Friday, November 13, 2020

Holiday Etiquette – Navigating These Complicated Social Situations During Covid-19


Happy Holidays!

by Mel Dawn

2020 has been a challenging year for all of us. Not one person alive has not been affected by the world’s COVID-19 pandemic. On top of that, we’ve undergone one of the most divisive elections in our history. Both me and my fellow author, Donna, have felt that if we’re to survive a holiday season that’s normally happy and fun, we really need to come together and forget our differences, yet still remain healthy and safe. 

In an era dominated by text-messaging and other digital communications, the desire for a powerful and memorable connection with others – and the desire to create special moments that express our love for the most important people in our lives – is more powerful than ever. But there is still something missing when we connect with others through online apps or software.

So, just how do we do connect in person? Well, it turns out our ancestors had the answers. If you ever remember as a child to greet your hostess graciously, helping to set a ten-place table setting, and giving thanks before you dive into that delicious meal, then we really need to get back to these basics. 

And there just may be a time when you have no idea what to do. What happens if you receive a gift you hate, or no gift at all? What if your best friend suddenly tells you she supports a different political party than you do, right in front of a large group? What if you’d love to invite your vegan friend but you’re serving turkey? What if the women are doing all the work in the kitchen?

I’d be happy to help you navigate through these challenging times so you have a fantastic December with friends, family, and colleagues, whether you do it in person, or online!

At first you might be thinking how you have weeks to prepare. But do you really? Christmas and holiday decorations seemed to be in the stores earlier this year. Most people had nothing else to do, so they eagerly bought up decorations in August. 

If you’re hosting a huge dinner, then you want to start baking cookies now, especially the type that freeze well. Cakes and other baking can wait until the day before the event. 

But the last thing you want to have happen is holiday burnout. You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen on the big day, cooking ten different dishes. And you never know what might happen during these times.

Remember that big toilet paper and flour shortage? You simply can’t leave things to the last minute.

While these few weeks may sound like a great deal of time, if you factor in every item on your holiday “to do” list, it may be too cumbersome. If you’re already working a full-time job or caring for family members, in reality you may only have five weekends left, or even just ten full days. And that’s no time at all. 

This is such a short window of time. Holidays should be fun and a time to see people you haven’t seen for a while. And yet, it’s no surprise that the holidays can be the single most stressful time for a woman. There is too much to do and too little time. (Tip: Men and children love to help out, you just need to ask!)

Our etiquette tips will encompass everything from being the perfect guest or hostess, to gifts, drinks, and food. And if you’re the guest, you’ll also learn how to act kindly and graciously, even to people you’re uncertain about. 

If you’re uncertain how to be a hostess, then we’ll help you out with that too, with everything from the perfect invitation to entertaining tips. And what do you serve at the party? We’ll provide help here, particularly with fussy or limited eaters, or that friend who’s a recovering alcoholic. We also have advice on the perfect holiday decorations. 

There will also be those challenging circumstances when someone brings up religion or politics at your party. (Help!) Or, what to do when you see someone isn’t doing their fair share of the work? 

Our blog article encompasses all holiday celebrations, no matter your culture. Don’t be afraid to invite a guest who you know doesn’t celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa. You may discover that they’re grateful that you’ve included them and would love to join in the festivities. After all, the holidays are about caring, kindness, and warmth!

What Is Etiquette and Why Is It Important?

At its most fundamental core, etiquette is simply the concept of thinking of others and wanting to make them feel comfortable in your presence. 

What most people call rules, we call guidelines, which exist to help one navigate both business and social settings with great poise and unflappable grace.

Etiquette certainly has a long history, especially with the upper and royal classes. Without this conventional set of rules to help govern our personal behavior in polite society, our lives would be in chaos. An accepted form of positive social behavior is what sets us apart from animals. You can imagine without it, not only would life not be worth living, but we wouldn’t have had all these medical or technological advances. We’d still be living in cold huts and spending most of our days hunting for food while avoiding other people.

