The Festive Etiquette Guide

Although this time of year is filled with an abundance of celebrations, merriment and mince pies, it can also be a bit of a social minefield. From navigating away from awkward mistletoe mishaps to politely eating roast turkey at the in-laws because they forgot you’d gone vegetarian, this time of year is filled with the potential for gaffes.

So, how best to tackle any tricky scenarios that might present themselves this festive season? Short of shunning the sherry and locking yourself indoors until the tinsel is safely packed away, what can you do? We’ve spoken to etiquette experts, Debrett’s about how to sidestep the social pitfalls that can often present themselves at Christmas time…


It’s the office Christmas party. What’s the correct way to behave and socialise?

A Christmas party is packed with countless variables as no two gatherings are ever the same. Arrive in good time but avoid being early, leaving any anxiety at the door. You are here to enjoy yourself and a drink will help you to unwind, however be careful not to over indulge. This also applies to food – avoid stationing yourself by the buffet all evening. When engaged in a one-on-one conversation, give the other person your full attention and be as lively and stimulating as you can.


You receive a gift you don’t like. How should you react?

To receive a present graciously, always open it when the giver is with you. Always show enthusiasm and engage with the giver beyond a simple thank you. If appropriate, ask them pertinent questions about the present, or muse on when you will use it.

Disappointment, distaste or just indifference must be hidden at all costs and a written thank you is appropriate.


When it comes to Christmas dinner, is there a right way for it to be served?

As Christmas is a time for everyone to come together, you may be juggling several different generations. The festive season all too often strains good manners to the limit and because of this, it is best to plan ahead – don’t demand too much of yourself on the day.

Make sure your guests feel involved in planning the structure of the day and meal, let them help you serve and pour drinks and remember, always ask for help when you need it.


How should one dress for a Christmas lunch with relatives?

Both men and women should make it clear that an effort has been made even for relatives, and especially for those of an older generation. It is important for all guests to feel comfortable and if you are unsure, find out as much as possible about what other people are intending to wear – it is always more polite to the host to dress up.


What’s the proper way to write a thank you, and how soon after Christmas should you send it?

In a digital age a handwritten thank you note will always look spontaneous and
heart-felt and is infinitely preferable to an email, text message or phone call. It should always be written promptly and at the latest by January 5th.

Refer to the present, and make a positive comment about it. Add a little news about your own Christmas, and make polite enquiries about the recipient’s, then reiterate your thanks and good wishes.

Thank you letters should be written on behalf of small children but as soon as they’re old enough to write, make sure they write their own.


Are there dinner table topics that should be spoken about, and others that should be avoided over a Christmas meal?

A host should always keep an eye on the conversational dynamic during the meal. It is their duty to ensure conversation flows throughout the meal. Topics that are awkward for any of the table guests should be avoided or steered away from. In any environment it is polite to include all your guests, even if some take more work than others.


When someone is invited to more than one engagement and has to turn one down, what’s the correct way to make an apology?

Guests should always use a reply card if one is sent out with the invitation. Alternatively, replies to invitations are sent on writing paper, showing the senders address and are written in third person. Always give the
host plenty of time to find someone else and avoid cancelling at last minute.

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