Home Leisure & Lifestyle Etiquette Expert Reveals the Correct Way to Act at Christmas Dinner

Etiquette Expert Reveals the Correct Way to Act at Christmas Dinner

Reading Time: 5 minutes

With everything that comes with the festive season, few moments and traditions hold as much significance as the Christmas dinner. It’s the perfect time to gather as family and friends and reflect on the year passed, all while enjoying some delicious food.

Whether you’re hosting family, friends, or in-laws, or if you’re attending as a guest, you might be wondering, “How do I make sure everyone has a good time?” “Should I offer to help cook?” or “Should I offer to bring the wine?” To help the day go smoothly, Moneyboat has partnered with etiquette expert Laura Windsor to reveal the correct etiquette when sitting down for your festive feast.

Laura also weighs in on some of the most popular Christmas dinner “icks”, such as being hungover at the table and refusing parts of the dinner.

Hosting etiquette: Setting the scene, pre-dinner delights and seating arrangements

Laura explains what to consider when preparing your home for your guests and how to host a Christmas dinner guests will remember. 

  • “A clean, well-lit, and organised home will lay the foundation for a successful Christmas dinner,” Laura says, and she advises that the lighting shouldn’t be glaring but instead soft and flattering. Dimmer switches and table lamps are a great option for this, as are candles.
  • It’s important to be wary of scents, Laura advises. While it may be tempting to decorate with flowers or light your favourite Christmas-themed candles, use strong fragrances. “It can be stifling in small spaces, set off allergies, and mask the flavours of the food. It is recommended that flowers be lightly scented, or better yet, have no scent at all,” she explains.
  • Christmas music is allowed; however, “It should be just loud enough to be distinct but not drown out the conversation, especially if there are elderly people present.” Laura advises.
  • If you would like your guests to remove their shoes, Laura says that the host should let them know this in advance and provide comfortable slippers and socks for guests to wear around the home. 
  • Kick off the festivities with pre-dinner drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Laura recommends offering “dry sherry, champagne, other types of spumantes, and cocktails, as well as soft drinks, sparkling, and still water. A smart host will always have enough supplies on hand”.
  • Especially if you’re hosting a larger gathering, ensuring you have your seating arrangement organised in the best way possible is key. Laura explains that by dividing guests up into personalities, you can create a balanced and harmonious dynamic. “If two people are rather talkative or contentious, split them up and seat them on the same side of the table so it is difficult for them to make eye contact. Don’t put introverts at one end of the table and extroverts at the other. Christmas dinner would end up being very boring”.
  • On where key guests should be seated, or if couples should be seated together, Laura recommends, “The guests of honour will probably be the in-laws or the grandparents. They will always sit to the right of the hosts. The host should sit at the head of the table with his leading female guest on his right. The hostess or partner of the host should be seated at the foot of the table with the most important male guest on her right. Couples who have been together for a long time should be separated, as they may have different opinions on the same topic and will probably be grateful for the time apart! In the first few months of a relationship, a couple would be seated together”.
  • Phones should be switched off or silenced at the dinner table, Laura says, explaining that sharing a meal together at Christmas should be an “expression of solidarity’ and that hosts and guests should only focus on the people present at the table.
  • As a host, it’s important that you ensure everyone feels at ease and comfortable at the dinner table. One way of doing this is by keeping pace with the slowest guest at the table and ensuring that you are the last to finish your food.

Guest etiquette: paying for dinner, hungover at the table and playing the grinch

When you’re invited to a Christmas dinner, it can feel like a weight on your shoulders. Playing host can be fun but also very stressful! However, you often find yourself wondering if you should offer a financial contribution to the dinner or even come early and help! Laura clears this up and gives her expert advice on how to be the best guest:

  • No matter how the invitation has been sent, whether physically in the post or via text message, Laura advises that it’s most polite to respond within 24 hours, whether an RSVP is required or not.
  • While it might seem good manners to arrive early, Laura advises that you should arrive a little later than the appointed time: “If you turn up early, the host may not yet be dressed or may want to take a 10-minute breather after last-minute preparations. Guests should arrive between 10 and 15 minutes later than the appointed time.”
  • If you’re wondering how you can contribute to the dinner, Laura explains that offering a financial contribution “may very well insult the host or hostess,” and you should instead offer to supply drinks or even your “famous” dessert, anything that the host might need or that could alleviate stress on the day.
  • Especially if you’re one big family hosting dinner, it can be nice to have a small group of people offering to help. It doesn’t necessarily have to be with cooking, but instead with helping to bring food out to the table or clearing the table. If you would like to help, Laura says, “Always ask in advance whether you can help, rather than on the day. If the hosts decline, you should not insist. A polite guest always respects a host’s wishes”.
  • Dietary requirements can’t be helped; however, if you do accept an invitation, then it’s your responsibility to inform the host of any requirements you or those who will be attending have.
  • It is arguably a tradition to go out for a few drinks on Christmas Eve, but it’s important not to take it too far, as turning up hungover can be seen as very disrespectful to the host, who has gone through a lot of effort to ensure your visit is pleasurable and as smooth as possible. The guest’s job is to mingle and help make the dinner a success. If you see other guests who seem shy, engage them in conversation and make them feel at home. If you see people with empty glasses, offer to refill them. Honour the people who are sitting with you at the table by being truly present. The true spirit of etiquette is following the golden rule: putting others at ease and making them feel special.  A bit difficult to do with a hangover.”
  • If there is something on your plate that you don’t like, it’s OK not to eat it if your respectful about it, Laura explains. There’s no need to make an issue about it; if someone does comment on it, politely say that you enjoyed what you had and thank them for the food.

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