'I'm an Etiquette Expert—Here's How to Host The Perfect Christmas Party'

1 month ago 27

I spent over a decade attending a private school in upstate New York in the 1960s. Etiquette was part of every class. Lessons on the subject were drilled into us every year and we could not graduate without passing them. Back in that era, we were taught not just how to behave in American society, but amongst royalty.

For example, we had to learn to walk while balancing books on our heads. I enjoyed the subjects I was good at, but it wasn't always fun to have to remember the rules.

As an adult I pursued a career in the legal field before going back to school to get my doctorate in religion and philosophy. I began working in my local ministry and would constantly hear parents saying: "My kids don't know anything about how to behave in public."

I heard this from more than one parent; it was a common complaint. So eventually, through trial and error, I finally established my own etiquette classes. I would invite children to dress up in their Sunday best, attend a tea party and learn how to behave in formal situations.

But as well as the children, I noticed the parents were really paying attention. The etiquette wasn't just for the upcoming generation, but adults as well. I began giving advice on how to behave online and have been working as an etiquette expert ever since.

Christmas stocks
August Abbott is certified in etiquette training. She shared with Newsweek her advice on planning the perfect holiday party. Stock image. iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

How to throw the perfect Christmas party

I personally believe that if a holiday party lasts into the evening, there should really be no children in attendance. They tend to become tired during the evening hours and when a child is tired, they can become temperamental.

Although you may state on the invitation that the event is not suitable for those under the age of eighteen, you can expect there to be one guest who may think that rule does not apply to them, so it's always better to prepare for that eventuality (can she briefly suggest how?).

The number of people present at the event depends on the venue. If you're hosting a party at home, the rule of thumb is to invite no more that can comfortably fit at arm's length in your living room. Try to prioritize people who will blend well with each other. You have to be sure the conversation is going to be self-sustaining, so it's good to choose guests with a decent mix of similarities.

I held out and sent paper invitations for the longest time, but I can't fight progress, so I have recently had to backpedal on my advice and say: "Yes, email invites are fine." But, you still have to be polite and make sure everybody's email is the same—you don't want guests comparing what each of them say.

I would recommend setting hours for the party, so guests know when the event ends. To ensure this is met, I always plan a trick with two of my close friends in advance. As the party draws to a close, one will stand up and say: "Well this has been good fun, but I know you all need to get to bed, so I'm going to head out." They say their goodbyes and at the same time, your second friend will add: "Come on everybody we need to let our hosts get to cleaning up all of this, it's time to go."

In my opinion, that is the perfect way to end the event. But if that does not happen, you stand up and start to edge your way to the door. This sends a subliminal message to everyone that it's time to leave.

When it comes to sending thank you notes to the host of the party, I still maintain that you should go out, buy a card and envelope, put a stamp on it and send it. I believe that if a person goes to the trouble of hosting or attending a party, you should make the effort to send them a note in person.

Decorating your party and being respectful of religious beliefs

Nativity scene
August says the holidays is a suitable time to discuss religion. Stock image. iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

When it comes to decorating, I would suggest having all the major religions in mind. It shows you are open minded and that your heart is open. Whoever is coming to your party, representing them is the respectful thing to do.

For example, I recently attended a party where they had two flags in the living room; one of which included Christian symbolism and included the word: "Peace" and an identical version decorated with a menorah, used in Jewish worship, and the word: "Friendship." It was just beautiful that both those religions were represented.

The general rule when it comes to polite conversation is to never speak about religion or politics. However I believe that during the holidays, religion is part of the celebrations and when you represent all of them, it encourages people to talk about their faith.

But, I would avoid discussing anything to do with politics during the holiday period. In my view, there's no asking: "What does this mean?" There is just an argument; trying to convince the other side to come over to your side. Keep politics out of it.

Gift giving at Christmas events

At parties, the gift giving should not be from one specific guest to another. I believe it is appropriate to offer a present to the host or hostess, but when it comes to individuals within that group, you should not give something to one person and expect everyone else to be okay with that. In my opinion, that is a private moment.

There are some games, like White Elephant or Secret Santa, where anonymous gifts are passed around the room and that can be fun. I would recommend setting a price limit on what you buy and making sure all the gifts are unisex so everybody ends up with an appropriate gift.

Many people bring flower arrangements for their hosts, but instead of that, I suggest bringing living plants. I would advise against the typical Christmas poinsettia, which tend to die quickly, but to bring an evergreen plant they can keep in their homes long-term. That way, they remember you all year long while that plant thrives; it's a beautiful gift,

If you know your host drinks alcohol, you can bring them a nice bottle of wine. Use common sense and give things that say: "I am thinking of you." Avoid bringing anything political. Don't show up with a cap or T-shirt which has something about a certain political party on it, I feel that would be inappropriate.

Food and entertainment at Christmas parties

Christmas food
August suggested opting for a buffet over a sit-down meal and choosing simple foods which are easy to eat. Stock image. iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

If you're hosting a large party, I would suggest a buffet. While in attendance at previous events, I have enjoyed when someone has put up a sign saying: "Start here." Otherwise, you may have people elbowing each other to get to certain dishes. That can be a mess.

I would suggest having both a hot and cold food section, but try to avoid messy dishes, like pasta. In my opinion, you're going to want to serve foods which are easy and don't necessarily need cutting.

I believe a party in a home is too small to have even the smallest of live entertainment. But if you're hosting in a larger venue, then by all means you could hire a small band to play songs, making sure to cater to the age group of the attendees.

If you're hosting at home, create a playlist for the event, but make sure to avoid music which is too loud or aggressive. I would suggest playing old school songs. Even if those attending the party are in their 20s or 30s, go back five or ten years. It's likely they will love that memory provoking music.

How to handle Christmas party guests

My main advice would be using what I call the "tuck and roll" method. During the party, there are likely going to be individuals who have too much to drink and become loud or opinionated. These are the people you're going to want to escort into the kitchen, until they start to wind down.

You take them away from their audience and distract them with a different subject, while winking at everybody else at the party. Tell them quietly: "Just ignore him, he's not always like this, it's the alcohol." That is all you can do and most people are going to understand.

I believe by just rolling with the disruptions at your party and not expecting it to be perfect, you're not going to be disappointed; you're going to clean up later that night and think: "Gee that was a good gathering."

My other advice is to bring people out of their shells, get them feeling positive about themselves. I recommend being armed with a specific compliment for each person. I find that after that one compliment, guests feel confident. From there on, I believe that party has the potential to be fantastic.

August Abbott is certified in etiquette training. She spent 40 years teaching etiquette classes for children before joining JustAnswer as an etiquette coach in 2003.

All views expressed in this article are the authors' own.

As told to Monica Greep.

Read Entire Article