The Best and Worst Holiday Party Etiquette
Learn how to make it to January 1st with your dignity intact.
If there's one thing we know for sure about the holiday season, it's that there will be parties. So… many… parties, with families and friends and coworkers and probably even a few strangers. Love 'em or hate 'em, they're a social obligation that can't be avoided entirely. Sooner or later, you're going to have to say yes to one of those invites. But are you ready?
Sure, you might think you are, but holiday parties can be minefields of bad decisions and cringe-worthy gaffes. Even the most seasoned holiday vet may not be fully prepared for everything. There are a lot of etiquette rules out there, and not all of them are steering you in the right direction. So let's separate fact from fiction. Here are some of the best holiday party etiquette you should be following, and some of the absolute worst. Choose wisely, and you'll make it to 2019 without ending up on any naughty lists.
Good advice: RSVP
Seriously. It's just not just a formality, or assuring your host that you have no intention of blowing them off. An RSVP gives them valuable information that can make all the difference between a festive gathering and a party that devolves into DEFCON 4 disaster. Have you ever been to a holiday party that didn't have enough booze or ran out of hors-d'oeuvres? Blame it on the jerk(s) who didn't RSVP. And for once you get there, be sure you're well aware of these 30 Biggest Holiday Party No-No's.
Bad advice: Be the first to arrive.
Listen, we know holiday parties can be exciting. We know you're eager to get there and start sipping on cocktails. Thing is, showing up early to your host's house is not just presumptuous but also tactless. You may catch them half-dressed or still setting up. They're not expecting you to arrive early. Heck, they're not even expecting you to be on time. If a party is advertised as starting at 8:00 p.m., that means get there no earlier then 8:30 p.m. That's just common sense, people. The only reason you should be at a party exactly when it begins is if you live there.
Good advice: Dress slightly better than you plan on.
If the dress code for a party is listed as casual, go one step above what you consider casual. That's a good rule of thumb for any party and a guarantee that you'll never feel like the most underdressed person there. Better to be too formal then feel awkward and silly because you decided to wear shorts.
Bad advice: Talk a lot about yourself.
The other guests surely want to hear about you, but there's a limit. Tales of your exploits and what a spectacular year it's been for you are all well and fine, but leave some room for people to discuss things that aren't about you. Try asking other people questions and showing some curiosity about their lives.
Good advice: Nurse your drink.
We're going to assume that if you're reading this, you're an adult. Here's one of the great things about being a grown up: You can get alcohol whenever you want! Seriously, you could walk into a liquor store right now and buy as much as your heart desires. At your next holiday party, try to avoid drinking booze like you're a teenager who's just broken into his parents' liquor cabinet. This isn't your only chance to drink alcohol all year. Slow your roll and just sip on that cocktail.
Bad advice: Talk only with people you know well.
We're not saying you have to stay away from the people you love. Just try to mix it up a little. Holiday parties are a great opportunity to meet new people, but sometimes you have to make the first move. Walk up to someone you don't know and introduce yourself. What's the worst that can happen? Who knows, you might meet somebody fascinating and broaden your world just a little bit.
Good advice: Keep the small talk light.
You know already to avoid political discussions at a holiday party, right? Well, that's the least of topics you should steer clear of. Whether it's gun violence or the fires in California, there is a time and place to discuss the horrors in the world. A party devoted to spreading holiday cheer is probably not it.
Bad advice: Take lots of photos and immediately post them on social media.
We know you're anxious to tell the world how much fun you're having, but that doesn't mean you should stop everything to upload photos to your social media account of choice. First of all, it's rude. There are actual human beings, right in front of you, who are way more important then the online "friends" you're trying to impress. In fact, being on your phone, in general, is a bad idea at a holiday party. The only reason to look at it, or pick it up if it starts ringing, is in the case of an emergency. If your babysitter is calling to tell you that the house is on fire, fine, you can use your phone. Otherwise, save it for later.
Good advice: Try not to look bored or annoyed.
