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The Best and Worst Holiday Party Etiquette for 2019

If you want to be known for your manners this holiday season, be sure to RSVP, but don't arrive early.

If there's one thing we know for sure about the holiday season, it's that there will be parties. Love them or hate them, they're a social obligation that can't be avoided entirely. You're going to have to say yes to one of those invites sooner or later. But, are you ready? Holiday parties can be minefields of bad decisions and cringe-worthy mistakes. Even the most seasoned holiday vet may not be fully prepared for everything an evening might throw at them. 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 rules you should be following, and some of the absolute worst. Choose wisely so you can make it to 2020 without ending up on any naughty lists!

Best: RSVP

woman with rsvp invitation in hand

It's just not just a formality or a way to assure 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 one that devolves into a disaster. Have you ever been to a holiday party that didn't have enough wine or ran out of hors d'oeuvres? Blame it on those who didn't RSVP!

Worst: Bring a plus-one even if you're not entirely sure guests are welcome.

guests arriving at holiday party to the front door

Remember that old saying about why you should never assume? Treat it like scripture. Bringing a plus-one without prior approval given by the host puts them in an uncomfortable position. They won't turn your guest away for fear of seeming rude, but they also may not have prepared enough food or space for extra people.

Best: Dress slightly better than you plan.

sparklers at a holiday part

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 in the room. It's better to be too formal than feel awkward because you decided to wear jeans when everyone else is in dresses and dress shirts.

Worst: Be the first to arrive.

guests arriving at a holiday party

You may be eager to get to your first holiday party of the season and start sipping on cocktails. The thing is, showing up early to your host's house is not just presumptuous, it's also tactless. You may catch them half-dressed or still setting up, not expecting you so soon. Most hosts don't even expect you to be on time. If a party is advertised as starting at 8 p.m., that means get there no earlier than 8:30 p.m. The only reason you should be at a party exactly when it begins is if you live there.

Best: Nurse your drink.

black family celebrates christmas during holiday party

At your next holiday party, try to avoid drinking alcohol 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! Sipping on that cocktail or glass of champagne will ensure you make it through any festive gathering unscathed.

Worst: Talk only with people you know well.

holiday party etiquette

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!

Best: Keep the small talk light.

a group of older people talking at a holiday party together

Holiday parties are a time to keep things light and cheerful. Whether it be politics or unpopular celebrity opinions, there is a time and place to discuss the world's most controversial topics, and a party devoted to spreading holiday cheer is probably not it.

Worst: Take lots of photos and immediately post them on social media.

man taking a picture of sparkler at a party on his phone

Sure, you may be excited to tell the world how much fun you're having at that holiday party, but that doesn't mean you should stop everything just to upload photos on social media. Instead of spending that time showing off for people online, spend it with actual people at the party. You'll have much more fun that way, and you can always post your photos online for everyone to see afterwards!

Best: Try not to look bored or annoyed.

three girls bored at a holiday party

Not every party is guaranteed to be nonstop fun. There will be lulls in the action, moments when you're stuck in an awkward conversation with somebody you don't care for, and times when you'd rather be anywhere else in the world. That's normal! But during those moments, try not to be too obvious about your grumpiness. Sometimes you have to put on a happy face even if you're not being thoroughly entertained. Scowling or yawning too excessively sends a bad message to your host.

Worst: Arrive on an empty stomach.

women eating chicken at a holiday party

Treating the spread at a holiday party like it's a buffet at a Las Vegas casino is just bad form. There's no need to have a full meal before showing up, but you should also make sure you're not ravenous when you walk in the door. Enjoy the finger foods and desserts, but don't act like it's the first time you've eaten in weeks.

Best: Carry your drink in your left hand.

group of adults holding their drinks at a christmas party

Considering most of us are right-handed, keeping your drink in your left hand leaves your right open for shaking hands. It 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.

Worst: Use a mistletoe as an ice breaker.

Christmas Mistletoe {New Years Eve Traditions}
Oleksandr Rybitskiy/Shutterstock

Telling someone they are required to kiss you just because you're dangling some leaves over their head is the worst thing you could do at a holiday party… or pretty much anywhere, for that matter. And if you don't know the person, it's certainly not an appropriate way to introduce yourself to somebody new.

Best: Come with a few stories to tell.  

two men telling stories to each other at a holiday party

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 story 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? Having a tale like that at the ready will be a godsend when you need it most.

Worst: Talk a lot about yourself.

white woman looks annoyed at white man at holiday party

A couple stories of your Christmases past are all well and fine, but leave some room for people to discuss themselves too. Make sure you're asking other holiday party guests questions and showing some curiosity about their lives, as well.

Best: Make eye contact.

christmas games

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. Make sure you're connecting with those at the party by making eye contact throughout the night.

Worst: Use this opportunity for networking.

girls talking to each other at a holiday party

Any other time of year, we could let it slide. But the holidays are for letting people know how much you care about them, not seeing how they can advance your career. Save the job talk for another time (yes, even at an office holiday party).

Best: Sing like nobody's watching (or listening).

woman singing into a wooden spoon at a holiday party

Why would you possibly want to sing extremely loud and make an absolute fool of yourself? Because it's the holidays! 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.

Worst: Treat the host's home like anything but your own.

Spilled Drink on Rug Awkward Moments

It's one thing to make a mess of your own home when you're on your way out, leaving clothes, shoes, and an empty bottle or two around. However, your host's house is a totally different story. You can't just take care of your mess later in another person's home. The only one who will be left cleaning up is the same person who graciously invited you into their home, so be sure to tidy up after yourself!

Best: Thank the host before you leave.

Group of friends gathered at home to celebrate Christmas or New Year.

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 thought enough of you to put your name on the invite list deserves your gratitude. Don't forget to acknowledge them before you leave for the night!

Worst: Sneak out early without saying goodbye.

two girls leaving a party together

The act of disappearing without letting anyone know you're leaving is bad holiday party etiquette. You don't have to make a grand exit like you're the king or queen during a parade, but a quick nod or parting handshake to your fellow guests as you head for the door is the right thing to do.

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