Tidings of Good Christmas Party Etiquette

Tidings of Good Christmas Etiquette



The holiday social season is upon us! With so many of us hosting and attending parties, I thought it would be the perfect time to think about Christmas party etiquette. I am delighted and honored to have former White House Social Secretary, and now blogger at America’s Table, Lea Berman, share her etiquette tips along with some beautiful ideas for hostess gifts!

It’s important to treat people well throughout the year, but the holidays can create special challenges to our good nature and good manners.  Here, then, are some tidbits of advice about keeping your cool at Christmas, based on what I saw in three years of White House Christmas parties – that’s 25 parties of 500-700 people each, over the course of three weeks each year. George and Laura Bush greeted all of those people personally, and shook every hand.  Those are some good hosts, and speaking of good hosts, here are some tips if you’re hosting a party this season:

1. Remember Dwight Eisenhower’s rule for planning the D-Day invasion: “plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  Do as many things in advance as possible, to allow time to address last minute glitches.  Visualize how you want the evening to unfold, and have a timeline: “the valets arrive to park cars thirty minutes before the party starts; the host is at the door five minutes before the start time, and the food is out on the buffet at 7pm.”

2. Choosing foods that are of the season makes the evening more memorable.  How often does anyone get a good glass of eggnog or some beautifully-decorated Christmas cookies?  Now is the time to pull out your grandmother’s favorite brandy snaps recipe.

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White House Egg Nog – recipe can be found on America’s Table.

3. Take responsibility for getting a guest home safely if they’ve had too much to drink.  Of course you want them to have fun, but too much of a good thing can be dangerous.  A good host looks after their guests in all ways possible.

4. Thank guests who bring hostess gifts, but open them after the party.  You don’t want guests who don’t bring gifts to feel uncomfortable.  The first rule of a good host is to always make all of your guests feel equally welcome and appreciated.

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5. When the party is over, but your guests don’t realize it, use humor and tact to send them on their way. At the end of a party at the Vice President’s Residence, former Vice President Dick Cheney used to address his guests by thanking them for coming and then saying “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”  The message was amiably sent – and received.


For the other side of the coin, guests will be remembered fondly if they stick to a few basic rules:

1.It’s nice to bring a small hostess gift to a party, but not required.  If you’re tired of bringing the usual bottle of wine, scented candle, or box of candy, think about bringing something special for your host’s children, or pets.  Your host will love that you put such thought into a gift.

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hostess gift, lea berman, america's table, christmas etiquette, christmas party etiquette

2. If you’re party-hopping, it’s fine to arrive late at a party – as long as it’s not a seated dinner.  If you can’t tell from the invitation if the dinner is seated, call the host and ask. If you’re coming to a seated dinner, you shouldn’t arrive more than twenty minutes past the designated arrival time.

3. Respond to every invitation you receive and let the host know if you can come or not.  It doesn’t matter if they invited you casually over the water cooler or sent an engraved invitation; if someone thinks enough of you to invite you to their home, you should let them know if you’re going to be there.   Throwing a party can be an intimidating process for some people, and if they don’t know how many people are coming, it will make their planning that much more difficult.

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These Chocolate Sea Salt Shortbread Cookies make a lovely hostess gift. Recipe on America’s Table.

4. If you’re invited to a party you don’t want to go to, it’s best to regret.  If regretting is going to create an awkward situation with a friend or co-worker, it’s better to go, but save yourself a miserable night by observing the forty-minute rule.  Arrive promptly, grab a drink and make a circuit of the room, saying hello to as many people as possible and making a point of chatting up the host.  Stick it out for forty minutes before thanking your host and slipping out the door.  It will seem to others that you’ve been there longer than you have, and anybody can be polite for forty minutes.

5. Finally, don’t ever worry too much about the finer points of etiquette.  Follow the lead of your host when in doubt, and remember what they say in Washington about a breach of protocol; “those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.”

And have yourself a merry little Christmas party!


Thank you, Lea, for guest posting today! Find Lea’s incredible recipes, beautiful entertaining inspiration, and thoughtful gift ideas on her blog, America’s Table.  And be sure to browse the DoSayGive Holiday Gift Guide for thoughtful gifts for everyone on your list!


Lea Berman has been an event planner and fundraiser for over thirty years.  She served as White House Social Secretary from 2004-2007, and is the founder of America’s Table, a blog about food, flowers and entertaining with a White House flair. She is speaking tonight at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas as part of a panel entitled, “A Christmas Conversation: Entertaining at the White House.” 

Photos: America’s Table


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