The Modern Guide to Holiday Etiquette

From table manners to gift-giving, navigate the holiday season with these helpful tips.

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Photo By: Kori Clark

Holiday Etiquette Guide

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time to brush up on your etiquette and rules for best behavior during this season of events and gatherings. There’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing you presented yourself well as a host or guest. Fortunately, we’re sharing advice on everything from attending the office party to hosting your own holiday shindig to giving memorable gifts. Read on for 20 practical tips you can use for this holiday season!

Always RSVP

A timely holiday invitation should always be sent at least a month prior to the event. If the event is more formal, plan on sending out invitations up to two months in advance. The invitation should include specific details about the celebration, such as the date, time and location as well as the dress code, if any. If your party is an adults-only occasion, avoid using the phrase, “no kids,” and opt for a friendlier approach that lists the names of the guests you intend to invite. Most importantly, include an RSVP date for recipients to respond. This will give you a headcount prior to the party to create a menu that serves everyone attending. If you are a guest, make it a priority to RSVP as soon as you know you can or cannot attend. Avoid missing the RSVP date by setting a reminder on your calendar.

What to Wear: Office Party

With a bit of planning, you can be festive and professional at your company holiday party. If you want to wear something bold, like an animal print, tone it down with a nice blazer and fashionable clutch. A little black or red dress that is knee length with heels is always classic, as is a pantsuit for ladies that want to exude power and confidence. Other options for ladies include tailored pants or skirt with either a festive top or a simple solid top with a scarf, or a shift dress with a semi-fitted leather jacket for a sleek look. Balance is the key.

For men, it’s a great time to show off that wool coat and chambray shirt. Trousers and well-maintained boots pair well and can provide a nice balance between casual and dressed up. For a more formal event, stick with a tweed blazer and modern sweater vest. Both can be worn with dark jean or well-pressed slacks, depending on the dress code for the evening. For a little personality, sport a tie or even better, bowtie.

What to Wear: Dinner Party

Unless the invitation specifically states a theme, leave the ugly Christmas sweater in the closet along with the mistletoe hats and reindeer antlers. A dinner party during the holidays should be treated as a special event, even if it considered a casual party, so dress to impress. For a more formal affair, a festive cocktail dress with fashionable heels is always a good choice. For a more casual gathering, a good go-to involves wearing denim pants with a colorful top. Add a jacket to increase the level of sophistication of your outfit. Nice boots and booties are popular right now and will keep you looking stylish and your feet warm. For men, boots or oxfords are a safe bet to looking your best, no matter the formality of the dinner.

Wow the Hostess With Creative Gift Ideas

Chances are your host dedicated a significant amount of time ensuring everything was just right for the celebration. Show your appreciation by arriving with a gift. Big or small, the gesture will be received with glee. The following ideas will help you find the ideal present that your host will actually love and use!

Creative Hostess Gift #1: Personalize It!

To give a gift imprinted with a monogram is a classy gesture. Be the person to make that lasting impression by ordering a monogrammed present early, so it arrives in time for gifting. Trust me, the host will take note of your thoughtfulness. Household items, such as linens and towels, are great options because they can be displayed year-round. The same applies to products that encourage you to entertain, like Moscow mule mugs and cocktail shakers. For something a bit more unique, but still useful, consider having the host’s initials printed on a tote or stationery.

Creative Hostess Gift #2: Skip the Wine, Bring the Cheese

Be unpredictable and surprise your host with something other than a bottle of wine. The logical choice would be cheese, of course! A wheel of brie or wedge of Roquefort is sure to impress. Take it a step further by pairing it with a delicious preserve and a freshly baked crusty baguette from a local baker. A pairing that never gets old is an aged manchego cheese with fig spread. To complete the gift, purchase a beautiful set of cheese knives, plus a marble or wood board that will help your hostess proudly serve the offerings.

