Somehow, the holiday season is upon us already. This means many things, busy parking lots, holiday ads on the radio, more time spent in the baking aisle and the hunt for an affordable and preferably less lopsided Christmas tree than last year. Perhaps more than anything, the arrival of the holiday season means a full calendar of events.
Gathering together is one of the most wonderful things about this time of year, but it can also be overwhelming. Sometimes, the expectations are unclear.
What does “festive semi-casual” even mean? Do you offer to help with the dishes? Is a gift for the boss an unspoken must? Is it appropriate to ask if you can bring a guest? How does one effectively dodge political conversations with that uncle?
We all want to get it right and be gracious guests. Ultimately, it is possible to RSVP to an invitation with less anxiety and more genuine excitement. In a sea of guidelines and rules for social events, here are a few worry-free tips for being the guest you want to be.
Minimize the have-to’s
There are events we are all required, in one sense or another, to attend. Brunch at Grandma’s and the office mixer are non-negotiables if you’re looking to reduce family drama or keep your job. It’s true that certain things have value, whether or not we enjoy them or they are easy for us.
However, take some time to really consider which invitations you say yes to this season. There are tables you don’t have to sit at, toxic environments you should avoid and unnecessary calendar-fillers. We often miss the beauty of the holidays because we say yes to everyone and everything, making each event feel more like a “have-to” and less like a “I can’t wait to.”
Choose your schedule wisely. Think about where you really want to be and who you want to be with. We are often better guests in environments where we choose to be.
Make your decision clear
(AKA: No more of this millenial-maybe-nonsense.) If you take the time to consider your decision, then you are more likely to make one you don’t later regret. Once you’ve done this, honor your host by giving them a clear and dependable response.
Unfortunately, young adults are often trademarked by their unwillingness to commit to things. A “maybe” keeps options open, but in the long run, it communicates you’re waiting to see if something better comes along. If you’re not sure, then it is better to say you need time to look at your calendar and think about it than to say you might be attending.
Your host is most likely shopping for food, setting a table and considering how many people can comfortably sit on their couch. No one likes a wishy-washy response. Give them a response they can count on.
Self-awareness is your superpower
Self-awareness is certainly a superpower in every situation, but especially social ones. You would think this is common knowledge, but we can all agree there sometimes seems to be a shortage (again, that uncle). When arriving at your host’s home or a gathering of people, make sure you are aware of yourself. Good self-awareness keeps body language, manners, topics of conversation and a general grasp of the environment in check.
Being a gracious guest means noticing if everyone’s shoes are at the door before tracking in your muddy footsteps, putting your phone away so you can engage in conversation and smiling so you seem approachable and happy to be there. This isn’t a performance, but it might help to think about what your host would say about you after you leave their event.
Were you present and positive in your conversation? Did you empty the bottle of wine that was for everyone and gossip about your coworker? Arrive self-aware, looking to follow your host’s lead and contribute to the event, instead of taking away from it.
Never underestimate noticing the details
No matter how formal or informal, you can assume there was thought, time and resources put into the event you are attending. There could be a standard veggie tray on the coffee table with no accompanying details or a beautiful cheese and charcuterie board, meticulously laid out.
No matter the appearance of effort, noticing the details can be one of the most impactful things you can do as a guest. We often notice something we appreciate and think to ourselves, “Well that’s nice.”
Turn your thoughts into words! It’s not enough to just think it. Go the extra mile and communicate to your host how much you appreciate them and their event, either in person or in a handwritten thank-you note following the event.
Let yourself *gasp* enjoy it
Elementary, maybe, but one of the easiest ways to be a gracious guest is to just enjoy the event you’ve been invited to. Your host is aware they are the ones hosting. Do not expect everyone to clean the place spotless, ask icebreaker questions at the table or answer the door for other arriving guests. More likely than not, the only thing your host wants you to do is thoroughly enjoy yourself.
Of course, clear your plate or offer to take the trash out if you notice your host could use the help and your relationship provides that kind of familiarity. However, if you are more occupied with how the event is going and the ways you could make it run smoother, you are mentally hijacking the role of host when you’re just meant to be the guest. So let someone pour you a drink, have some fun and replace the phrase, “Do you want me to…?” with “Thank you.”
The list of etiquette rules could go on for ages. The holiday season is meant for savoring moments together, giving joy back to the people around us. Instead of looking to be perfect guests, let’s just try and be gracious ones.