Etiquette is a part of our society, or social class, or even social group. Did you know that the word, “etiquette” is actually derived from the French word “étiquette"? It means “ticket” and can be dated all the way back to 1750. 

Etiquette in history is quite interesting to study. Even as far back as 2375-2350 BC, there was a book written by Ancient Egyptian vizier Ptahhotep, called The Maxims of Ptahhotep. He wrote about the civil virtues which include truthfulness, self-control, and even kindness toward others. Without a doubt, social morals have been in place since the early peoples, otherwise how would we have evolved to where we are now?

Of course with our human intelligence comes conflict too. Just remember that civility to others is important. Keep your thoughts inside your head, except when discussing with your most personal confidante. Don’t mix it up with “respect”. We respect people who have sacrificed their lives for us so we now have a free country. We can’t respect that person who is against our beliefs but we can offer them our civility when hanging out with them.

Around the early 18th century, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury wrote about how politeness gives us a chance for others to have a better opinion of us, which is true. 

Etiquette can be likened to social manners. Social manners often fall into three different categories. Hygiene is extremely important. You don’t want to push people away because you smell bad, or your clothing is messy. Courtesy manners involve you self-controlling yourself around others to be polite and attentive. And cultural norm manners are also notable. For instance, you might accidentally offend someone and not mean too, because there are different manners for different cultures.

Why is etiquette so important? It’s not simply remaining on good terms with your family but with everyone you know. We’ve all heard those stories about people yelling at each other in the parking lot, only for that interview applicant to discover that the hiring manager was the person who they’d yelled at. And guess what? They lost the job before the interview even started!

Interestingly, sometimes applicants do sometimes find jobs with their sensationalistic exits from their careers. But that’s the exception, not the rule. 

Etiquette is even more important in business for this reason. The main purpose of business is to earn money. Anything that stands in the way is going to be cleared out, and that means that if an employee is rude to a potential customer, then they are definitely going to be responsible if someone gets offended. 

In business, person-to-person negotiation is often difficult enough as it is, let alone trying to land that big deal. And any business conflicts have to be resolved through the expensive legal system.

Etiquette is also important amongst our friends and family. Do you want your family members angry with you? Of course not! Though conflict happens, you usually just argue for a bit then move on.

What’s that old saying? If something isn’t going to matter a year from now, set it free. If it will matter a year from now, make an appointment to discuss it further, but not during a family celebration! 

Not only is it not fun yelling at someone, it’s not fun being yelled at either. It raises our blood pressure and is bad for our overall health. But if you’re happy and smiling, then your blood pressure remains at normal levels. Maintaining good mental health will extend your life. Everyone wants to live happy healthy lives, not be in constant conflict with a family member you have some dispute with.

Have you ever been out in public and a stranger has said how they love your shirt or your hair? Perhaps they just say “hello”? How does it make you feel? It makes you feel happy, right? Perhaps up to that point you were cranky that you have to do all the grocery shopping, but then you’re in the store and you hold the door open for a senior gentleman and he says thank you. And now you feel so much better and ready for the rest of your day!

To some extent they teach etiquette in school, but a lot of the training is done by parents. Perhaps not everyone gets the same training. Children definitely learn by their parent’s example. But don’t worry! People are constantly unlearning bad behavior and learning new behavior. It’s all part of being human. 

Do you think that we practice etiquette for our own gains or because we care for others? Chances are it’s both. After all, we want a better life for us and our families and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Are there any more reasons why etiquette can be so important in our lives? Perhaps you can think up one or two reasons why you want better etiquette in your life. Or, perhaps you want better etiquette for others in your life too.

(Tip! Buy more print copies of our book for them!)

The Art of Entertaining

The vital component to executing a successful event is planning. It begins with a list of what needs to be accomplished, and when, or by a set deadline. The more tasks that can be completed ahead of time, the less stressed out you will feel on event day. Waiting to do everything at the last minute is a recipe for high blood pressure.

You have two options. You can choose to plan with a notebook, or you can create a file in Excel and manage it that way. We really recommend the Excel version as it can easily be updated and managed. 

