21 Dec 2022

How to Be the Best Christmas Guest Ever

We all know that hosting Christmas is hard work, so being asked to be a guest at Christmas should be an unmitigated pleasure, shouldn’t it?

Being a guest on big occasions such as Christmas can be very fraught. You may well find yourself having to channel the skills of a seasoned diplomat as you negotiate the ebbs and flows of your host’ mood swings and stress levels. You will have to be supremely flexible and cooperative, ready to do what you’re told and to participate in every kind of social mayhem. Above all, you will have to be grateful for everything and to look as if you’re enjoying yourself, whatever happens. Are you ready for the Christmas challenge?

Christmas Guest Protocol

• Come laden with goodies. Obviously, you will bring presents for all the family. But also ensure that you also come with plenty of good things to drink and some Christmas treats (a Stilton, box of truffles, Christmas pudding, mince pies, Christmas cake etc. etc.). If you ask your hosts what you can bring and are told “nothing”, ignore them. This kind of polite refusal is an example of kneejerk good manners and should never be taken literally. The vast majority of guests will feel better if they can actually contribute something. If you feel that your hosts are the type of people who over-indulge in a Christmas cornucopia, then bring flowers or a plant in a beautiful pot.

• By consenting to be a visitor you have forfeited your right to run the day as you see fit – just go with the flow and enjoy it. Under no circumstances should you display any surprise at the arrangements (“oh, I didn’t realise we weren’t eating until the evening”), and never start a sentence with the words “don’t you think it would be a good idea….”.

• Don’t be a party-pooper. If you have agreed to be a Christmas guest, you are under a moral obligation to enter into the Christmas spirit – no cynicism, no grumpiness, no sulking.  You may not enjoy charades or sing-songs and may prefer to snooze away the afternoon in front of the TV, but that is not your prerogative. You must grit your teeth and get on with it. This is one occasion where you simply can’t bow out.

• Be assiduous about offering to help and keep an eye open for signs of panic and hysteria in your host – you might be able to step in and save the day.  But if your offers are refused, remember no means no. For some hosts, a pack of well-meaning guests bumbling around their kitchen making an effort to help is the final straw. If your hosts insist that you do not lift a finger on Christmas Day, you must accede to their wishes, no matter how tempted you are to clear away the discarded wrapping paper or wash up the glasses.

• Keep your eyes open for potential pressure points and pre-empt problems. If the kids are beginning to blow, take the situation in hand – suggest a short walk, a turn around the garden, an expedition to another room to show off presents etc.

• Don’t make any demands. If there’s something on the TV that you desperately want to see, remind yourself that you can always stream it when you get home. If you’re anxious for a walk and none seems to be on offer, just say that you’re going to take a turn around the garden or round the block to get “a breath of fresh air”. Do this with the minimum of fuss, and somebody might join you.

• Never comment on your host’s way of doing things. You might have your own ideas of the Christmas ritual, but you must accept unquestioningly that your host knows best. So no remarks like “We always used to have our Christmas cake at 5 o’clock and the kids were in bed by 8…” Comments like these will always be seen as implied criticisms, and should be avoided at all costs.

• Calibrate your behaviour to your hosts’. If they’re big drinkers and you’re not, accept an offer of a glass of wine and take tiny sips, don’t make a big fuss about being a non-drinker. On the other hand, if they’re very moderate drinkers and your definition of a good Christmas Day is drinking steadily and getting thoroughly intoxicated, try to restrain your most indulgent impulses.

• Retain a sense of proportion. If you’re sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress and besieged by over-excited children at the crack of dawn, if you find the drawn-out lunch and games session purgatorial, if your hosts are bickering and getting on your nerves, remind yourself – it’s just one day a year and it will soon be over. Plaster a warm smile on your face and keep soldiering on.

• Thank the host effusively for his/her hospitality. This means not just expressing your gratitude as you leave, but also following up with a proper thank you letter. The letter should go beyond the usual platitudes, and mention something particular about the Christmas entertainment (eg “I loved the family charades after lunch on Christmas day, and thought the boxing day walk and pub ritual was a really great antidote to all the feasting…”). You should also reiterate your thanks for the presents you received.

• If you are an irredeemable Scrooge, then don’t inflict yourself, or your negativity, on other people at Christmas time. It’s also perfectly possible that, although you’re not Scrooge-like, you simply prefer your own company on Christmas Day. If that is the case, stick to your guns – you will probably endlessly having to explain yourself and reassure concerned relations that you won’t feel lonely and sad, but if that’s what you want, you should insist, and people should respect your wishes.


MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Get In Touch
Subscription Enquiries
+44 (0)330 3339699
General Enquiries
+44 (0)20 3950 5240
Join our weekly newsletter
Subscription Form
MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2022 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
My cart
Your cart is empty.

Looks like you haven't made a choice yet.