Merry manners: Etiquette expert Lizzie Post shares tips on how to host a holiday party with grace

When it comes to manners and etiquette, one name in particular comes to mind: Emily Post. Originally published in 1922 (with updates every five years), Post’s book “Etiquette” covers everything from proper handshakes to cutlery placement, and has influenced generations of people in the pursuit of politeness.

Now, a century later, her great-great granddaughter Lizzie Post—the Co-President of the Emily Post Institute—has given Emily’s tome a modern-day overhaul with “Emily Post’s Etiquette: The Centennial Edition,” which she co-authored with her cousin Daniel Post Senning. The ultimate guide to 21st century etiquette, Lizzie’s book is an homage to Emily’s classic with a 2022 spin. “I think she’s actually in this book more than any other edition,” Lizzie says. “It’s a very modern, up-to-date edition, and it brings back so much of Emily herself.”

While some niceties and norms have evolved since Emily’s time (for example, formal dinner parties don’t typically occur with such frequency), according to Lizzie, many things have stayed the same—like how to be a gracious host, how to welcome your guests, and how to make people feel comfortable in your home.

With the season in full-swing, we sat down with Lizzie to chat about the etiquette of hosting a holiday party in the 21st century, covering everything from when to plan, to when to relax, and when to just breathe. If you’ve ever wondered what to do when guests arrive early, or how to end a party when people just aren’t getting the hint to go home… read on for insights from Ms. Post.

left: A blonde woman (Lizzie Post) sits in front of a brick wall while holding up a navy blue copy of “Etiquette” by Emily Post. Right: A navy blue dinner party invitation with lush branches with orange citrus fruits along the right sideLizzie Post holding an original copy of her great-great grandmother Emily Post’s book “Etiquette.” Photo courtesy of The Post Institute; “Fortunella” by Oscar de la Renta for Paperless Post.

It’s truly never too early to start planning a holiday party

You’ve probably heard about the “Christmas Creep” in retail, but the term is also relevant to planning your holiday party. Lizzie suggests that you start scheduling your soirée as early as late summer. “I think it’s worthwhile to start thinking about it in August and September, and to get your planning into action by October. That way, you can get your invites out by the end of October, or at the very latest, the start of November,” she explains. After all, “You’ve only got so many weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day to get all of this done, including the actual holidays themselves.”

Keep in mind, though, that while you might be an expert planner, your guests may need a nudge if you send holiday invitations far in advance. “You have to be very relentless about RSVPs, because no one is thinking about holiday parties in October!” Lizzie tells us.

And if you’re planning a formal dinner party with catering and staff? “Your whole planning timeline should shift a good 3-4 weeks earlier.”

handwritten, horizontally formatted invitation for “Holiday Tea” with a red, folk art-inspired floral borderLizzie Post’s mom is no stranger to hosting, either. Lizzie’s fondest childhood memories are of her slightly formal, mildly chaotic Christmas teas with friends. Above is a handwritten invitation from one such event. Photo courtesy of Peter L Post.

Always include an RSVP-by date on your invitations

There’s no hard and fast rule about when you should send out holiday party invitations, but there is one thing that’s non-negotiable: including an RSVP-by date. “It gives you a point in time for following up with people on [whether they’re coming],” Lizzie explains. “You might send them out so they land around Halloween, but then you have an RSVP-by date for sometime after Thanksgiving. You have that touchpoint to follow up with somebody about your party.”

(Need more tips on how to word your holiday party invitations? We’ve got you.)

Be clear about the dress code (if you want one)

A dress code isn’t a holiday party necessity, but if you want the vibe of your get-together to be somewhat formal, it’s worth your while to include one. “If you’re looking for people to be a little dressed up or festive, you have to tell them somehow,” Lizzie says. “The formality of the invitation will help. If you’re doing it with a Paperless Post, they can’t feel the fabric or see the debossing—so especially with online invitations, dress guides are really helpful things to have.”

Just don’t make your sequin suggestion sound like a mandate: “You want to be clear,” says Lizzie. “The trick is to be inviting, not bossy.”

When things go awry, remember to breathe

Wine spills. Food burns. Kids misbehave. In any party atmosphere, some things are bound to go a little off-course, regardless of how well you’ve planned. Lizzie suggests taking a moment for yourself, keeping calm, and remembering that you’re the person in charge (with the exception of unruly children). “You are the leader in this situation,” she says. So instead of freaking out, remember that “you’re the one who is going to know whether you’ve got salt or seltzer to help clean that stain.”

As for the kids, you should offer to help, but understand that, in the end, it’s the parents’ choice to stay or go—and don’t read into their decision. “Setting children up with a kid-friendly area is [a good idea]: soft blankets, pillows, a favorite movie,” says Lizzie. “If the guests are saying they need to leave early, it’s OK. You can encourage them to stay, but you don’t want to pressure them to stay—there’s a difference between those two. It’s important to remember that you’re not in charge of other peoples’ kids. You want to talk to the parent, not the child. You’re allowed to express rules in your household, especially if you say it in a friendly tone—but let the parents do the disciplining.”