You should know right now that your first big soiree probably won’t be your best effort. But the sooner you begin, and the more events you host, the more you’ll progress to being a pro. The sooner you embrace the concept that entertaining is a skill that must be learned over time, the more comfortable you will become with the prospect of throwing parties. And like with all skills, mastery comes with time and practice.

There are certainly more challenges during these times. One is COVID-19 and the other is that people have voiced opinions that they should have only kept to themselves. There are ways of getting past this though. You’ll need to provide reassurance that you do care about your guests. You’re not hosting a party for 150, you’re hosting a party for 15. 

So, how to get started with the fine art of entertaining? We’re glad you’re here! 

Five Main Holiday Event Considerations

1. What is the special occasion for your event?

Are you holding the event because you haven’t seen your social bubble for a while, or is a big holiday coming up where you normally host the big family dinner? There are many options for winter celebrations, or to simply host a December party. Keep in mind that the holiday season can be busy for some, and quiet for others. Instead of hosting a New Year’s Eve party, many will wait a couple of weeks to spread out the fun a bit. But there is also the problem of social burnout too. 

2. Will there be a specific theme or color palette that you want to showcase?

You may have themes in mind when organizing a wedding or Halloween party, but you can also do the same for winter events. Are you stuck? Here are some great ideas!

• A winter solstice celebration. You can bring the sun, moon, planets, and stars to life in your house. Without the sun, there would be no Earth or winter. 

• Winter wonderland celebration. Many parts of the USA will be covered in snow during this time of year. What better time of year to celebrate than decorating with snowflakes, crystals, and snowmen?

• Pets theme. Let’s face it, many people are accepting your invitation because they want to meet your pup or kitten. You can create a pets theme, which is also suitable for all-family events. 

• Color-palette theme. If you’d rather not have a specific theme, you can still get creative with your holiday decorations by color-coordinating them. You may not even wish to stick with the traditional December green and red. There are many other opportunities to add festive decor to your home. 

• Green and sparkly white.

• Gold and silver. 

• Blue and white.

• Black and white.

• Purple and light pink.

Finding festive decorations can be a challenge when you don’t want to spend a lot of time out in public. Chances are you already have plenty of holiday decorations. Have a look first to see what might be in the storage boxes that fits your theme or color scheme. 

Don’t forget to look around your home too. Chances are you have some containers or vases that would match your desired theme. You may have to borrow them from one end of your home to place in the other, but after your event is over you can return things back to their places. 

3. Who will be invited? This can be a tricky undertaking. You don’t want to invite everyone, especially considering COVID-19 restrictions, yet you don’t want to leave anyone out and have someone mad at you. First, decide if you want children at the party or not. You may also have to address whether people bring their dogs or not. 

Then decide on who you’re inviting. It’s not a good idea to only invite one half of a couple; (unless it’s a girls’ night out), as they’ll be more likely to decline an invitation. Inviting two people together also gives a chance for one to be a designated driver, particularly if you’re serving a lot of alcohol at your event. Definitely do a “plus one” if your friend or family member is single, just in case they really aren’t, but haven’t told you yet or you’re not familiar with their relationship status. 

Also consider if everyone gets along. People can probably be civil to each other over minor disagreements, but if anyone is in litigation with each other, perhaps inviting them a different time would be better. 

Many people stress over inviting their boss and coworkers. It’s not necessary to invite the entire office. If you have lunch out regularly with your tribe, then go ahead and invite those who are closest to you. 

4. What method of communication will you use to invite guests?

Have you ever sent out invites to last minute party plans through text or Facebook messenger? Chances are you got few responses. It can be frustrating, as people do look at their texts first. However, people don’t seem to take texts or messages that seriously. Texting and messaging is too easily brushed off. If you ask what happened, your friend or loved one will apologize and say that they didn’t see it, which will make you annoyed. 

A telephone invitation is good, and even better, if your potential guest can’t make it, you’ll have still had a wonderful conversation with them. 