Not every party is guaranteed to be a bout of nonstop fun. There will be lulls in the action, and moments when you're stuck in an awkward conversation with somebody you don't care for, and times where you'd rather be anywhere else in the world. That happens. That's normal. But during those momentary lapses, try not to be too obvious about your grumpiness. You're a grownup, you can put on a happy face even if you're not being thoroughly entertained. Scowling or yawning too excessively sends a message to your host that you're having a rotten time.
Bad advice: Arrive on an empty stomach.
Treating the spread at a holiday party like it's a buffet at a Las Vegas casino it's just bad form. We don't need to have a full meal before showing up, but just make sure you're not ravenous when you walk in the door. The less you act like John Belushi in that Animal House cafeteria scene, the better.
Good advice: Carry your drink in your left hand.
This leaves your right hand open for shaking hands and ensures you never have that awkward fumbling of trying to find someplace to set down your drink or switch hands every time you meet somebody new. Of course, this doesn't apply if you're left-handed. In that case, carry your drink in your non-dominant hand.
Bad advice: Use mistletoe as an ice breaker.
No. No, no, no, no. Have you not been reading the news this past year? Telling someone they are contractually required to kiss you because you're dangling some leaves over their head is the worst thing you could ever do, and is certainly not an appropriate way to introduce yourself to somebody new.
Good advice: Come with a few stories to tell.
It all comes down to planning ahead. We're not suggesting that you carefully prescript all of your conversational banter. But it's not a bad idea to have at least one yarn or two in your back pocket, ready to go in case of a conversational emergency. Do you have a favorite family Christmas story from your youth when everything went comically wrong? Of course you do, everybody does. Having a tale like that at the ready will be a godsend when you need it most.
Bad advice: Treat the host's home like a hotel room.
Have you ever made an absolute mess of a hotel room, leaving wet towels on the floor and muddy footprints on the rug and whatever that was you tried to flush down the toilet, and thought, "Eh, whatever, the maids will take care of it?" Your host's house isn't a similar situation. You can't treat it like the front desk has your credit card on file. The only person cleaning up the chaos you left behind is the person who graciously invited you into their home.
Good advice: Thank the host before you leave.
This one should go without saying, but we'll say it anyway. Thank your hosts for their hospitality and for letting you into their home. If it's an office holiday party, thank your boss. Whoever paid for the drinks and the food and thought enough of you to put your name on the invite list, they deserve your gratitude. Don't forget to acknowledge them before you make your way for the exit.
Bad advice: Bring a plus-one even if you're not entirely sure if guests are welcome.
Remember that old saying about why you should never assume? If you do, great! Treat it like scripture. If you don't, well, um… Google it. And then treat it like scripture.
Good advice: Make eye contact.
Have you ever been at a party and it seemed like everyone around you was acting like they were waiting to board a plane at the airport? Nothing is more rude and inconsiderate than being in a conversation with someone and gazing just over their shoulder. It's one of the simplest rules of polite behavior and the one that most people forget after a few too many eggnogs.
Bad advice: Use this opportunity for networking.
Any other time of year, we could let it slide. But this is the time of year for letting people know how much you care about them, not seeing how they can advance your career. It'd be like showing up to a funeral and slipping your business card to the guy in black sitting next to you.
Good advice: Sing like nobody's watching (or listening).
Why would you possibly want to sing extremely loud and make an absolute fool of yourself? Because it's the holidays. Lighten up, for Pete's sake. As long as you don't get too sloppy with the cocktails, nobody is going to judge you for joyfully singing "Deck the Halls" at the top of your lungs.
Bad advice: Sneak out early without saying goodbye.
Otherwise known as "ghosting," the act of just disappearing from a party without letting anyone know that you're leaving has become popular in recent years. But it's a jerk move.
Now, you don't have to make a grand exit like you're the queen during a parade, regally waving at your many admirers. But quick nod and/or parting handshake to your fellow guests as you head for the door is the least you can do. You're not a fugitive on the run from justice; you can take a second to say a brief farewell. And if you do slip out unnoticed, at least respond to worried texts from the host or your friends, wondering where you've gone. That's when ghosting turns into pure mean behavior.
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