Holiday Etiquette Guide - The Ribbon in My Journal

Your Holiday Etiquette Guide Continues

Phyllis Lifestyle 20 Comments

When I posted a series of etiquette tips for being the perfect guest last month, I was so impressed to see your responses. We all know that good manners are essential at any time of year. The busy holiday season—with all of its parties and occasions for entertaining—means we have more reason than usual to be on our best behavior.

Thanks to your thoughtful comments, I have a few more etiquette tips that will ensure you and your loved ones are acting with decorum.

Remember, good etiquette isn’t so much about following rules as it is about putting those around you at ease. Here are a few more thoughts—some of them quite entertaining—from you on how to make your holiday festivities as enjoyable as possible:

Faye observed one fellow guest with a rather unappetizing purse accessory:

“If you are a guest, for goodness’s sake, don’t take a Ziploc bag in your purse to take home the host’s leftovers! (Yes, I actually saw this!!)”

And Barbara had several useful pointers:

“Always use a coaster when placing a drink on furniture. Seems obvious, but yet we always wind up with water spotting on our maple side tables after a party. I also dislike when people discuss their unpleasant medical conditions in detail at the dinner table. Very unappetizing!”

Barbara, I couldn’t agree more. Discussing medical conditions is best left between you and your doctor. It’s certainly not appropriate for the dinner table.

Louise offered helpful insights for how to prepare for a party, pointing out that a simple phone call can clear up a lot of confusion:

“Customs certainly vary from place to place. Where I live some parties held indoors will require all guests to remove their shoes at the door. Some parties, if held outside, will require guests to bring their own chair. And if the invitation says ‘bring a plate’ it definitely does not mean an empty plate to eat from. A friendly phone call to check the arrangements is always a good idea these days when so many people seem to have allergies or special needs.”

When in doubt, don’t be afraid to simply ask the hostess ahead of time!

Thank you, Mary, for reminding us that “the perfect guest doesn’t sit and wait to be entertained. Guests should mingle with others and engage themselves in conversation.”

No need to be a wallflower. You friend has invited you with the belief that you will enjoy the other guests. Trust her and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation.

I especially appreciated Carmel’s thoughts on introducing a bit of humor and kindness to the festivities:

“From years of entertaining our seniors at our retirement community in San Diego, dinner parties ranged from 12 to 160, depending on the occasion and holiday. I always tried to introduce a little humor in good taste and compliment everyone in some way or another throughout the evening. Everyone is special or they would not be invited, and humor can lighten up anyone’s life. Never talk negative.”

And as Lady Beatryce reminded us, “The perfect guest leaves politics at home.”

Thank you so much for your thoughts. I only wish I could have you all to my house to see all of these perfect guests in action.

Now that we’ve discussed holiday etiquette for being the perfect guest, I’m curious. What pointers do you have for being a gracious hostess?

What to you think it takes to be the perfect hostess?

Christmas With Southern Lady Vol. 2 cover

Comments 20

  1. What a wonderful question to ponder as Christmas approaches! E.B. White wrote of my alma mater that “a Bryn Mawr girl is like a very beautiful waterfall whose flow is the result of some natural elevation of mind and heart.” I feel that the same is true of all gracious hostesses. We have something valuable to share with our guests and there is much beauty in that. We can revel in that beauty, knowing that if we do so, our guests will too.