Email is most commonly used in business, but once people get home they don’t like to check it. You can send an invite that way, but it’s possible it could be missed, just like that text message.

We believe that mail is perhaps the most formal method to send an invite. It also gives the attendee a card that they can place on their desk or mantle to help remind them that there’s an important event ahead. And if it’s for the winter holiday season, that invite doubles as a holiday card too! Just remember to write a little note in there. 

It’s really up to you as to which method you believe will work best. Some social circles prefer one form of communication. You may verbally ask your friends and family in person if they’d like to attend your soiree, then you can send them a reminder invite in the mail or through text, message, or email. 

But again, a formal invite shows that your celebration is going to be grand and wonderful, and perhaps they should take notice and RSVP immediately. 

What Do I Include in the Invitation?

Now that you’ve figured out the occasion for your special event and who you’re sending invitations to, it’s time to create your special party invitations. The invitation is not only a means in which to announce an event but also to share with guests what to expect during the festivities.

You have the option to create your own party invitations from scrapbook crafting supplies, print them out on your computer, or order them from a local or online printing supplier. We personally love the idea of handcrafted invites, but also know that time can be precious during this time of year. Or, you can create a combination of printed invites that you order from a professional printing company, and glue on snowflakes or crystals to make them extra special.

It’s important to choose your theme and color palette first, if you’re using them. If you are using a theme or specific color palette, make sure that it is carried through on every element of the party, and that begins with the invitation. The congruence is a simple way of creating elegance. Your guests may not be able to figure it out, but it’ll make your party extra special when all elements are intrinsically tied together. 

Having a party theme makes the occasion extra-exciting to your invited guests. It won’t simply be an informal gathering, but one that has been created with great thought and care, and that must not be missed!

Invitations may seem like simple pieces of paper, but a lot of care and consideration must be done. Here are six important considerations to make before you finalize your invitations at the printer’s. 

1. Food Allergies. Food allergies is perhaps your single most important consideration. The last thing you want to do is serve your allergic guest peanut sauce or seafood, then have to wait for the ambulance to arrive because they had a bad allergic reaction. If your food is catered, you’ll have to pass these instructions onto the chefs so they can prepare and label the dishes accordingly. You may even wish to print out fancy tags and place them beside each dish. Be sure to ask about food allergies in the invite. 

2. Food Restrictions. Not exactly the same as allergies, but some guests may have specific food restrictions due to religion, or be vegetarian or vegan. Keep in mind that vegetarian and vegan mean different things to different people, making your menu choices even more confusing. Seek clarification if they’re a strict vegetarian or vegan. Beliefs and dietary restrictions can vary from person to person. The vegan may be fine with tofurkey, while the strict vegetarian may not want to eat fake meat products, opting instead to eat veggies. You may also want to be aware if someone has a salt or fat restriction, and offer some healthy options. 

There’s nothing wrong with inviting someone to bring their own dish if they have serious food restrictions or allergies. In fact, some people might do that anyway, if they are really concerned. Please don’t be offended if someone “ate before the party”. They’re simply making sure they’re happy and fulfilled at your party. 

3. RSVP Return Date. Since mailing out invitations is our number one preferred form of party or event invite, you’ll need to factor in plenty of time for the post office to deliver, and for the recipients to respond. Perhaps you can accept mail-in RRVPs or telephone RSVPs. Be sure that it’s listed clearly in the invite so that on your special day you don’t suddenly have ten extra people arrive who you didn’t know were going to be there. It’s up to you whether you include a return stamp on the return envelopes, but during these times it’s definitely a caring gesture that everyone will appreciate. 

4. Full contact information. If any of your guests have questions or concerns, they should find your full contact information on the invitation so that they can contact you easily.

5. Address and directions. If you’re inviting people who’ve never been to your place before, they will appreciate your full address and the best driving directions to reach your place. If there’s anything else they need to know, (intercom number or what to do at gated communities), then provide that info too. 

6. Party’s start and end times. Include both the party’s start and end times. If there are any special events during the party, include that time to ensure that people who normally show up late won’t miss out. 

