It's the holiday season that separates the men from the boys, or rather, Audrey Hepburn's Princess Ann from her Eliza Doolittle. The second Black Friday hits and the holidays officially begin (though Starbucks red cups have been around for nearly a month), it seems like our tried-and-true social norms go out the window in favor of more complicated etiquette tricks with which only the Emily Post-types are familiar.
Between gift shopping, stressful family gatherings, and holiday parties to juggle, the month of December is already chock-full of anxiety. But there's no reason why the best version of yourself can't shine through the overload of wrapping paper and peppermint mochas. Here, we solve your six biggest holiday etiquette mishaps, leaving you to stand out as the belle of the ball and carry that mistletoe magic well into 2013.
1. Don't be afraid to do a little — or a lot — of mingling, as a host or a guest. Particularly during the holidays, it's important to come across as interested and inviting, if only for the fear of becoming your social circle's token Grinch. All those festive get-togethers, no matter how informal, are a perfect opportunity to a make a friend, introduce two compatible people, or interject into a conversation that interests you. In a room full of strangers, be the lady who makes an effort to spread that holiday cheer we all love so much, especially if you're the host.
2. Sip that spiked hot chocolate responsibly. We hate having to even bring it up when we're all responsible ladies here, but we understand how fantastic it feels to unwind during the office holiday party alongside your coworkers. As long as you understand that you're enjoying your beverage while still in a professional, classy setting, your reputation — and dignity — will remain perfectly intact. In fact, why not just always remain your perfect, classy self, hm?
3. Guests of guests do not bring guests. Yes, that's embarrassingly a direct line from the absolute guiltiest of 2009's guilty pleasure TV shows, NYC Prep, but those Upper East Siders got it from somewhere, or, rather, someone — Emily Post, that is! As a general rule, always check with the hostess before bringing a plus one to any gathering, and make it clear to that plus one that they will be flying solo, guest-wise. Conversely, if you're the hostess and one of your guests has arrived with an entourage in tow, politely bring it up with said guest, and allow them to stay only if there is enough food, drink or, in the case of a crowded city apartment, space for everyone.
4. Be honest with yourself about your party RSVPs — you don't have to attend everything. So you're a little social butterfly, huh? Unfortunately, it feels like your holiday party invitations hold the most weight of any blowout throughout the year. How can you be expected to turn down an invite when the Ghost of Christmas Present essentially invited you himself? Let's face it, though: If you're tired and already plan on doubling up on two parties before heading to a third, you're going to be more Scrooge than Tiny Tim. Don't be afraid to take care of yourself and say "thanks, but no thanks" once or twice this December. Chances are, the host or hostess will be busy enough not to miss you too much.
5. Abide to the Secret Santa price limit. Seriously. We know it's nearly impossible to buy anything under $25 these days, but remember how uncomfortable Serena's gift of a five-figure watch made Dan during Gossip Girl's first holiday episode? And if we're going to teach you any lesson here, it's that the first season of Gossip Girl is everything, and to disregard Ms. van der Woodsen's better judgment. Buying an overpriced item may seem courteous in the short term, but you could leave the gift exchange feeling grandiose, when you only meant to come across as gracious.
6. When in doubt, dress up. We wish that every invitation-prefaced gathering came with a detailed dress code section — a how-to guide for shoes, makeup, hair, clothing. Of course, that would take the fun out of getting dressed, but it would also save you from a potential overdressed situation. Unfortunately, we can only dream of such luxuries, leaving us to — gasp! — dress ourselves. But it's the holiday season, and if there's ever a time to arrive in fully glamorous black tie apparel when the rest of the attendants are wearing jeans, it's now. We're not suggesting that you roll up in complete Holly Golightly garb (unless the party is, naturally, Breakfast at Tiffany's theme), but it's easier to play down a fabulously fancy outfit than a too-casual one, la: "Oh, this old thing? I was just at Jay-Z and Bey's annual non-denominational holiday soirée before this."