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A First Christmas Dinner Etiquette And Survival Guide

12/23/2015 12:07 EST | Updated 12/23/2015 12:59 EST

Your first time being a guest at someone's house, you want to make a good impression. But the pressure is really on when it's around the holidays.

There are more family members to make small talk with. The host will probably be running around stressed. And you'll likely have to find something to wear that's either red, green or glittery. (Hopefully there's no dress code.)

But then there's the etiquette questions: Do you bring a gift? A side dish? When do you show up?

Here are some tips to help ease your mind and hopefully make your first Christmas dinner with these folks very merry, and get you an invite back in the new year.

Ask Your Host If You Can Bring Anything

Food-wise, this can be super helpful. There's a lot to cook, so they may be happy to spread the tasks. But definitely don't want to just show up with a cake, and find five varieties already waiting. Make the first move and ask once you're invited.

Bring A Gift Regardless

Don't show up empty-handed. It's a demonstration of appreciation to the host to bring a gift, be it wine, or chocolates. Or even better, bring something they can enjoy for themselves after the party's over, like a scented candle. Check out some ideas here.

host gift

Let Them Know If You Have Any Restrictions

Sometimes, the hosts can be caught up in planning and not think to ask everyone if they have any dietary restrictions or require any other sort of accommodation. If that's the case for you, take it upon yourself to give them a heads up beforehand — but be sure to emphasize that you'll make do no matter what. They'll feel worse if you wait to let them know you're a vegetarian and they can only offer you salad to eat.

Be About 15 Minutes Late

You don't want to delay the start by being later than that, but being early or right on time isn't the best either. You don't want to turn up early while they're still finishing the cooking or getting the kids dressed. And it'll give others a chance to file in as well, so you aren't the very first one to arrive and entertained solo. Cue the awkward cricket chirps.

host gift

Compliment The Food (But Don't Go Overboard)

Speak up and let your host know that their cooking skills are top notch. It's easy to just be overwhelmed with taking care of party guests, but a kind word will give them something to smile about. But too much gushing may seem disingenuous. Show them the comment is genuine and ask them for the recipe if you really do like their stuffing!

Get Off Your Phone

As a general rule of thumb, avoid your cellular devices. It's an easy escape if you're unfamiliar with the other attendees, but it's not a route you want to take. If it's your first dinner with this group, it's not the same as hanging out with friends with whom you already have a cell phone etiquette established. An emergency call is a different story, but getting sucked into a screen closes you off to conversation. Your host may wonder if you're having a good time, or at worst, find it rude.

phone at dinner

Offer To Help With The Dishes

Even if they deny and insist you sit down and have some coffee, you've got to protest at least once more. It's standard to lead with a, "No I'm fine, enjoy the party." But on the second try, you may actually make yourself useful.

Master The Art Of Eating Multiple Holiday Dinners

It's your first time celebrating the holidays with this group of friends and family. But chances are as your party list grows in the years to come, there may be overlap. Pretty soon you'll have three dinners to attend all on Christmas Eve. The key is to divide your hunger pangs over the three parties, so you don't stuff yourself

BONUS: Small Talk Tips

When in doubt, anything Adele is a go-to conversation topic.

Prep responses to the usual questions:

"How's school/work going?"

"How are the kids?"

"Any plans for the new year?"

These sorts of questions are a given. The standard "good" or "not really" responses can dead-end a conversation pretty quickly, and then it's up to you to restart it with a new question. But you have time to think on it now, so drag up a fun story about a project you're working on at the office, or an interesting class you're taking. That way, you can take that question and open it up to another conversation. Points for charm and wit, check.

Listen attentively and ask questions

We cannot stress enough that you can keep the conversation flowing easily by simply paying attention and asking follow-up questions.

When in doubt, anything Adele is a go-to conversation topic. Possibly divisive, but not political. Brilliant.

Happy holidays!

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