Culture

Social in Security — Holiday Party Etiquette 101

A Modern Etiquette Ambassador on How To Serve and Be Served Today

BY Heather Wiese-Alexander // 12.15.21

In her recurring column, “Social in Security,” modern etiquette ambassador and Bell’INVITO founder Heather Wiese-Alexander walks us through a list of trusted tips you can rely on. Because now that we’re emerging back into the world, we want to do it as the best version of ourselves. The month, Wiese-Alexander offers her guide to holiday party etiquette. 

When you are entertaining a group it is important to recognize that dietary differences do exist. Hosts, while it’s not your role to plan for every preference or sensitivity, it is considerate to ask guests to make you aware of allergies or restrictions by a certain date. While it certainly would be considerate, don’t assume a guest will give you plenty of notice if you don’t ask for it. In the rare case there is a real issue, it can be a sensitive subject. Many real dietary concerns are not widely understood amid the tangle of today’s preferences and sensitivities. Instead of making suggestions, rely on your guest’s expertise. Individuals dealing with real, life-altering dietary restrictions are well versed in how to handle them. I suggest starting with, “What tends to work best for you?”

Guests, your role is gratitude with a generous serving of helpfulness. If you carry the burden of a strict dietary discipline, by now you’re well-versed in how to keep yourself healthy and safe. If special preparation is needed, it’s fine to let your host know that you will take this on independently. Many hosts will volunteer to accommodate. It’s up to you as to whether you are comfortable with the gesture. Do not expect a host to accommodate. Communicate clearly, with plenty of notice, and remember to come from a place of appreciation for being included.

holiday party etiquette

Holiday Cards

Who gets them and whose names goes where?

Who gets a personal holiday card? The tradition is that if you do not see someone during the holiday season to give a hearty holiday greeting face-to-face, a card is sent bearing the well-wishes you could not bestow in person. Half of you just cut fifty people from your card list. I know, it’s completely weird to think about not sending your four besties a holiday card, but if you’re needing to cull your list and you’re going to see them in person—you just found your first edits. I may have just undercut my own holiday sales next year, but I cannot tell a lie.

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The next one is often misunderstood, especially in the South. How many church bulletins and charity programs have you seen where the ‘head of the household’ is listed first? So many. While you’ll often see some version of John and Jane Smith in informal situations, listing names using proper traditional etiquette 1) will have the woman’s name listed first, and 2) will not separate the man’s first name from his last. Jane and John Smith is the correct way to write their names as a couple.

Listing more? Here are some solutions to common scenarios.

From a married couple sharing a last name: 

Jane and Michael Peterson

The Petersons
Jane, Michael, Molly, Travis, Sarah

or similarly with children listed by age:

The Peterson Family
Jane, Michael, Molly (16), Travis (13), Sarah (4)

extended families in a group photograph:

The Peterson Family
Jane and Michael Peterson
Molly and Garett Jenner, Katy (4), and Rachel (2)

Partially empty nest? When a few of the children are out but not all, it feels strange for many parents to list only the ones still living in the household. Children over 18 and not living in the house are traditionally not included on the card. Rarely will someone fault parents for including young adult children, but it’s time for the little birdies to represent themselves…well, soon.

holiday party etiquette
Photo by Pär Bengtsson.

Sharing Dietary Restrictions 

Now let’s talk opinionated eaters. Pleasing everyone is no one’s job. Your latest cleanse, vegan diet, or gastro-rumblings caused by certain foods are not a host’s concern. They aren’t even something the host or other guests need to be in on. We can all be cool, casual, and real—and still respect that TMI is a thing.

Bela Cooley, Monique Dawood (Photo by Jonathan Zizzo)
Bela Cooley and Monique Dawood at the 2021 Crystal Charity Ball (Photo by Jonathan Zizzo)

Holiday Party Guesting 101

This year, arriving as a guest might seem a little overwhelming. While the best choices certainly depend on a full set of circumstances and reading cues from your host, there are three absolute guesting truths. First, do not show up early. Give your host the courtesy of every last minute. Second, bring appreciation in hand. Don’t go over the top. It can be a small, simply thoughtful way to thank the host for all their efforts. Don’t expect whatever you bring to be consumed at the party unless a potluck is the plan. Last, no ghosting. Reply and keep your word. It’s really that simple.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Thank you for being the bright highlight of my year. I love your questions and the conversations I’ve been fortunate to have with many of you about the little things we can do daily to feel better, practice more kindness and consideration, and navigate all of our collective social situations with a bit more confidence and grace. I appreciate and adore you, my friends!

Part of the Special Series:

PaperCity - Social in Security
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