Etiquette: Not Quite Home for the Holidays

Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays, unless you’re somewhere else. Maybe you’ve moved away from your family and you just can’t make it home, or maybe you’re splitting the holidays as a much-begrudged favor to your significant other. Whatever your situation, it can lead to discomfort and awkwardness if you’re a guest in someone’s home.

But do not fret, dear Reader, for I have some hints to help you make some holiday magic.

#1: Embrace the Awkwardness, Padawan. This is essentially a party where you don’t know anyone, but that’s okay because it’s the holidays and everybody here wants to like you JUST BECAUSE. It’s like you’re cheating at the game of friendship. Be personable. Smile often. Know that you’re a stranger in a strange land and just be yourself. Circulate amongst groups to introduce yourself and go where the party goes. DO NOT be that girl who just clings to the one person she knows. You look needy and rude.

#2: Go with the Flow. Different people have different holiday traditions. On Christmas Eve in my family, we have an early family dinner, and then enjoy cocktails and finger food later. In other families, Christmas Eve is spent at church. Some people have turkey on Easter. (I try not to judge, but seriously?) Do not look down your nose at other people’s traditions. Just go with those traditions and try to have fun. DO NOT try to force your traditions on other people. Just sneak off and make phone calls once in a while to see if your mother has had too much special eggnog yet.

#3: Bring Something. “Never arrive empty-handed,” is a typical rule for being a guest. Traditionally called a hostess gift, your trinket does not have to be expensive or lavish, merely thoughtful. Consider bringing a plate of homemade cookies or another dessert to add to the table. Perhaps something small or decorative will do. And if it’s a gift-giving holiday, a present just for the host, like tickets to a movie or a framed photo never goes astray. If all else fails, you can always default to a bottle of wine, but don’t be offended if it doesn’t get opened that night, and maybe avoid that route if your host doesn’t imbibe.

#4: On That Note, Avoid Alcoholic Tendencies. I don’t feel I need to explain myself for this one. Just limit yourself to two or three drinks. Unless everyone else is really going for it, then just try to stay two behind your host. You’ll look really classy.

#5: Offer to Help. Few things are more annoying than that guest who eats, sits, and leaves. Offer to help set or clear the table. Corral any little kids and keep them busy so they’re not underfoot when they would just cause trouble. Help elderly people to and from their cars. This kind of behavior will go farther toward making a good impression than just about anything else.


Go forth my Holiday Hoppers and enjoy being someone’s perfect holiday guest! If you have a tricky etiquette question, leave it in the comments below, PM me, or shoot me an e-mail at I would consider it the highest and best of Christmas gifts!

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

3 replies on “Etiquette: Not Quite Home for the Holidays”

I'd add that if you're going to be involved in other people's traditions, maybe get someone to tell you about them as a heads up. Some of our own traditions we just assume are what everyone does, when they're not! In my family we open gifts one at a time like going in a circle over and over until we're all out, sometimes stopping for breakfast in the middle (or church, some years), and we fawn over each thing and try on new sweaters etc. But when I went to my boyfriends' family Christmas, they just all open stuff all at once, which I had never even considered as an option! I felt VERY RUDE even though I was doing what they were all doing. It was weird. I would have liked some notice. Ha.

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