Skip to main content

What's Up Magazine

Mind Your Manners: A Holiday Etiquette Primer for Children of all Ages

Nov 22, 2016 02:00PM ● By Cate Reynolds
By Kat Spitzer

The holidays are upon us and likely your calendar is starting to fill up with work parties, family gatherings, and a milieu of celebrations with friends and neighbors. Time starts to feel limited, your wallet feels significantly lighter, and you find yourself wondering, “Wait, am I supposed to buy a gift for this event, too?” You also might notice an uptick in calorie intake and alcohol consumption (but who’s counting?). So how can you keep up good manners and successfully make it through the holiday season with so many components in play? Let’s review.

Home Cooking

Even if you don’t have all the rules of Emily Post memorized, you can still exhibit proper etiquette in these modern times. Consider the family feast. This may be the most familiar of settings, but the holidays are certainly special occasions, so it’s nice, and respectful, if you put extra effort into the event. Tailoring your dress and accessorizing with fine jewelry and touches could be a classy way to impress at your gathering, even if it’s at your own house. Encouraging children to do the same could be equally fun for them; give “dressing up” significant meaning. Of course, polish the fine silverware, place set the best dishes, and dress the table with festive décor. The impact is huge, and illustrates an increased level of care.

For family meals, it is completely acceptable to ask each member to contribute their favorite special dish. If you are attending the feast at someone else’s home, and they insist that you don’t need to bring anything, you can respect their vision for the meal, but you should still bring wine. They are doing a lot of work, so showing up empty handed would be less than ideal.

So Many Parties

At many holiday events, there is usually a plethora of food options. It’s okay to take small portions of a variety of things. Keep in mind, though, if the filet is your favorite, please avoid focusing your plate on that alone—be mindful of the other dishes offered and do attempt to take a small amount to try. Little gestures and sincere compliments to make the others around you feel good certainly go a long way.

At family events, cocktail parties, and work gatherings, the wine and specialty drinks will be flowing, but tread carefully. You don’t want to loosen inhibitions too much. If you are hosting a party, take steps to put a plan in place to make sure everyone gets home safely. If you are attending a holiday party, plan for a designated driver, or call an Uber driver. Holiday events are also never the right time to talk about politics or money. The holidays should be happy and festive, not a breeding ground for controversy.

To Gift or Not, That is the Question

Gift giving can get tricky around the holidays, and sometimes feels like it is getting out of hand, even when you want to be as generous as possible. If you have a large family, or feel overwhelmed by the number of gifts to buy, it is completely acceptable to suggest drawing names, or discuss only buying for the children. To avoid awkward moments with friends, have a discussion early on in the season to set limits on spending or offer the idea of celebrating by simply having a potluck together. If you are attending a holiday party at someone’s home, I would suggest bringing a bottle of wine, at least. Unless you choose a wine that will have meaning to the recipient, this can sometimes seem like an afterthought, though, so add a personal touch with festive napkins or inexpensive wine charms to make the gift more thoughtful. For a closer friend, the gift doesn’t have to be expensive, but should show that you had them in mind when you chose the item. The gift could be something useful for their home, a piece for entertaining, or a personal item related to a favorite hobby.

Giving and receiving gifts can create some surprising hurdles. Adults and children have the same rules in this. If you receive a gift you don’t like, you already have it, it’s the wrong size, or it’s just plain awful, you still need to smile and be gracious. Thank the person for her thoughtfulness, but still feel okay returning or exchanging it at a later date. One caveat to this, of course, is that you can’t return something made or commissioned specifically for you. You might just need to resort to pulling out that purple knitted sweater or squirrel painting for visits from the gifter. If you do return something and the gifter later asks you about it, you should be honest and tell them you already had it, or it was the wrong size, and you appreciate so much how you were able to use their gift to purchase something else you love and need.

Be careful about re-gifting. I am not a fan of the process at all. Too often the different people in your life come together and the information has a tendency to get out. If there’s a chance to hurt feelings, then avoid the practice. You may not like the statuary that grandpa bought you last year, but if he sees it installed in your neighbor’s yard, relations can turn strained. The only time re-gifting is okay is if the gift is generic enough, like a bottle of wine or liquor, and won’t be noticed or missed by the gifting parties.

Feel Good Practices

Part of perpetuating a positive environment is doing your best to make people feel good. When creating a guest list for a holiday event, keep in mind any issues between guests, especially if it’s a smaller event. Now is, perhaps, not the right time to invite the couple that recently separated, even if you are friends with both parties. Although, if it’s a larger event, it may be in good form to call each, inform them of the other’s invitation, and let them decide on their own. The same principle applies to friends you know who might not get along. A more private setting would be a better time to help bridge those gaps, not a holiday party.

In these modern times, we are all attached to our phones and devices. During this time of togetherness, love, and spirituality, I encourage you to put all the electronics away. Have one person serve as a designated photographer, and promise to post the photos to a mutual private site that members of the party can access later. This will free everyone up to just engage with each other, speak to each other with the necessary eye contact, and focus on the activities in front of them. This goes for the kids, as well. Family and friend time is precious, and time goes so fast. By unplugging a little during the holidays, you might notice that time will slow down a bit and you can appreciate the glory of the season. For some people, this is one of the few times they see certain people the entire year. Enjoy the time together.

The Etiquette Exit

When it’s time to depart, don’t ever “ghost” or simply disappear. No matter who has thrown the party or what time you need to leave, find them and graciously say your short farewell and holiday wishes. If they are speaking to someone at the time, politely wait a second. Once they see you, they will likely temporarily break off their conversation to say a quick goodbye. This is not the time for the long conversation, but if you simply take off, it can leave a negative impression on the host.

Etiquette may seem like a whole bunch of rules, and that can be daunting. But really it’s a system to help make life moments smooth, elegant, and positive for everyone involved. Most of these rules have always been in place, with some adaptation for our modern times. Just remember that a little bit of effort towards other people has a massive impact. These simple tips will help you maintain lovely relationships with your friends, coworkers, and family members, while helping you maximize the joy of the holiday season.