handbag.com's etiquette guide to Christmas

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Whether you're entertaining, at the office Christmas party or visiting friends, find out how to keep the season of good will full of er, good will. By Amanda Bown.

Woman wrapping presents
Ah, Christmas, you either love it or hate it. It's a time of year that can bring out the best or the worst in people. From Christmas shopping, the exchanging of gifts, the annual office Christmas party, (read handbag's in depth guide to surviving that one!), to hosting Christmas in your home; meaning frantically cooking up a storm and heated family feuds. Our etiquette guide will help soothe frazzled nerves so that you can enjoy a more relaxed and meaningful festive season.

The Office Party etiquette

Alas, behind the festive celebrations of the office Christmas party is the reality that you're socialising with colleagues under the eyes of managers and bosses. Join in the celebrations, indulge in the festive spirit, but, know when to draw the line... because the barriers are often down and there's the opportunity to talk to those 'tricky' people...

Do: Circulate and socialise, keep conversation upbeat and general, ask about families, children, and holidays. Keep those Christmas kisses innocent, and aim to wake up alone; if romance is on the cards, try and take it off site! If you do end up being the one who had a few too many and embarrassed yourself by dirty dancing with your boss/manger, the next day should be all about damage control. Salvage your reputation, make light of the situation, admit you were a fool, and put your head down and work your socks-off for the rest of the year. And finally, try and alternate alcoholic drinks with water/soft drinks, don't be the girl throwing up in the champagne bucket.

Don't: Talk about money, politics and sex. Office life is a breeding ground for gossip, but don't spread rumours or confess any sins (like how you make overseas calls when you're boss is out). Don't try and persuade your boss to promote you, or even provide you with that new chair that's so good for your back. Don't be the person who lurks by the buffet table and is always seen with food in their hands, it means you're not mingling with colleagues, and quite possibly, eating everyone's share of the food.

Entertaining etiquette

If you've taken the plunge and decided to host Christmas at your house or, you're hosting a festive party, and you're finding you've got a bit of a juggling act on your hands, fear not. 'The most successful parties are normally well planned, but, not so much that people feel they have to do what their hostess wants them to do. Try and anticipate any tricky guests and their behaviours, and have an idea on what you're going to do and when,' says Christine Northam, a counsellor from Relate. (Relate are offering tips on how to survive the festive season with a brilliant online advent calendar in December).

Do: Make it as simple and relaxed as you can, make your guests feel like they're involved in the planning and structure of the day. Try to make tentative suggestions about ideas rather than having a military style timetable of events. 'Get ahead with the food prep and organisation, ask people to bring along what you need, and if they offer some help, accept it, as it will help stress-levels,' says Northam.

Don't: Try not to leave big gaps in the day's activities, but do allow your guests to relax. Try not to be too uptight and anxious about the day/entertaining, if things do go wrong, just laugh it off as 'one of those things', your guests will be happy to do so as well, especially if you keep topping up their glasses...

Gift etiquette

Whether you're buying gifts for family, friends or the office secret Santa, there's bound to be some tension involved! From 'how much do I spend?' to 'what were they thinking?!' We spoke to Denise Knowles, a Relate Counsellor for some top tips.

Do: Stay within your budget, you may end up resenting the other person (and their gift) if you spend more than you can actually afford. If you've been given a gift that you perceive as being of more value than the one you've given them, ask yourself what you mean by 'value...' And if you find yourself feeling embarrassed by an expensive gift (or a cheap gift), try to remember that it was given without intention to cause you any embarrassment; be gracious and say thank you.

Don't: When considering 'value' try not to just think in terms of monetary value, consider the time, creativity and energy that they (or you!) have put in to the gift/s given. Don't forget to bring along something when going in to someone's house -it's just good manners. It can be anything from a bottle of wine, flowers, compliments on their home/furnishings, anything really. If you're eating the rule is that you take one bottle per person eating. So don't rock up with your whole family and hand over one meagre bottle of wine and expect to drink all evening. Terribly bad form. As long as your gift makes your host feel appreciated you're on the right track to a spreading joy during the season of good will.

handbag.com's Christmas gift guide

How to throw a Christmas party on a shoestring budget

Eight ways to avoid weight gain this Christmas
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