Before I get started on how to become a prepared and social human during the holiday season, just know that if you’re not up for any of this stuff this year, that’s okay. Identify what requires an appearance and what would actually be fun, and focus on those events. Or maybe you’re a very frazzled extrovert trying to turn your holiday season into party central, and feeling really confused! We can all live in harmony. Let’s walk through how to be the adult you know you can be at every social function this time of year has to offer.
How to Be a Dreamy and Much-Loved Guest
Your holiday party kit: one savory dish, one cookie, and one drink.
You’ll need a few culinary and cocktail-related moves. Know how to make one drink, one savory dish, and one baked good, or where to buy them. Pick your three, and then you’ll know exactly what you’re making for the rest of the year. Invited to a potluck? Welcome to the party, side dish. Hitting up a cookie swap or looking for a cheap gift for munchie coworkers? Hey there, cookie. Want to break the ice at a party by making a round of something sublime and sippable? Meet your signature cocktail.
Offer to bring something…
If the host wants you to bring a dish, bring something that can be served at room temperature and does not require you to take up precious kitchen real estate for assembly. If they want you to bring wine, find out what they’d like to serve with the meal. If you don’t have time to make something, or need some pre-party Netflix instead of pre-party baking, buy something special and plate it well. Think almond cookies from an Italian bakery with a pile of fresh raspberries, or vanilla ice cream and a sweet liqueur to pour over the top.
…and ignore them when they say “Just bring yourself!”
Hosting is hard work, so give a little token of your appreciation. Think wine, interesting bitters, or go the food route and bring them something they can eat for breakfast the next day while they recover from the party. Fancy granola, biscotti, a bottle of cold brew—you get the idea. Do not bring flowers that require work. They will cost you real money and will die on a countertop, and you’ll be handing a busy person another chore. Bring a succulent in a cute pot or some really gorgeous paper flowers. If you’re heart-set on a bouquet, bring it in a vase.
Text the next day to say thanks.
It’s so small, but it matters. People used to send what were once called bread and butter letters after a dinner that were basically a way of saying “Hey, thanks for going to the huge effort of having people in your home, feeding them, and giving them some space to have fun and relax.” A quick “Last night was so fun!” with every holiday emoji is the 20-second modern equivalent.
Hosting: What to Do With All These People in Your House
Stick to your budget.
The holidays are a weirdly perfect time for budget entertaining. Decorate cookies and sample four-dollar wines. Drink mulled wine and indulge in chocolate fondue. Have a pizza and pajama party with cheap champagne, bad movies, and giant soft clothing to juxtapose all those dressed up holiday parties and family events.
Know what you want people to bring.
If someone asks what they can bring, have an answer ready. People who are polite enough to know that they need to ask are often the kind of people who would appreciate some instruction. Wine and beer are easy peasy, or if you’re doing a dinner, you could have them bring snacky appetizer stuff. If they’re really ambitious or fab chefs, and really want to contribute, let them.
Offer non-alcoholic options that don’t suck.
Tap water and old Diet Coke for your teetotaling friends? Not super hospitable. Add some really good sodas, kombuchas, or juices to the mix.
How to Have Fun Chatting With Randos
How to start a conversation.
I got this from writer Amy Rose Spiegel and it works like a charm. Instead of fumbling through first date style chit-chat, kick off your conversation with a fellow guest by asking “How was your day? What did you do?” People will bring up hobbies, little stories, favorite places, and other things you can glom onto and open up the conversation.
How to avoid a conversation you don’t feel like having…
…like how you got fired, or how your parents are in the middle of a gnarly divorce so you’re not going home this year, or that boyfriend everyone loves is currently off banging your former roommate? Woof. I hope none of that is happening to you! But whatever your thing is, if you are pretty sure it’s going to come up, think through your response before you hit the party circuit. You don’t have to get personal, just have a game plan for what well-selected quip and speedy subject change you’d like to channel.
Shy? Help out.
Pop into the kitchen and offer to help. Find the host and get an assignment. You know a fun and easy way to meet people? Be the person the host designates to pass out food and drinks—instant popularity points.
How to Get Drunk Like a Holiday Season Grown-Up
Know when to not get too drunk.
Listen, festive party elves, I would never want to hold you back from having a good time. It’s dark at 4 p.m. and everyone is stressed out by a hodge-podge of large and small scale problems. If you’re in a situation where it would be hella fun to get a little too sauced, go for it. Don’t drive. Buuuuut, not all situations are that situation, y’know? So pay attention. Think about this pre-party and make a plan.
Know how to not get too drunk.
You need a solid non-alcoholic drink in your beverage rotation—something grown-up like tonic and bitters or seltzer and lime, which can be served in a rocks glass and you can sip on between drinks.
The End of the Night
Is this your real friend? Your SO’s parents? Your boss? Offer to help clean up, and mean it.
Want the world’s quickest way to impress a host at the end of the night? Help them clean up. Load a dishwasher, pour them a glass of wine and join in while they’re straightening up, take out some recycling on your way out the door. If they don’t want your help, don’t push it. If you see a lone host cleaning up and they say they’ve got it covered, hang out and keep them company. Important caveat: if you’re too drunk to actually be helpful, skip this.
How to leave a party.
Thank the host, and scram. Leaving early? Be subtle. Exits can add a the party’s over! energy to a gathering, so dip while everyone is occupied. Tune in—you’ll know the right moment. If it’s a big party, no need to say goodbye or find your host, just send them that follow-up thank-you text that night or the next day.