerin

Show Gratitude 

Never expect a gift from anyone but be grateful for anything someone gives you. Keep in mind that the person took time to think about you and select something he or she thought you would like.

Regifting 

Go ahead. Many think regifting is shameful—but research suggests the problem is all in the regifter’s head. The person who first gave the item is less likely to be offended than the regifter expects. So your lucky neighbour is likely to be delighted with the casserole dish or pretty soap dish your aunt gave you which is similar to one you already had.

And research data is increasingly revealing –  it turns out it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the gift that counts.

Children 

Spend extra time with your children or grandchildren and be prepared to remind them of the manners you taught them. It’s easy to forget during the chaos surrounding Christmas.

Make the Holidays Extra Special

Since proper etiquette is all about being respectful and gracious, here are some ideas to make this holiday season even more special: Do a good deed. Look for opportunities to perform acts of kindness and involve your children. Find a giving tree and purchase gifts for someone you don’t know.

Holiday Kindness

As you celebrate the holidays, put “be kind” at the top of your to-do list. Your rewards will be much greater than if you focus more on less significant things. Not only will you have a more joyful season, but so will everyone else around you.

If might feel selfish, but prioritising your own joy over the holidays can help you figure out what you need to do and what you can miss this year.  Photo: Architecturaldigest.com

Thank You Cards

Emails are fine but there’s nothing better than receiving something in the post as soon as possible after Christmas, sent to anyone who has given you a gift, hosted an event that you attended, or done something special for you. Even if you receive an awful gift, still send a thank you note.

And because letters or cards are becoming special, they have to be done correctly, written in the right tone, on the right sort of stationery, and sent at the right time.  A single page – two at the most – is ideal, and will convey just the right personal touch without imposing too much on the time and eyesight of the recipient.

People never forget a great letter.

Get the stationery right

Something appropriate to the occasion and the circumstances. By your stationery shall you be judged. Good stationery need not be expensive, indeed it can be cheaper than greeting cards. Rather than buying expensive one-offs, get a box of decent stuff from a specialist business.

A good letter in the post is a treat, to be read and re-read, kept in a box, tied with ribbon and found years later. So make sure yours are everything a letter should be. They can be short or long, or funny, or sad, but they have to be heartfelt, interesting, thoughtful and well constructed.

Emails are fine but there’s nothing better than receiving something in the post as soon as possible after Christmas. Melissa’s letter writing station.

Keep it simple

Good writing is simple and crystal clear. Sentences should be short (twenty words or fewer. And broken up with even shorter sentences. Really. It adds interest and variety to the rhythm. Big sentences are scary. So are long paragraphs.

Get them in

Make your first sentence a winner. Funny, inviting, conversational, as though your reader is curling up on a sofa with you.

Be witty, not windy

Express your ideas in as few words as possible. ‘We hope’ is better than…’It is hoped to be’….

No Christmas Round Robbins

Letters should be personal. Don’t write letters that begin, ‘Dear Everybody..and go into a litany of the triumphs and travails of every family member over the past year.

It’s not all about you

Don’t write me-me-me letters whose only reference to the recipient is in the first two words, (‘Dear Charlotte…’). Express interest in the goings-on of your friends lives over the holidays, and keep inquiring or referring back to them throughout, ‘I’ve got twenty people coming for Christmas, I wish I could cook like you..’ or ‘We’re off to Palm Beach after Boxing Day for New Year, I’ll make a point of going to that restaurant you recommended..’

How to write a holiday thank you letter 

The most neglected piece of correspondence, but the one when done right, makes the biggest impact. After a lovely Christmas party or dinner, the hosts should be rewarded by a note to show you’ve appreciated all their efforts. Be effusive, and round things off with a little update of yourself, and a hint of reciprocation to come.

Write the way you speak, as if they were in the room and you were chatting to them. Write from the heart, and pop in inthe post. It’s so easy once you get the hang of it.

The rules on Christmas stationery

These haven’t changed in two or three hundred years: quality, restraint and simplicity are key. Anything stiff – parchment or card and deckle-edged is good. Coloured paper is modern – anything pink or green to oyster and ivory works. Weight and feel is vital; watermarks are a formal touch. If you know someone well, there’s nothing nicer than a pretty card from a museum shop.

A stiff card, with or without a contrast border, is smart and suits every occasion. Letterhead makes you look very establishment – emboss is better than simply printed. Keep it simple, just your name, address and email. Anything more is too much information. Forget sealing wax, it’s too try-hard. Your envelopes should match the paper, and be lined for added impact. Never frank an envelope. Always use a stamp, so much nicer. *Lead image via Vogue.com

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