7. Dress code. If people should dress formally, or semi-formally, include that in the invite. If there’s a party theme, let people know if they must wear a costume. 

8. Party restrictions. These can be as simple as saying “adults-only” or “please leave pets at home”. What’s often so entertaining about people is that there is always that one person who goes outside your boundaries and makes you puzzled when they show up at your door. 

For instance, have you ever spent hours baking cookies and cakes, only to have someone show up at your door with store-bought baked goods? All we can do is laugh and put them on the fancy platters. Trust us, we know the guests will dive right in regardless of what’s on the table! 

But that’s one fun aspect of being hostess to a party event – you never know what’ll happen. But hopefully the party fun for everyone!

By now you’re beginning to understand that it’s not just a small invite in the envelope, but a complete party package. Now that we’ve covered the basics, we must move onto the essentials. 

COVID-19 Etiquette Tips

  • Check your city’s health department to find out how many guests are allowed at your venue or home. Abide by your area’s number of guests-allowed policy and the rules that apply. You may have to enforce this rule as chances are you’ll have a few guests ask “Can I bring a friend?” (Tip: The answer is no!)
  • Don’t invite more people than what is permitted by law. You don’t want the police to arrive and disband the party. It’s embarrassing and costly because you will have to pay a fine, and guests will be less likely to accept your future invites. On top of that, you don’t want someone to get sick, or worse, and have that on your mind for the rest of your life. 
  • Politely, but clearly state your COVID-19 party rules in a separate section of your invitation. (Perhaps as a separate slip of paper.)

Here is an example to help you begin:

With the exception of eating, will guests have to wear a mask? This is going to be dependent on how big your party space is. If you live in a warm state, the party may even be held outdoors, so this is less of a concern. 

  • Are guests expected to get tested for COVID-19 prior to the party and send you the results before they are allowed to attend?
  • Will you do a temperature check at the door? Please note you can buy disposable plastic covers for thermometers, which will help speed up the process.
  • Will guests have to remove their shoes upon arrival? If you request that your guests remove their shoes, provide them with new and unused socks or slippers to wear, or ask them to bring a clean pair of their own slippers or flip flops. 
  • If you are asking guests to get tested for COVID-19, then you and everyone in your household must do the same. State that clearly on the invitation so everyone understands the rules are the same all around. 
  • Don’t be offended if someone declines an invitation because of COVID-19 concerns.

Cocktail Party Etiquette

Some people have never been to a cocktail party, so they may not know what to expect, or it may have been years since they’ve been to one. It’s important to be yourself, yet smile and look happy. Here are a few more tips to help the guests and hostess to have an enjoyable evening, and even better, be first to receive the next big party invite!

Tips for Guests

Just how can you be the best guest? First of all, respond quickly to that party invitation. Showing up on time is perhaps the best gift you can give the hostess. After all, if you don’t show up on time, she’ll fret that you weren’t able to make it. And if you show up late, all the appetizers may be gone. 

It’s customary to bring a small gift for the hostess. It can be a good bottle of wine or a small bouquet of flowers. 

Before you arrive, have something to eat. You most likely will not be aware of how many cocktails you’ll be drinking or how much food will be there. Having food in your stomach will help absorb the alcohol. The last thing you want is to make a quick exit to the powder room! If you’re concerned about what types of appetizers there will be, opt for a protein-based item before you leave home. 

Avoid talking about politics or religion with your fellow guests. Find a way to steer the topic elsewhere, or politely excuse yourself.

Be polite and friendly with everyone you meet, even if you have had a grievance with them in the past. 

Simply ask people “what they do”, rather than asking them what they do for a living. This is a more open-ended question and perhaps they’ll share with you about a charitable organization they help out, or a special hobby or sport they play. 

Be sure to compliment people. Say something like, “I like your look!” or “I love your dress or hair”. But be careful to not stare or make anyone uncomfortable.

Don’t complain or make negative remarks toward the venue, the hostess, the guests, or anything else. A cocktail party offers the opportunity to have a fun time. Separate work from play. 