  2. There should always be air freshener spray available in the bathroom, or perhaps a candle burning in there if there are no children at the party. Another thing you can do, as some people are particular more than ever, is to have
    pretty paper disposable napkins for hand drying in the bathroom and your pretty terry Christmas towels out as well.
    You can also have a bowl of individually wrapped mints either on the bathroom vanity or in your foyer. A great hostess introduces her guests to all of the other guests who have already arrived if they do not know them already. A great hostess offers her guests something to drink and names what she has available. A great hostess has really delicious food choices to make it an affair to remember. A great hostess encourages her guests to fix themselves a plate or if the guests are older than the hostess, offers to fix a plate for them and bring it to wherever they choose to sit. If you are going to go through all of the work to have a party, ensure your food is really good. Don’t just buy the cheapest stuff around. Having fewer delicious items, but enough for everyone, is better than having more items that just serve the purpose of filling everyone up.
    If you know of local caterers or restaurants that make fabulous dishes, order some of them, if you don’t have time to cook ahead. Order sweets from a local bakery if you need to save time on baking. If you do bake or cook anything, it will also be appreciated by your guests. You can add a little something later into the party, like serving hot tea or hot chocolate, especially if it is cold outside. You can help the children make a batch of popcorn with a hot air popcorn popper and they can put it in small bowls and watch an appropriate movie together if you have an extra bedroom where they can do that, no salt or butter needed so it won’t make a mess.Take home favors are also a nice touch. Some years, we have had someone bring a small karaoke machine and those who can carry a tune sing Christmas songs, or something they choose to sing for everyone. Playing music in the background at the party is always beautiful. Allowing everyone a turn to tell what they are most thankful for or a story of years ago, or one of their holiday traditions, or what they remember about a loved one can be enjoyed by all. You can choose one of those topics or others you can think of every year so you will have something new every year. Have little placecards by any dishes of food saying what the food is, if it is not obvious, like casseroles or soups, or dips, etc. Make sure you visit with every guest to make them feel loved and so that they know they are important to you and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Compliment everyone in some way and make them feel special. Offer to serve anyone older than you and fix them a nice plate. Have some holiday magazines and books, especially our favorite kinds from Hoffmann Media on your coffee and end tables for those who might like to browse through them. Make sure you have enough chairs for everyone to sit down. If you have folding tables or card tables, and have the room, put them out and cover them with a tablecloth. People like to sit by a table with their plate instead of doing a balancing act with a chair and no table, having to set their drink on the floor. It is hard for some people to stand for a long time.
    You might print a special recipe on pretty paper of something you’ve made for the party, so that others can make it, especially if you have made it before for other events where people have requested that recipe. If you have children coming to the party, plan a couple of games for them and maybe a craft project that is not messy. You can compose a prayer with a thank you for coming at the end and print it out and roll it up like a scroll and tie a pretty ribbon on it and put them in a pretty basket for everyone to take one. You can print out famous quotes that everyone can enjoy. Make them ahead of time, maybe 4 to a page and cut them apart. Fold them and put them in a basket. Have everyone draw one or if you have enough, draw two, and go around the room letting everyone read theirs aloud one at a time and see if anyone can guess what famous person said that. There are some real good ones out there including some funny ones, ones giving great advice, inspirational ones, blessings, encouraging ones and more. If you are having a sit down dinner, place them at each place setting. They are alot of fun. Don’t forget to put the author of the quote on each one or author unknown or anonymous if that is the case. Invite someone from work that you know has no family nearby, so they won’t be alone. If you will be exchanging gifts that night, have a gift for that person as well. The more we do for others, the more we will get in return. Random acts of kindness are a wonderful way to help celebrate Christmas. They not only uplift the the other person, but they are healthy and truly make us feel better. If you have a mantle, or buffet or tables where they won’t be knocked over, groups of lit candles make a room incredibly beautiful. All of the other ideas that others sent in were great. Thanks for sharing and have a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

  3. I love entertaining and also attending a wonderful dinner or party. I believe for hostess or guest it is all about the golden rule….”Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. If everyone would follow that rule…..every party would be a smashing love fest and everyone would have a wonderful time and be filled with gratitude. It’s a little like living Christmas all year. Have a very blessed Christmas everyone! Many blessings to all, Ruth

  4. I totally agree regarding artificial fragrances. I am highly allergic and I so appreciate not having to battle this all evening and annoy other guests with constant coughing as a result. Thank you for mentioning this!

  5. We also need to be aware that a lot of folks have allergies to perfumes, candles and flowers. I, for one, would have a hard time staying in a home if there were narcissis or lilies as I am very allergic to their scent. I feel the only scent in the home should be the delicious smell of the food, or maybe a spice bag simmering. Guests should also be considerate and not “drown” themselves in their favorite perfume. It might just make someone sick. If you do not have scent allergies, be very thankful! Those of us who have those allergies always go to parties (or board planes, or go to church, or even shopping) with a bit of fear, sad to say. We don’t like to deal with the consequences. Sorry for sounding negative. I really am not a negative person. This is just a reminder! Merry Christmas to all! It’s my favorite time of year.

  6. All the things that appeal to our senses:
    -a warm and sincere greeting
    -smell of a pleasant candle, fresh flowers, aroma of good food from the kitchen
    -special table setting (doesn’t have to be elaborate, simple and appealing)
    -good conversation with a few good story tellers to keep it lively (my husband is one of those)
    -soft music in the background
    -a hostess at ease and makes everyone feel the same (requires great organization)
    -if possible a small remembrance to take home
    -a warm and sincere greeting as guests depart

    Last Easter my best friend hosted a luncheon for the two of us, our two daughters, and our two granddaughters. We wore hats from by-gone day’s which she had chosen for all of us. She wore one from her childhood. The table was full of spring and rabbits. The food was light and delicious. She read a beautiful story to my 5 year old granddaughter that captivated her. The joy of this day was the highlight of my year–all the ingredients that bring joy. None of us wanted to leave. Will be remembered forever.

  7. What a timely, entertaining and helpful post! I believe a good hostess is caring and thoughtful. She or he welcomes guests at the door, takes time to converse with them throughout the evening, and provides a nice little memento after the party. A good hostess makes every guest feel welcome, valued and appreciated.

    A good hostess is also a great diplomat when awkward situations arise. For instance, a good wedding guest should not talk openly about a bride’s previous marriages, remarking to another guest, “I’ll see you at the next one!” A good hostess will handle this situation and others like it with great care and diplomacy.

    When a hostess is attentive and thoughtful, guests experience a memorable and special event.