Yes, a host can toast

Making a toast as a host isn’t a must, but it’s always nice to acknowledge how much you appreciate your favorite people—and to hear the same back from them. The best toasts, says Lizzie, are genuine, thoughtful, and expressive. “My dad does a really lovely toast to my mom and the family at our big family gatherings, and I always really love it,” she tells us. “I think it is really nice to thank people for preparing the meal, and it’s lovely to thank everyone for gathering together. If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that gathering is so important.”

If you are lucky enough to have someone make a toast in your honor, do your best not to take a sip. “Typically, you don’t drink to a toast being made in your honor. You just raise your glass as a thank you.”

left: A holiday cocktail party invitation with a tan background and simplified pink, red, and tan illustrations of seasonal cocktails and ornaments. Right: A close-up photograph of two red cocktails on the rocks in stemless glasses garnished with cranberries and fir sprigsMerry Drinks” by Hello!Lucky for Paperless Post; image via Platings and Pairings.

Leave a little time for yourself before the party begins

No one wants to be rushing around when the guests arrive. Before the dishes start piling up and your cheeseboard gets gobbled down, pause to take in all your hard work.

“If you’re really nailing this hosting thing, you’re ready 15 minutes before your party starts,” says Lizzie. “You’re taking a sip of your glass of Champagne or you’re kicking your feet up for five minutes. You’re just relaxing for a minute and appreciating all the effort you put into this. And then you’re just waiting for people to arrive to greet them. That’s a special, special moment.”

Make sure your home is ready for guests

Yes, cleaning up is a big part of it. But you should also think about things like comfortable seating, where to store coats, how to entertain early arrivers, etc.

“Generally, anyone walking into your home should be able to take off their jacket and feel welcome in the space,” Lizzie explains. “It’s clean, it’s decluttered, there’s some flow to it, they can easily interact with hors d’oeuvres or a bar that you have set up, or maybe you’ve got people manning those stations.”

And please, don’t make your first guest feel weird about being numero uno. “As a host, you really want to stay with the first person who arrives until more people trickle in. That’s another reason to have everything done, set, and ready when you’ve got the time.”

Let go of your no-shoes-in-the-house rule

At formal events, shoes are part of the outfit. So while it is a good idea to provide a doormat for wiping shoes, you shouldn’t ask your guests to remove them entirely.

“We don’t recommend that you ask guests to remove their shoes unless there’s some really important reason. Recognize that if you are going to ask for shoes to be taken off, you should note this in the invitation and suggest bringing a pair of indoor shoes,” Lizzie says.

Start a conversation that people actually want to be involved in

No one likes getting stuck in awkward small talk at a party. Instead, says Lizzie, get your guests gabbing about their favorite things.

“Ask guests what they are interested in or what they like to spend their time doing,” she suggests. “This gives them the chance to talk about something they love, instead of something that they do. Stay away from ‘what do you do,’ any questions about relationships (‘are you married, are you single, are you coupled up’), and anything directly related to religion or origin. These are all things that, if you spend time getting to know someone, will come up naturally.”

An online invitation with a Christmas wreath and the phrase “Making Spirits Bright” animating in flashing colors over itSpirits Bright” Flyer.

Ready for bed? Wrap up your party with grace

If guests aren’t leaving after dinner, good for you—you’re probably throwing a really good party.  As the host, it’s OK for you to start signaling that things are winding down by brightening the lights, putting away the food, and turning off the music. “Some people start to clean, but I find that a little too pushy,” says Lizzie. “If people aren’t picking up on subtle cues, you can say something like, ‘It’s been so wonderful having you all here, but I’m going to have to start closing down this party/shindig and head to bed…’ while keeping a friendly tone.”

And the age-old question: Clean up that night, or wait until morning?

Lizzie’s not talking. “That is totally a per household decision. I’m not getting in the middle of that fight!”

Don’t expect too much from your guests afterward

For guests, there’s no rule about how to thank a host other than in-person when they’re heading out the door. But of course, it never hurts. “A host shouldn’t expect [a call or thank you gift], but I do think it’s a really polite thing to do,” Lizzie says. “If you’d like to, thanking [the host] the next day is really nice—even just a text that says you had a good time. If the situation is more formal, sending a thank you card (even handwritten) is always appreciated.”

Be the host with the most

Now that you’re up on your holiday party hosting etiquette, it’s time to make the Post family proud with a holiday party that your guests will love. After you’ve picked a date, set the tone for your event with beautiful online holiday invitations from Paperless Post. For a formal party, choose a classic, stationery-inspired Card invitation. If you’re hosting a more casual hang, send an animated Flyer featuring a festive gif. Whichever kind of Paperless Post invitations you send, you’ll save time and energy with our host-friendly tools, like instant delivery, RSVP-tracking, and seamless guest messaging. Customize with photo stamps, backdrops, font colors, and more. You can even choose how to send your invitations—via email, text, or a shareable link. By the way, if you need holiday party supplies and décor to complement your invitations, look no further than Paperless Post Party Shop. It’s easier than ever to host graciously with Paperless Post.

 

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