MOMlitics with Rebecca Sheehan
MOMlitics with Rebecca Sheehan
#207: Holiday Etiquette - Do's and Don'ts

#207: Holiday Etiquette - Do's and Don'ts

An etiquette expert reveals the unwritten rules of the holiday season.
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“People won’t remember what you said or did, but how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

During the holiday season, our social skills (or lack thereof) are on full display, whether it’s at an office party, ‘secret Santa’ celebration or Christmas dinner à la Clark Griswold. Whether you need a refresher or are starting from scratch, Alison Cheperdak, founder of Elevate Etiquette, is here to help.

In this episode of MOMlitics, Alison shows us how to navigate the do’s and don’ts of the holiday season with ease, using kindness, grace and honesty to replace uncomfortable situations with positive and meaningful connections.

Alison Cheperdak prepping for the holidays. Courtesy: Elevate Etiquette

Alison’s Holiday Party Etiquette Cheat Sheet

Avoid uncomfortable conversation topics:

Don’t ask awkward questions (we know you don’t mean to):

Start with asking open-ended questions, and let the other person open the door to more specific topics.

Open-ended questions are also useful in social situations where you don’t know many people, or, for example, at your spouse’s work holiday party when you’re no expert on their industry.

Open-ended questions to ask:

What’s your favorite holiday memory or family tradition?

What are you looking forward to (this holiday season, next year, etc.)?

How have you been spending your time lately? What are you passionate about/interested in?

If the other person is from out of town: If I ever have the opportunity to visit your city, what should I do? What are your favorite restaurants, familly-friendly activities, etc.?

When you’re asked an awkward question:

Don’t answer it! Use humor and redirect the conversation in a kind way.


How to end a conversation:

DON’T lie (and say you’ll be right back)!

DO tell the person that you’ve enjoyed meeting / connecting / reconnecting with them.

THEN mention something specific about your conversation that you enjoyed and can possibly follow up on (e.g. “I really enjoyed hearing about your trip to San Diego! I’d love to follow up and hear more about the awesome kids’ activities you mentioned.”)

END with: “I look forward to seeing you (whenever that’s going to be)”, or “I really hope you enjoy the rest of the party!”

You can even say: “There are so many wonderful people here tonight; I want to make sure I can say hi to a few others.”


When to arrive:

Arrive 10-15 minutes after a party starts. Don’t be early!

Hosting tip: As a host, give your guests a loose itinerary and a sense of what they can expect (e.g. cocktails at 6, dinner at 7:30). This is helpful during this busy time of year, because people might be late or only able to stop by due to conflicts. Also, it enables you to serve dinner on time, even if some guests are missing.

What to wear:

If attire isn’t listed on the invitation, or if it’s simply a vague “festive”, ask the host. For a larger, annual event, ask someone who’s previously attended.

Office party tip: Wear a work-appropriate outfit with a little something special (e.g. statement earrings, sparkly heels, or a fun bow tie for men).

Bring a gift?

In general, it’s always nice to bring a small gift for the host, and/or send a thank you note.

If it’s a large party or formal event requiring lots of logistics, it’s better to send a thank you or a gift after the fact.


It depends. If there’s any possibility it might get back to the person, no, but otherwise it’s probably ok (e.g. for a host gift or secret Santa present).

Hosting and dietary restrictions:

Ask about dietary restrictions on the invitation / RSVP card. For example: “Are there any dietary restrictions or other accommodations that would be helpful?”

The host does not have an obligation to make a separate meal, but should see to it that every guest coming to their home has something to eat and feel satisfied.

If a guest’s dietary restrictions are too cumbersome, invite them to bring their own meal - and tell them what you’ll be making so they can bring something similar.


Other holiday do’s and dont’s:

  • Keep your word. Show up if you said you’d attend.

  • Dress appropriately for parties.

  • Don’t have too much to drink and/or embarrass yourself (especially at an office holiday party)!

  • If you’re a guest at someone’s home, particularly for a large meal, ask if you can help, and then do as the host asks. The same goes for clean up (e.g. don’t start loading the dishwasher with fine china if the host says not to help).

  • Keep off the table: cell phones, keys, sunglasses, and anything else not related to the dining experience.


You can find more of Alison Cheperdak’s etiquette tips here.

MOMlitics with Rebecca Sheehan
MOMlitics with Rebecca Sheehan
MOMlitics aims to keep parents informed on hot-button issues impacting American families - particularly topics that the mainstream media loves to avoid.
Rebecca combines her journalistic background, empathy and tact - plus her passion for bridging America’s divide - to cover provocative topics in a straightforward and palatable way.
So if you want to stay informed at the intersection of parenting and politics, without the negativity and incendiary commentary, you're in the right place!