  8. Thank you all! Great reminders for being a guest….and hostess.

    I’ll add that I always have a gift basket placed somewhere near the door to offer guests as they leave. In it may be specially wrapped soaps, festive air deodorizers, Ornaments (at holidays) candies or homemade gifts. No one leaves without a little something.

    Happy entertaining …….


  9. A gracious hostess thanks her quests for coming. She makes sure there are food/beverage options to suit most tastes and/or dietary restrictions if she is aware of them. She prepares as much ahead as possible so she can spend time with her guests. She doesn’t make a fuss if something of hers is accidentally damaged, if it’s very precious it should be put away beforehand. She offers leftovers, or her recipe, for any dish that is complimented.

  10. Dear Phyllis, When entertaining over the years I like to do the unexpected like make an announcement when everyone is present that we have a special guest coming for 1/2 hour and it would be a trio of fiddlers, guitar or piano player. It just puts everyone in a excited mood. I
    pick some of my favorites and then ask for a few requests. Everyone is in a happy mood, laughter and socializing. At Christmas I love to play CD’s in the background;
    Charlie Brown music by Charles Schultz, Michael Buble, its just a feel good cd. Christmas with the Rat Pack, Country Christmas and Jazz Christmas. Oh music, its good for the soul! I still get comments on Christmas parties I’ve hosted throughout the years and Oh, I just ordered your CD and can’t wait to get it. Merry Christmas everyone!Carmel

  11. Reading all these thoughtful responses makes me excited to entertain. I agree that it is important to personally greet my guests at the door. I want them to know how special they are and how happy I am that they could come. A couple years ago I started hiring a young woman to be responsible for the kitchen details during the party. I ask her to come early so that I can brief her and then I relax and enjoy my guests. My young helper also stays to clean up and that way I can personally say good bye to my guests when the party is over. Happy holidays to everyone, and happy entertaining.

  12. Thank you Mary Ellen, for the reminder on small children, many forget how silly, and curious they can be.
    My friend forgot how rambunctious a six and two year old can be and they are her grandchildren, her son is 24. We tend to forget this as our children mature.

  13. In a few words-organization, preparation and thought. You have invited guests. Their arrival is not a surprise so you should be prepared. I have 30 people arriving tomorrow at noon for luncheon and because much of what needs to be done is already done, I will be able to enjoy my guests and not just be working all the time they are here. I have already set the tables, set up the buffet, gotten out the serving pieces for various dishes, have decided in what order things need to go into the ovens and in what order they will be placed on the buffet table. Everything that can be done including toward food preparation, is done and I expect to be able to enjoy the party too.

    1. Organization, Preparation and Thought- great words!
      A hostess with a peaceful countenance makes any guest feel immediately at ease.
      No guest likes to feel like they have caused their host too much work, like a hostess carefully attending to a risotto… thoughtful menu considerations are important.

  14. My guests are usually very dear friends and some new ones. I try my best to find out what people enjoy eating and if there are any food allergies or problems for them with my menu selections. Many these days are gluten free, lactose intolerant etc. Now mind you I don’t go crazy with all choices but I label all dishes so they know and ask my guests to do the same with labeling and I always include fresh veggies and plain salads so everyone can enjoy. On another note everyone gets a little rake home wrapped gift. Usually it’s something homemade from my Mom’s 100 year old recipe box. Simple, easy, tasty. Merry Christmas to all. N

  15. Dear Phyllis, I believe thoughtfulness is the key to being a great hostess. It starts with a warm greeting and follows through to a fond farewell! To make a gathering comfortable for guests, think every detail through before hand. Make sure their comfort and convenience is assured. They will find coasters on all unprotected surfaces. There will not be so many throw pillows on the seating that they have to perch on the very edge. There will be extra toilet tissue visible in bathrooms as well as facial tissue available. Don’t display very fragile cherished items in places where they could easily be knocked over by children, adults in over crowded rooms, etc. By eliminating potentially awkward situations, people will naturally feel more at ease. Every hostess should follow the Golden Rule when entertaining invited (and sometimes unexpected) guests! Happy holidays to all you lovely ladies who follow our gracious Phyllis. I’m sure if we could all meet, we’d be a jolly lot! God bless each of you. Sharon

  16. I love all the tips, one I would also add is that if you have small children teach them how to behave at someone else’s house and to respect their things. Like wise I would remind people that invite small children to their home to remember they are small children and not perfect. If both parties did their part everyone would enjoy the evening. Thank you

    Mary Ellen Hunt

  17. Such a fun post, and great pointers! I think more than anything, what it takes to be a good hostess is thoughtfulness. A good hostess introduces guests to each other, pointing out something interesting about the guests or what they have in common, so that when she leaves them to join other guests, they have a starting point of conversation.

    Thoughtfulness also includes being organized, cheery and relaxed. Your guests come to see you and have a good time, a nervous wreck of a hostess does not make guests feel good! Better to serve take out with style and have fun than a five course meal if that is not in your comfort zone!

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