The holiday season can be a swirling tornado of madness. There’s shopping for gifts, writing the family newsletter, preparing the family feast; you might find yourself stuck with a regifted Hickory Farms gift box, at the dreaded office party, trapped among rude room mothers, the recipient of another homemade fruit cake brick, or frustrated about what to wear for holiday attire.
In the midst of seasonal nuttiness, it can be all too easy to forget the importance of good manners. So who better to ask about minding our manners and holiday etiquette than noted author and spokesperson Daniel Post Senning from The Emily Post Institute? The great-great grandson of famous etiquette author Emily Post offered us some of his top tips to enjoy the holidays politely.
“I love to remind people that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you are heading out to a potentially stressful situation—wintry roads, crowded holiday shopping, a family dinner—remind yourself that the spirit of the holidays is meant to be one where people are coming together. It should not be a pressure for you, but a reminder that anything you can do to keep a focus on the good that is going on around you is going to go a long way towards making everyone’s experience more enjoyable. Good etiquette is most powerful when it is used as a tool of self reflection. The vast majority of etiquette mistakes people make are when they are forgetting common sense or they stop thinking that what they are doing is impacting or affecting people around them.”
“The holidays are the time to reconnect and get back in touch with family and friends. While people still send cards, letters, and emails, many prefer the holiday newsletter. It is nice to give an update, but keep it positive, brief, and seasonal. It should begin with a personal salutation. Be careful with the nature and tone of the newsletter—you do not want to be boastful or self absorbed in how you share the news.“
“A thank you note is not needed if you have thanked someone in person. If you have been mailed a gift or have not had the chance to thank someone in person, then you absolutely want to do a handwritten thank you note. Remember that older relatives may still expect a written note even if thanks were given in person.”
“Holiday attire should be festive, yet appropriate. A Christmas sweater for a holiday luncheon is a great idea. Sexy Santa outfit, on the other hand, not such a great idea. Do not make decisions that will reflect poorly on your judgment.”
Crazy Holiday Shopping
“Stay in the holiday spirit while shopping for gifts. ‘Please, Thank You, and You’re Welcome’ should be your mantra. Be sure to leave ‘Bah Humbug’ home. Meet rudeness with patience and kindness. Wear a smile on your face. You can be friendly by holding the door or elevator for someone, or even saying hello to the cashier. If you have a problem, politely ask for the store manager. When you get to the register, put the cell phone away.
Duplicates & Downers
“We always say that you receive a gift with the same spirit of generosity with which it is given. You do not refuse or criticize a gift. You always can thank someone for the thought and the effort even if you can’t thank them for the thing itself. Appreciate the gesture, even if you don’t appreciate the gift.“
“In a post-Seinfeld age, many people know about regifting. There are three criteria for regifting: The first criteria is that you do not regift something that is personalized or handmade. The second criteria is that the gift really has to be appreciated by the person who is going to be receiving it. Regifting is not about cleaning out your closet. The third criteria is the awareness that it could potentially hurt someone. You should be reasonably sure that they would never know or you would be willing to explain your thinking if the person found out.”
“The root of gratuity is gratitude. Holiday tipping is really holiday thanking. Many people thank those who provide them with year-round services for their homes, such as the doorman, elevator operator, trash collector, or the guy that comes to plow the snow. They also thank those that help with the personal upkeep and grooming of body—barber, manicurist, personal trainer, child care provider, to name a few. The three professionals that people are inspired to tip but cannot take money are teachers, nurses, and postal workers.”
The Perfect Present
“My favorite tip for gift giving is that ultimately it is the thought that counts. For me, the real spirit of gift giving is one of showing appreciation, showing gratitude. Whether it is a gift card, money, gift certificate, or gift, you can personalize it with a handwritten note. You want to illustrate the thought that went behind the gift.”
The Office Party
“Remember that this is a party, but it is still work. These are your colleagues and you will have to see them the next day. You should treat the party as an opportunity and not an obligation. This may be your only time during the year to get to know your boss and the people you work with. On the cautionary side, set your limits for alcohol. You are never expected to drink in a business situation, even in a business social situation.“
Holiday Family Dinner
“Make a holiday reminder to be the best guest ever. I can call ahead to see if there is something I can bring. I can show up early to take people’s coats and help mom out by doing the dishes. Do not get out the cell phone. Instead, carve out some time in your life for friends and immediate family. When we invest in the relationships that are the most important to us, there really are benefits that accrue for everyone. So often we take the closeness that we share with these people for granted.”
About Daniel Post Senning
Author and spokesperson Daniel Post Senning is the great-great grandson of famous etiquette author Emily Post. Along with members of the Post family, Senning keeps Emily’s vision of etiquette alive through The Emily Post Institute. Cousin Lizzie Post and Senning host a weekly podcast from American Public Media called Awesome Etiquette. It addresses etiquette questions in the 21st century. Senning also is co-author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition, and The Etiquette Advantage in Business, 3rd Edition. He is the author of Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online. For more information, visit www.emilypost.com.
Photo of Daniel Post Senning courtesy of The Emily Post Institute.
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