Creative Hostess Gift #3: Unique Kitchen Gadgets

Hosting frequent gatherings can take a toll on a person’s kitchen tools. Help your host upgrade their worn measuring cups, used coasters and lived-in bowls with new replacements. Consider what he or she uses often to make you and other guests feel at home and source eye-catching kitchen tools and gadgets that will make saying goodbye to the tattered items easy. If your host keeps things pristine, think outside the box of items he or she would want. For a cocktail enthusiast, for instance, bar tools fit their entertaining style well. Just remember, your gift should have longevity and withstand constant use.

Be the Best Hostess Ever

You planned the party, so make sure you get enjoy it too! It’s easy to get caught up in the kitchen or running around to make sure everyone is happy at your event. If you find yourself doing this, stop and take a breath. All your hard work will come together just fine. To ensure you execute your hosting duties with no hiccups, try these practical tips on the next three slides.

Best Hostess Tip #1: Make a To-Do List

A party is only as good as the coordination and planning skills of the host. In that respect, pull out your pen and paper and make a to-do list. Sure, you can use your phone to type it up, but studies show that people absorb information better when they physically write and take notes. Outline everything you need to do starting two weeks out. Create a shopping list, note actionable items up until the day of the party and if you have help, pen in others that can help you carry out your plan flawlessly. Your spouse, for example, can take on some of the workload if you delegate. Have him or her pick up beverages, while you grocery shop. Ask for assistance setting the table. Remember, making memories with loved ones is just as important as hosting a wonderful shindig, so ease your personal to-do list to accomplish this.

Best Hostess Tip #2: Guide Your Guests

Guests are always willing to lend a helping hand. Rather than saying no, learn to welcome help. It may be difficult if you like to have full control, but it will make the experience of hosting that more enjoyable. Get them involved by knowing what tasks are easy to complete with little direction. Small and easy tasks, when completed by a team of people, add up quite quickly, which means you have less to do. Ask a friend to light the candles on the dinner table. Have someone open a bottle of wine and pour a few glasses that can be shared while you tend to other matters. When the meal is ready, ask a few people to help you bring out the food. This way, you can have a seat with everyone when it’s time to eat.

Best Hostess Tip #3: Holiday Playlist

Plan your holiday playlist early with the help of an online streaming service. Most provide recommendations of songs you are likely to enjoy based on the theme you search. Use this feature to customize a list of songs that will keep the mood light and fun. If you do not have time to sort through the songs, consider finding stations that will set a similar mood. Of course, there’s no rule that says you can’t curate your own collection. The same applies to asking a friend you know that has phenomenal taste in music to take charge of the tunes.

Use Your Manners #1: At the Dinner Table

Depending on the formality of a holiday dinner, you might find table settings accompanied by name cards. If this is the case, locate your name and wait patiently by your chair until the host enters the room and sits down first. If no place cards are present, simply wait for the host to direct you where to sit. When seated, place your napkin on your lap. Enjoy appetizers, such as bread and butter, in bite-sized pieces. Though you likely do not need to be reminded, chew with your mouth closed and always ask for items to be passed, rather than reaching over diners. Other items to keep in mind include chatting only with people seated closest to you, complementing the host and cook, and waiting for others to finish their meal before placing your napkin on your plate.

Use Your Manners #2: At the Bar

Holiday parties will likely have you surrounded by an abundance of liquors, mixers and beers. Plan on having a few drinks, but stop shy of intoxication. A good guest remains composed and in self-control through the entirety of the party. In similar fashion, allow others to partake in the libations as they deem fitting for their comfort level. If a friend or family member prefers non-alcoholic beverages, allow them to sip on their drink without the frustrations of being pressured into drinking. As long as everyone is having fun and can remain civil, the party will go on without a hitch.

Use Your Manners: Under the Mistletoe

Mistletoe, not to be confused with holly, can be quite interesting if you do not know how to handle yourself. Understanding the rules of a mistletoe kiss will help immensely. If you find yourself under one with another, just remember the kiss should be quick and light. Unless you are entirely comfortable with the other person and they have mutual feelings, keep your hands around a festive beverage to share a peck that does not include additional contact. If you are uncomfortable with the entire concept, just make sure you scope out your surroundings to note where they are hanging. This will help you steer clear of kisses throughout the night.

