They say this time of year is stressful. That’s the case for many reasons, mainly because it’s so darn expensive and the holiday budget quickly gets tossed out the window!
But it’s also the time of year when you can mess up, big. You can neglect a certain person (or two) that should be on your gift list, but you forgot. You can show up to parties empty handed and be the only one without a hostess present. You can burn the potluck casserole. Or worse, you can get really drunk at the office party and do that ever-so embarrassing dance.
Here’s some holiday etiquette help that can reduce your stress this time of year — at least by a little bit.
Who to Buy For
My rule is this: anyone who has showed kindness, effort or care over throughout the year or over the holidays should get something. That something, more often than not, is a token rather than a pricey gift. Homemade gifts like baking or jams are perfect for thanking everyone from teachers to the receptionist at the doctor’s office. Bottles of wine, bags of high-quality coffee beans or chocolate are a great thank you for hairdressers, cleaning ladies, teachers, bosses and colleagues.
If you’re not sure if a gift is in order, always opt for a nice, small token instead of something pricey. If it’s a family and they have kids, a small toy for the child is as good as gifting the entire family.
How to Deal with Gift Buying Escalation
If you have a pal who gets you nicer and nicer gifts year after year, you might want to stop the insanity when jewellry and pricey day trips to the spa start getting handed out. Particularly if you’ve just bought a home or had a child and can’t afford the swag anymore, you need to slow things down.
This is something you have to chat about with your friend or family member well in advance of the holidays. Don’t just be negative: tell the person how much you love the gift exchange, but you’re ready for a new tradition. And come up with an alternative: a $20 limit or a night out together in lieu of gifts.
Who to Send Holiday Cards to
In my book, anyone and everyone I won’t see over the holidays gets a simple card in the mail. Ecards are acceptable if you are young and your friends won’t mind. But your aunts and uncles (who are the main recipients of your cards in all likelihood) really do deserve paper.
As for newsletters with long family updates, the rule is those should only go out to friends and family members who would truly be curious about your clan’s adventures over the past year and should not be inserted into every single card.
When you Don’t Like it
Be it a gift of a book you’ve already read, or a gelatin casserole you’re pretty sure no one will eat, etiquette says you must smile and nod. Finding something small to say that is positive — what a lovely dish! this looks like such a great pair of socks! — is appropriate, as long as your comment is not a lie. I personally can never fake it all that well, as it’s always obvious when I swoon over the chocolate cookies or a beautiful photo frame that follows the not-so-great thing. Try to focus on the effort, not the result, and you’ll get better at it.
How to Re-gift
Carefully. If a gift was clearly from the heart, but missed your heartstrings, simply put it away in a cupboard and let it gather dust. A bottle of wine, toy, book or other more neutral object can be donated to charity or regifted only if you are 100% positive the gifter will not know about it. If you are not a terribly organized person and can’t keep track of such things, you might want to avoid and opt for the gathering dust option.
Who to Invite
No one likes to be left out of a party, but you have to be realistic. Set some general parameters, at least in your head, and stick to them. If your guest list involves a newly divorced couple, be sure to ask them what’s appropriate and only invite both if they don’t mind. And if you are having a party where some friends were not invited because of space or other limitations, don’t advertise the event heavily on social media or feelings can be hurt! Be sure those you don’t invite to your event will see you at another time over the holidays.
How to Prioritize Invites
The rule is this: whoever invited you first gets you. Just because your very best friend is holding a great party, if you’ve already agreed to have dinner with your aunties, that’s where you are going. If one event ends early you can duck out and drop by the second. But never lie, leave early or renege on an invite.
How to Deal with a Party Faux Pas
If you spill red wine on the carpet, your child says something rude or you arrive so late dinner is already on the table, it’s time to apologize. Sincerely and right away. Next step: make it right by cleaning up the spill (if your host offers their carpet cleaning solution, follow their lead), make sure your child is dealt with swiftly (although probably privately) and eat what is leftover without complaint. If the transgression is particularly bad, follow it up the next day with a phone call and apology and perhaps a bottle of wine or box of chocolate to soothe any hurt feelings.
Who and How to Thank
Any time a friend, family member or colleagues invites you over, takes you out, or does something kind over the holidays, be sure to thank them. If it’s a small thing like a large event you happen to be invited to, or a nice lunch in a restaurant, a quick email is fine. If you bring the clan to crash at someone’s house or someone does an unusually nice gesture, you might want to write a quick thank you card and mail it out — and soon, not much after the New Year.
Whew, did I miss anything? It’s a busy, heavily social time of the year and there are many opportunities to show the people in your life how much you appreciate them. That means, of course, there are also lots of chances to make social errors. Plan ahead, keep smiling and apologize quickly when you do wrong and you’ll make it through.