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Holiday Do's And Don'ts

The holiday season is here, and with it all sorts of considerations on how to conduct yourself when getting and receiving gifts. The key, says Peggy Post, is respect, thoughfulness and honesty.

Peggy Post is the great-granddaughter-in-law of etiquette expert Emily Post, and the author of "Emily Post's Etiquette, Seventeenth Edition," a completely rewritten encyclopedia of good manners for the 21st century.

She tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler etiquette isn't a strict set of rules that you must abide by. "I think the words "strict" and "rules" are a turnoff to people," Post says. "Etiquette really is about respect, thoughtfulness and honestly, and if you abide by those principles, you can figure out what to do.

"Our society follows these guidelines, and people do want to know what to do, but practicing etiquette doesn't have to be a turnoff. It's just how we do things to make life easier. These are our social skills, and how we get along with each other."

The holidays bring their own set of etiquette guidelines, Post points out:

Holiday Newsletters

There are some pluses and minuses with holiday newsletters, the letters people send out detailing friends and families of everything that's gone on since last Christmas. The pluses are that they're certainly a practical way of getting news to all of the people you care to keep in touch with. I'm all for that, rather than writing a note to every single person. But, use a lot of common sense and consideration and don't tell people every single thing that happened all year. Don't write on the front and the back, because it's way too much information and it's hard to read, and use relevant news - the highlights.

Parents get very excited and proud about things, but it's important to keep in mind that you don't have to go over every single award they receive every year. I've heard about people sending out newsletters talking about their oral surgery and what teeth they had fixed - that's just too much detail and not that exciting anyway. So if you're going to do it, make it as concise and upbeat and relevant as possible. I also think if you're going to send newsletters, you should handwrite the greeting and sign it personally, and you should also write a line or two to add a personal touch to each one.

Online Cards

I'm all for online cards - they're becoming more and more popular and some are really clever. But, there are a couple of things to think about before you send them:


  1. Make sure you're sending it to people who regularly use their email. You want to make sure they're going to open it between now and February.
  2. A lot of businesses don't want personal correspondence going on, so you have to really think about it.
  3. A lot of people still like receiving the physical piece of paper that is a card, so kind of think about who you're sending your e-greeting to.

Emailed Thank You Notes

You can sometimes email a thank you for a holiday gift you've received. This is an example of where etiquette isn't necessarily a strict set of rules all the time. If it's somebody you thanked in person but it was rushed and you want to follow up with an email thank you, that's fine. If it's your grandmother who uses email but you know she'd want a handwritten note, you could send an email and throw in some great adjectives so your enthusiasm will come through, but follow up with a handwritten note. You can send a thank you via email to someone you'd normally thank over the phone. You kind of pick and choose who you email.

Gifts

A lot of people ask about this topic. If you get a gift you don't like, the most important thing is to say "thank you" and find something good to say about it. Even if it's the ugliest sweater you've ever seen, you could at least say that you love sweaters.

Re-Gifting

When it comes to re-gifting, the simple answer is when in doubt, don't do it. Think it through: would you be hurting anyone's feelings? If someone made something for you, or gave you a one-of-a-kind item, don't re-gift it. Save it for a while because maybe you will use it. Or donate it to charity. If you do re-gift, you must make sure that the gift is something that the recipient is really going to like and it's not a cast-off. That's not in the spirit of giving. Or, if you know someone who would like it, you can give it to them without trying to pass it off as a gift that you bought. You can say it's a gift you received that you can't use, but you thought they'd enjoy. For instance, maybe you got a coffee maker that you don't need, but your sister is looking for that specific one. Or, maybe you got two copies of the same book and know someone who wants to read it.

Reciprocation

If you're given a gift by someone and you don't have something for them, you do not have to give them a gift back, unless you want to start a gift-giving exchange. You can really just say, "Thank you, this is really nice," and leave it at that. Some people do have generic gifts on hand for those unexpected occasions, but make sure they're nice enough that they're not obviously generic.

