The holidays are the most festive time of year, but they can also be the most tension-filled. Here are some tips on how to have a low-stress season.
• At the holidays, think merry and bright vs. serious and somber. Like eggnog, the conversation should be light.
• Agree that it's okay to disagree with family, friends and party acquaintances, and then avoid the subjects you disagree on. Don't discuss finances, health problems, politics, religion, marital secrets or office gossip.
• Be sure and RSVP to a party invitation. Your host will need a head count for food and beverages.
• Dress for success. Holiday time is a time to wear something special, and it's always better to be overdressed than underdressed. If you're unsure what to wear, ask your host.
• Don't overindulge at social gatherings. This applies to conversation, food and alcohol.
• Don't be a wallflower. You were invited to add something to the party. Earn your keep by making conversation.
• If you spill food or drink, own up to it. Offer to reimburse the host for any damages.
• When you're a dinner guest, eat what is served unless you're allergic to that food. If you don't care something, pretend to eat by mixing the food on your plate. If the host asks why you're not eating, just say that you're leaving room for dessert.
• Dining tips: never butter a whole roll, only a section of one; scoop your soup spoon away from you, not toward you; your napkin stays on your lap through the meal or is placed on the chair if you must excuse yourself; always pass the salt and pepper together, and remember that the bread plate goes to the left of the dinner plate, drinks on the right.
• Never toast yourself at a gathering. This is the host's job. You can say thanks after you've been toasted.
• Planning and giving parties is a lot of work. Don't forget to say thank you when you leave an event, then call the next day and send a thank-you note within 24 hours so the message is not lost.
• Instead of buying someone who has everything another material object, give the gift that keeps on giving: a donation to that person's favorite charity in their name. Or give unique gifts, such as homemade jam or pickled veggies from your garden.
• Re-gift without fear. Just make sure to rewrap the gift with new wrapping paper, ribbon and a card.
• Games and books for your host's children are perfect host gifts that will be used for years to come.
• Don't wait till December 24 to buy gifts. Now that we can shop online 24/7, there's no excuse to procrastinate.
• If sending out holiday cards, be sure and handwrite a personal message even if it's short. Holiday letters should be avoided except for your immediate family. And don't feel you have to send a card just because you got one.
• For tipping, a general rule of thumb is to give cash equal to a service if you can manage. If not, homemade cake or cookies will be appreciated.
Lisa Mirza Grotts is a recognized etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, and the author of A Traveler's Passport to Etiquette. She is a former director of protocol for the city and county of San Francisco and the founder and CEO of The AML Group (Lisagrotts.com), certified etiquette and protocol consultants. Her clients range from Stanford Hospital to Cornell University and Levi Strauss. She has been quoted by Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times. To learn more about Lisa, follow her on Twitter.com/LisaGrotts and Facebook.com/LisaGrotts.