The holidays are filled with family time, gifts and holiday parties. This season brings a lot of joy and laughter, but for many it can also bring anxiety, especially when it comes to parties. Which fork should I use? How long do I have to stay at the party before leaving? Should I bring a gift for the hostess? It can all be overwhelming, so we asked our local etiquette goddesses and hostess gift gurus for help. Linda Humphrey of Etcetera, the ladies of Celebrations and Cartwheels, and Shannon Waits of Clater Jewelers weigh in with the answers to all of our holiday etiquette questions.

Hostess Gifts & Holiday Party Etiquette

Hostess Gifts

“There are times when we can be confused whether we should bring a gift to someone who has invited us into their home,” says Linda Humphrey of Etcetera. “The rule on hostess gifts: Generally, it is simply something small to say, ‘Thank you for including me,’ or ‘What a wonderful event!’ It can be anything from a fun notepad to a beautiful accessory for their home.”

It’s always nice when someone invites you to their holiday party, so of course you want to thank them and be a gracious guest. However, some people are hard to shop for, so what do you give them? Here are a few ideas:

Wine glasses & stain remover

Wine never goes out of style. It’s possibly the most traditional gift to give the hostess, because it’s hard to go wrong with an exquisite bottle. If you’d like to get a little more creative, you can throw in this holiday wine glass and red wine stain remover. Your hostess will love the thought you put in! Find this wine glass, $13.50, and red wine stain remover, $9.50, at Etcetera.

Red wine stain remover, $9.50, and sugar plum wine glass, $13.50, at Etcetera

Personalized cutting board

There’s nothing more thoughtful than a personalized gift, something that shows you put your heart and time into it. This beautiful cutting board is only $32.95, and it shows that you went above and beyond. Keep in mind that a customized item will need to be ordered in advance, so no last-minute shopping for this beauty. Find this cutting board at Etcetera.

Personalized cutting board, $32.95, at Etcetera

Olive oil & cooking supplies

A beautiful gift basket or box is a wonderful gift for the hostess. Depending on her taste, there are many different ways to make the basket. If the hostess enjoys cooking, this box of Primo pasta ingredients is perfect. It comes with olive oil, tomato sauce, seasoning and fresh, homemade pasta — all for only $35. Find this gift box and more like it at Primo Oils and Vinegars.

Pasta gift box, $35, at Primo Oils and Vinegars

Candles

Candles may give wine a run for its money when it comes to classic gifts. Who doesn’t love a fragrant holiday candle to make their house smell like heaven? Throw in an evergreen-scented hand soap and a diffuser, and you have a lovely aromatic present to offer. Find these Frasier fir-scented air candles for $31 each, soap for $11 and diffuser for $50.50 at Celebrations.

Diffuser, $50.50; soap, $11; and air candles, $31 each, at Celebrations

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Holiday Etiquette Tips

Who to Invite

It’s your party! You can invite whomever you would like. Sometimes it’s tough to narrow it down, though, especially when it comes to coworkers and family members. If you have a large family or more than 25 coworkers, making a list can be overwhelming. “My thought is to always make a consistent rule. For instance, with family, I will invite all first cousins and aunts and uncles to a wedding,” says Linda Humphrey of Etcetera. “If you make a rule for each category, no one will have hurt feelings. The most important priority to remember with etiquette is you never want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Invitation Tips

“It can be confusing to know what to include on the invitation as well,” adds Linda, who advises hostesses to send the invitations out at least two weeks before your holiday party. Also, don’t leave guests wondering if they should break out the black-tie attire or sport an ugly Christmas sweater. Think of all the questions your guests might have, from the time the doors open and sit-down dinner time to the dress code and what they need to bring. You want them to feel confident and at ease as they enter your party. The ladies from Cartwheels say your invitation should include:

  • WHO is hosting the party
  • TYPE of party, whether a holiday dinner, open house or ornament exchange
  • DATE — both the day of the week and the date, for best planning and recall
  • TIME — Consider adding start and end times if you are hosting an open house or want to ensure no overnight guests.
  • LOCATION with a map insert, if appropriate
  • RSVP — Always include RSVP or “Regrets Only” information, whether it is a telephone number, text number or email address.
  • ATTIRE requirements are totally optional, but it’s a nice touch if there is a concern for making your guests feel most comfortable

Coasters, $12; invitations, $2.30 each; desk slab, $25.95; candy cane knives, $6; napkins, $6 to $8; and placemats, $20, at Cartwheels

What to Wear

If there’s ever been a time to yell, “I have nothing to wear!” at your closet, holiday parties seem like a pretty good time. The invitation should explain if the party is casual or dressy, but if it doesn’t, a good rule of thumb is business-casual or your trusty little black dress. Shannon Waits at Clater Jewelers says, “Jewelry is the best accessory to play with as it has the ability to change up any look. Focus on one or two statement pieces and keep the rest simple — a cocktail ring with a pendant necklace or a statement cuff with a pair of earrings. A little sparkle adds a lot of glamour to any look.” She also says not to forget to add a little something in your hair. “You may use a brooch to pull your hair back and add a lot of glamour to your look. You can also use a sparkly necklace as a headband, or a choker as a halo on top of your hair.” When in doubt, recall Oscar Wilde’s refreshing perspective: You can never be overdressed or over-educated.

Holiday party jewelry

Yellow and white gold necklace with white and champagne diamonds, $1,930, at Clater Jewelers

Holiday party jewelry

This statement ring for $1,383 from Clater Jewelers certainly adds a celebratory and elegant touch to any hostess’ wardrobe!

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What to Bring

Aside from a gift for the hostess, should you bring a dish? Some groups of friends have an unspoken rule that you’re always encouraged to bring a dish, but others would find it strange if someone brought food to add to their planned-out party menu. So what’s a good rule of thumb? Linda Humphrey of Etcetera says, “If the party is a potluck, then yes, bring a dish. Or, if the host or hostess asks you to bring a dish, then yes.” Otherwise, just bring yourself, your date, a hostess gift and a big smile!

holiday etiquette

Bring an easy, crowd-pleasing appetizer, but only if appropriate!

Now, beat the crowds, buy your hostess gifts, and start planning your party invitations! And have a happy holiday party season!

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