Hostess Cocktail Party Etiquette

If you’re the hostess of the party, here are some tips to help you host the best cocktail party ever.

• People have varying amounts of social experience. If you see someone standing alone, bring them over to a group of people and introduce them to the others.

• If you have a buffet table or wine table set up, write short descriptions on small cards and set them beside each delicacy or bottle. A brief description about the wine’s profile will help people to decide what to drink. 

• If you’ve created your own signature cocktail, be sure to write down and let your guests know why you selected these elements. If there’s an interesting backstory that accompanies it, include that too. For example: Did you first taste the Singapore Sling while visiting the Raffles Hotel on your vacation to Singapore?

• Be aware that not everyone drinks alcohol, and it may be for different reasons. Be sure to offer the following:

    • Soda (regular and diet)
    • Sparkling water
    • Bottled water
    • Juice

There are also zero-alcohol wines and beers, not to be mixed up with dealcoholized beer and wine options.

Dinner Party Etiquette

Just like with a cocktail party, a dinner party involves special etiquette too. Here are a few tips to have a successful but enjoyable party.

• Prepare as much as you can in advance. You want time to socialize with your guests, not be dashing around trying to set up the rest of the cocktails or chairs.

• If you’re hosting a small dinner, remain seated and wait until everyone has been served before you begin eating. If you’re hosting a larger dinner that has multiple tables or one long table, then you’ll only need to wait until everyone within your immediate vicinity has been seated and is ready to eat. 

• Don’t season your food until you have tasted it first. 

• If you need to leave the table for any reason, simply excuse yourself. You don’t need to offer a reason, such as visiting the powder room.

• A gentleman should always pull out the chair for a lady who is seated next to him, on either side. A thank you is appreciated.

• Don’t forget the elderly. I’ve been invited to many dinner parties where the elderly family members were left sitting by themselves with no one to talk with. Make it a point to spend time with Aunt Mary, who may be 84-years-old. It’s fun and interesting to chat with our elders. Think up family history questions to ask that only they can answer.

You’ve made the effort to invite guests to your event. Even if it’s just family you see all the time, make this a fun and unique event by nicely displaying food on the plates, and creating an artful dessert arrangement. Always remember that the holidays are a time to celebrate. Make this day as special as possible. 

• The music playlist should comprise a variety of songs, but ones that subtly work together to create the perfect party ambiance.

Dining Etiquette

It can be challenging to find time for each other during these busy times. But dining is one special event that brings people together. It’s not simply a meeting, but a gathering with loved ones that promises delicious food and refreshments. Dining can be an intimate affair between a couple or friends, or even an event with a group of your business colleagues. It can also involve a civic or a charitable cause, or even be a family affair with close and distant relatives. 

Dining can be done at your home, at a workplace, or at a rented room at the finest restaurant in town or local banquet hall. Whatever dining platform you are a part of, dining calls for certain protocols that make the event a charming and memorable one. Here are some tips to help you begin. 

Buffet Etiquette

There are two different types of meals; one is the sit-down dinner where you’re served; and the other is the buffet where you serve yourself. We know that by the time you’re seated at the table, you’re hungry! But please be patient and follow  this etiquette.

• Wait until the hostess says its your table’s turn to visit the buffet. Generally, people who need assistance will get to go first. Vegans and vegetarians get to go next, to prevent the other guests from taking all the veggies or salads first. 

• Beverages are stationed on a separate table than the food, along with pertinent beer or wine glasses. There should be a spot for water and glasses too. 

• Desserts should also be placed on a separate table. Guests should avoid this table until the end of the main course. If there is a large cake, do not touch it, as it may be part of the celebration. 

• Have individual serving utensils for each dish so guests don’t have to mix them around. 

• Do not eat the food or sip the drinks while in line.

• Please wait patiently for your turn. Do not reach over people. If you’ve collected your food, go and sit down. 

Thank you for reading my Covid-19 holiday article! Hopefully this will be the only year that we must have restrictions on our holiday fun. 

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