ParentClick Santa Barbara

10 Etiquette tips for attending holiday parties


Well, well, well… A topic that I’ve given MUCH thought to since venturing in to the event planning industry a few years ago… Etiquette and Manners. Since I am writing this the week before Thanksgiving, which is the modern day beginning-of- Christmas… I am going to make this topic season appropriate with the Holiday Party Etiquette and Manners version. Get ready as we venture in to subjects on attending/throwing a holiday party, gift giving appropriateness, rsvp’ing and gift exchange “policies”… Just to name a few!

1.) Sending The Invite

I used to be opposed to sending online invitations but in this day and age it seems that going digital with an invite might be the quickest way to actually hear back from people (oh- don’t worry! We’re getting to that nasty little 4 letter word you’re all thinking of). So there, you have permission to Paperless Post and Evite away! However you choose to communicate you’re hosting a party- give people notice! Sending a “Save the Date” is the easiest way to do this. A December invite should never go out less than 3 weeks before the party date and if doing a “Save the Date” you should be looking at 5 weeks out.

2.) The RSVP

You get an invite- either paper or emailed… And of course, you’re crazy busy- aren’t we all? It’s Christmas time which makes things extra busy and there’s just plain not enough time in the day to get it all done… I get it! Sometimes when I get an invite some of these thoughts swirl through my mind… Who else is going, What other invites are coming… Do I have to spend a lot of money to attend… There are a LOT of reasons not to respond to an invite… And guess what? Unfortunately for you (and me!), they’re all rude. I’ve personally made it a point to at least let the inviter know that I’ve received the invite and plan to rsvp with yes or no very soon (within the given timeline). If you’re infamous for losing invites- create a space this holiday season where you will put all of your invites: a cork board, magnet board, just somewhere you know they will be.

DO NOT text, email or call the host the week or God forbid the day of the party and say, “I know your party is soon but I lost the invite so I forgot the day, time and place.” You’d be better off not attending and just faking your own death in my opinion. Nothing says, “you’re not that important” than “I lost the invite and failed to put any of the info in my planner, phone, etc.”

3.) The Hostess Gift

If someone is throwing a party and has invited you- you should by all means, thank them with a hostess gift. As in YES you should ignore the host that says, “Just bring yourself!”… Too many hosts have said that in years past and now the very gracious art of bringing the hostess a gift seems lost. In the same way you wouldn’t dare attend a birthday party without a gift (unless they’re specifically requested it… And even then I wouldn’t listen) I encourage you to not show up to a Christmas or New Year’s Party without something small, thoughtful and/or alcoholic. Ideas: High-end chocolate, favorite bottle of wine, personalized ornament, small potted plant. A note attached is always a classy addition so they don’t forget who brought what… And will remember to invite you to their next bash.

4.) Gift Exchange Etiquette

There are quite a few ways to do gift exchanges… And with each one comes a slew of rules… To be honest they can get downright confusing! I’m going to touch the two most obvious ways: White Elephant (aka The Yankee Swap) & Normal Gift Exchange (following a monetary value)… THESE ARE NOT TO BE CONFUSED.

  • White Elephant: Your goal is to make the other exchangers laugh
    and hope they don’t get your gift… In the end it is meant to be funny. Don’t come in all over-the-top Michael Scott style with an iPod… Unless you’re the boss and it’s purposeful, then by all means, do.
  • $25 Gift Exchange: Do not show up with an angel candle from the .99 Store… Or if you do, the angel better be carrying a $25 gift card to Chipotle… Do you feel me here? Stick to the monetary rule no matter how funny you think your gift is. You see, someone who put together a movie gift card basket may not think the fact that you found an actual white elephant statue for the gift exchange is all that funny… Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.
5.) Arriving On Time and NOT Early

You know that saying about, “being early is on time, on time is late and late is just unacceptable?” Well, that doesn’t apply to parties. Maybe to job interviews but to a party it’s just down right annoying. You can ask any party guest that has ever tried to show up to a party of mine even 15 minutes early… I’m not exactly thrilled. Hosts and hostesses are working until the last possible second to ensure everything looks perfect, so don’t stress them out with an early arrival! Stroll around the neighborhood looking at the lights for all I care, but don’t dare knock on the door… On another note, do not arrive more than 30 minutes late. Just try and be on time. A lot of effort has gone in to this party and it’s just polite when people arrive on time.

6.) Day-of-Party Time Management

In the same way I’d hate for a guest to show up early… As the host of the party it is your job to make sure you’re planning your decor set up/food arrival/guest arrival accordingly. Hosts can sometimes under estimate the amount of time that goes in to day-of set up. It can be a gruelingly long day (especially if you’re doing it without a planner) and a lot of times this puts people way behind schedule. The worst case scenario is you’re not ready when your guests arrive- OR your house isn’t ready- both look sloppy. Don’t make guests feel like they have to pitch in and help set up… That’s your job as the hostess. And please, PLEASE- the day before, or morning of- allow time to either deep clean your home or have it professionally cleaned. Bathrooms should be spotless. It’s just part of throwing a party- everything should look guest- ready and in tip-top shape.

7.) Control the Liquor

Look, we’re all looking to have a fabulous night out, especially with a date like 12.13.14 quickly approaching us on a Saturday in December… I myself have been invited to a Christmas Party and I couldn’t be more excited to get out with my husband and no kids! But people, have some manners! Do not show up tipsy. And do not get wasted. You can get tipsy while at the party… But do not leave the party wasted. Tipsy is still in control. Do not let yourself lose control of your words, your bodily fluids or your volume control- ESPECIALLY, I repeat especially if you are at a company party. There is always going to be one boss there who’s not feeling “Little Miss (/Mr.) Loud & Drunk”.

8.) Your Email Can Wait

Nothing says, “I’d rather not be at your lame party” than being on your phone 1/2 of it. If you absolutely need to check your email then you should do so in the bathroom. If you want to get an Instagram photo up asap: snap it and upload… If you need to edit the photo and hashtag it to the moon and back, take a tinkle break.

9.) Time to Say Bye!

Don’t overstay your welcome at a Holiday Party or Open House. Be aware of an end time and when people start leaving the party. Create an appropriate exit strategy yourself, thanking the host/hostess before of course. If you’d like to stick around and offer to help clean, then genuinely offer that to the host and see if it’s a welcomed gesture. Otherwise say your thank you’s and goodbyes before the Hostess puts on her robe.

10.) Thank You Notes

I know, I know… I’m getting crazy now! As with the RSVP and Hostess Gift it seems that the Thank You Note is at the top of this list of the “gracious lost arts”… Especially around the holidays! I’m not saying you have to send a thank you for every hostess gift you received but I am saying that if someone went out of their way to buy you something special… The most proper and polite thing to do is to thank them by taking the time to write a note and making sure they get it (writing it and leaving it in a pile does no good by the way).

No matter how busy you are, a handwritten (not texted, not emailed) thank you is the classiest way to show your gratitude… Don’t forget this! A note goes a long way in making someone feel appreciated.

On the other side, if you’ve attended a holiday party- you should also consider sending a thank you note, or at the very least a follow up email, text or call within 24 hours of the party thanking the host for putting together something so splendid and being thoughtful enough to invite you.

Okay, now that we’ve got “the rules” out of the way… Go shopping for something party-fabulous! Don’t ever show up less than amazing to a party! You can consider than my bonus tip ;)


[AUTHOR: Kenna O’Brien, Miss Party Mom Event Planning Santa Barbara, CA]

November 19, 2014

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