The 11 Dos & Dont’s Of Christmas According To An Etiquette Expert

The Handbook
By Astrid Carter | 18th May 2024

From when to open your presents to timings to sit down for Christmas lunch, does anyone really know the dos and don’ts of Christmas Day? Well, we turned to Debrett’s, the UK’s 250-year-old authority on social etiquette to find out all the answers. Follow their lead to ensure you’re the hostess with the mostest this festive season or, if you’re a guest, get a second invite next year.

1. Make sure you’re on time (but never early)

Guests should stick to the arrival time stipulated by their host. Even better, try to be 10 minutes late to allow your hosts time to address any last-minute crises.

2. Always bring a gift

Christmas Day usually involves an extra level of catering and hospitality, so ask your host if there is anything, in particular, you can contribute, such as mince pies or a pudding. You may wish to bring a present for your host as a way of thanking them personally, as well as the usual drinks contributions such as wine or a non-alcoholic alternative.

3. Be aware of timings

Different families have different traditions when it comes to timings on the day: some prefer to serve a leisurely brunch and then the main meal in the evening, while others will sit down for their main meal at lunchtime, around 1pm. In many European countries, it is customary to serve the main meal on Christmas Eve rather than on the day itself.

If you are being hosted at Christmas, be accommodating of your host’s way of doing things. As the host, don’t worry too much about sticking to a very strict timetable but do try to give your guests some idea of what to expect and make sure no one goes hungry while they are waiting.

4. Christmas pudding is a must but an alternative is always welcomed 

Christmas pudding is traditional but can divide opinion, so it’s advisable to offer an alternative.

5. Be considerate towards older members of the family

The Christmas meal tends to be quite rich, so some people like to take a breather or go for a walk between courses. Be mindful of any older guests who might be less mobile and would prefer to stay at the table and continue chatting.

While digital communication is a lifeline, make time for handwritten Christmas cards and thank you letters, too

6. Don’t leave anyone out when it comes to games and entertainment

Popular Christmas games include charades, Pictionary and Articulate, as well as board games such as Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. Ideally, choose games that can be enjoyed by all generations and make sure no one is left out.

7. Gifts don’t need to be expensive but they do need to be thoughtful

The old adage ‘it’s the thought that counts of course relevant. A personal item that reflects the recipient’s tastes or interests will always be well received, regardless of how much it cost. It’s fine to stick to your personal budget when present-buying – it’s more important to give something thoughtful and to include a personal, handwritten card than to try to compete over expenditure.

8. Never ask for what you want

If you are asked what you would like for Christmas then by all means let the other person know, but it’s rude to circulate a Christmas gift ‘wish list’, even on behalf of a child.

10. Always show gratitude

Even if you have been given something you really hate, feign enthusiasm and thank the giver wholeheartedly. Ideally, send a thank you letter too. Expressing disappointment or asking if you can exchange the unwanted item for something else risks causing hurt feelings.

11. It’s ok to regift… just be smart about it

As long as you can be sure that you won’t be rumbled, then it’s fine to pass an unwanted present on to someone who will appreciate it. Make sure you check for any identifying marks – a gift tag or personalisation that might give you away.

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