Tipping

This is a subject everyone always seems to have questions about. I have to say that people need to understand that it is a custom in our country to thank people with a gift -- people who have served you. And that's the key thing -- to thank them for taking care of you. But the amount you give and who you tip varies, and there just isn't one list for everyone to follow. However, I do think that most people do have a list of people they rely on and know they should tip.

Some of the ground rules are: You do more for those who do more for you. Or those you've been working with for a long time: If your housekeeper has been with you for 10 years, you will tip him or her more than someone you've only had for a year. If you live in a city, versus a rural area, you might tip more because that's often the custom. You would tip more if you use a fancy hair salon, rather than a mom-and-pop place. And, above all, you have to gauge it on your own budget.

One of my rules of thumb for tipping is to tip about the amount you pay for their services as often as you see them. So, if you use a babysitter once a week, I'd tip the equivalent of one night. For a nanny who works five days a week, then I'd tip a week's salary -- plus a small gift that is from the child. For a hairdresser you use regularly, I'd tip the price of one visit.

I have spoken to service people who have said they do enjoy receiving gift items, rather than money, but generally people prefer the cash tip. If you do want to give a gift to your nanny or someone you work with closely, be sure it's something you know they'd enjoy or something they've been saving up for. Some people are able to give their help a trip home to see their own family, which is great. Or a cashmere sweater, which might be something they really wanted.

But as far as tipping, in general, and whom to tip - everyone has their own personal list, so you really have to decide. It's become a custom and it's just as simple as that. That's our society.

Cards

When it comes to sending out holiday cards, it can be nice to send separate cards to people who live in the same house. It's not a necessity at all, it's just a nice thing to do. You can send a card to the whole family, but there are so many kids who end up living at home after college because they can't find an apartment. If you'd normally send both the parents and the grown person a card, then it's totally optional.

I write in the book that when writing thank you notes, it's best to write in your own voice. But for people who think it's cute to write notes as if it's from the baby or kids - that's their decision. As long as they're thanking you for the gift is all that matters.

Invitations

I have a section in the book where I list the appropriate time to send out invitations for any kind of gathering, including holiday dinners and parties. But, the reason the timeline can be so long (for example, invitations for Thanksgiving can be from two months to two weeks in advance) is that every case is different. For Thanksgiving, some people have to make travel plans and it's the busiest time of year to travel, so because of that, they have to make reservations early. So plan ahead with Thanksgiving. That being said, if you find out at the last minute that a friend or colleague doesn't have any plans, you can certainly invite them. I recommend a month for a Christmas party, if you want people to come. The reason here is because there are only so many weekends during the holiday season, so if you want a popular weekend night, you need to plan ahead.

Tough Family Situations

One common question is what to do if the parents are divorced, or even if you're just getting married if both families live very far away? I say, try to be fair. Maybe this year, you can be with one set, and next year, go with the other set. People who are divorced should try to work it out so that it's as joyous as possible for the kids. One parent shouldn't say that the kids would have more fun with that parents than with the other one -- make it fair. Communicate clearly and plan ahead to decide who's going to host that meal and make sure that everyone understands. It's supposed to be fun.

Etiquette everyone simply must abide by, no matter what:

  • Always thank people. Whether it's in writing or in person, you must put gratitude at the top. There's never an excuse for not thanking someone for a gift.
  • Don't let the details take over. It's difficult to find the time to get everything done during the holidays, but it's the people who are really important to you and those who take care of you, that you must remember. Try not to be so overwhelmed doing things like writing out Christmas cards that you can't talk to your loved ones. Don't brush people off because of the holiday madness.
  • Nobody's perfect - try to plan ahead. I know this sounds like common sense, but it's really important to remember. If you want to have people over and you're working, don't go crazy trying to make everything - get some food at the deli or the gourmet shop. A lot of times, people don't mind bringing a salad or dessert. The point is to get together and celebrate with people, rather than trying to make it perfect.
  • Traditions can be changed. This might be hard for people, but there are a lot of people who actually dread the holidays, and some of that may be due to the way they're celebrated. Maybe you don't have to always be at Great Aunt Sue's house, even though she's hosted the holiday for years. Think of these things as being fluid and when they're outmoded or outdated, come up with some new ones.

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