How to Make a Short & Sweet Toast

Giving a toast is completely acceptable and welcomed during the holidays. A great toast can liven up a gathering instantly. So how do you craft an effective one that guests will remember? First, hook them with a one- to two-line intro that focuses on the person you want to give the toast to and make it funny or mysterious to keep people engaged. Follow it up with a couple sentences that lead you into a perfect story that encompasses why the person you are toasting is worthy of the spotlight. Include a punch line that is not only humorous, but will warm the heart. Making sure your entire toast is short and sweet, ask guests to raise their glass in honor of your special someone.

Time to Decorate for the Holidays

Plan on pulling out the Christmas decorations a week or two after Thanksgiving. While it seems early, it’s the best time to decide upon a theme, unpack and dust off your decorations, shop for anything extra you may need and start making any DIY holiday decorations on your wish list. Turn on Christmas music, gather family and friends to help put up the Christmas tree, hang wreaths and holiday lights. When picking a holiday theme, select a color scheme that fits your style. If traditional is your jam, go with reds and greens. Feeling a bit modern? Pick an all-white theme and spruce it up with metallic, such as gold and silver. You can easily tone it down with a few natural elements, like burlap and wood material. 

The Art of Gift Giving

There are three sides of gifting. The first is giving a gift. Doing a little research can go a long way in helping you select a thoughtful gift your recipient will love. Take into consideration their interests as well as how your gift will be interpreted based on the person’s personal and cultural differences.

When receiving a gift, a smile speaks volumes. That and a thank you will make a person feel warm and wonderful about spending the time to find something just for you. If you are in a situation where you are the only person receiving a gift, be mindful of how opening your gift in front of others can make them feel. Consider stepping outside with your friend to open the present. The new environment will not only be more intimate, but will give you an opportunity to express gratitude honestly without peering eyes.

The final part of gift giving is the re-gift. Only re-gift items you’d be happy to receive. It is okay to be honest about the reason for the re-gift too. For instance, you can re-gift a present because you already own the item or it does not match a color scheme you strive to maintain. No matter the type of gifting you partake in, just makes sure it is done in a whole-hearted manner.

Be the Perfect Houseguest

Ensure you receive another invitation to return by being considerate of your host’s time. Stay only the timeframe you originally agreed upon, and during that period, lend a helping hand. Your goal should always be to leave the home in the same shape, if not better, then when you arrived. That means making your bed, handling the dishes and picking up after yourself. If your host has dogs, offer to walk them in the morning, so there’s one less task to complete.

In terms of expectations, it’s always beneficial to inquire about the house rules. Learn when your host likes to wake up and go to bed as well as special stipulations regarding children and pets. The more you know, the less likely there will be a misunderstanding. Other traits of a perfect houseguest include bringing your own toiletries and having activities to entertain yourself. The latter is especially helpful when visiting more than three days. 


Bringing a pet to stay at someone else’s house can be a sensitive subject for all parties involved. The host is not obliged to invite your pet when they invite you to stay, so do not bring your pet without a very clear invitation. If your well-behaved furry friend does get the coveted invite, here are a few tips to consider. Before arriving, communicate with the host and ask what the house rules are, for instance, animals are not allowed on the furniture or in certain rooms of the house.

Bring all the pet’s supplies, as if you would if staying at a pet-friendly hotel. Your host may not want your pet using her fresh linens and pillows. Be sure to keep a close eye on your pet in the new surroundings, and prevent him from destroying anything or disrupting the normal flow of house activity. In the event that your pet doesn’t behave as you’d hoped, have a backup plan.

Say Thank You

It’s always nice to acknowledge those who made your holiday cheerful and memorable. Show your appreciation with a note card that is personalized and handwritten to that special person. Take some time to consider what they did to make your holiday special, so you can specifically highlight the acts in your card. This makes a larger impact than writing a generic message. Also include a statement that expresses excitement of continuing the relationship. A good way to do this is to think about the next time you’ll see your loved one and communicating eagerness of that meetup. End the card by restating your gratitude and including a warm sign off. Just as important as the message is knowing when to send out the card. Remember, sooner is always better.