13 Dec 2022

Netiquette at Christmas

Christmas is a convivial time of year when people get together for celebrations and conversation. It’s all about human contact so it’s important that you’re discriminating about how you use your digital devices. It’s fine if they’re used to facilitate get-togethers and spread seasonal cheer. But Christmas is a real, not a virtual event, so it’s important to ditch the phone and start celebrating in the real world.

Not everyone will be enjoying the picture-perfect Christmas this year. Some people will choose to go it alone; others will have solitude forced upon them by circumstances beyond their control. Some people will be working on Christmas Day. It is undoubtedly true that, in a wide range of challenging circumstances, mobiles can provide a lifeline, enabling people to talk to friends and relations in other countries, to Facetime on Christmas day, to send texts that reassure people who are alone that they have not been forgotten.

But for all the benefits of mobile technology on Christmas Day, there are also some serious downsides. People who use social media as a form of self-promotion, who endlessly post highly curated images of an idealised soft-focus Christmas, can do a great deal of damage to people who are feeling lonely or stressed. Faced with a less-than-exemplary family situation, it is all too easily to turn to social media, ostensibly for reasons of escapism, though all too often it can turn into a panorama of unattainable perfection, which merely reinforces feelings of inadequacy. Try to ration your social media use over Christmas, and fully enter the real world. Don’t look at Instagram; concentrate instead on the people who are sitting at your table. Value your own Christmas experience, not an aspirational ideal.

Debrett’s Guide to Christmas Netiquette

• Christmas cards are still an invaluable, and personal, way of keeping in touch with far-flung friends and relations. In these straitened times, however, you might want to cut down the number of cards you send, so it’s fine to explain to your nearest and dearest that you won’t be sending them cards – a personalised seasonal message by text, phone call or email, sent out to individuals, is quite acceptable.

• Avoid sending out generic eCards. They’re lazy and impersonal, and many people will find them lacking in Christmas spirit or just baffling.

• If you’re emailing instead of sending a Christmas card, make sure that you send out unique – and individual – messages to each of your recipients. Group emails, like round robins, are to be avoided.

• It’s fine to put general seasonal messages on social networking sites but avoid posting compromising photos. This is the time of year when we all let our hair down, but not everyone will appreciate the evidence being posted for all to see.

• Don’t get too carried away with festive chatter social media or WhatsApp. Spamming your friends and followers with endless Christmas wishes and updates will soon get tedious.

• Be very careful about Christmas clangers. If you’re refused a friend’s party invitation in favour of a better offer, it would be a real faux pas to post about your wonderful evening on social media and give the game away. Lapses of concentration, or an overexcited megadose of seasonal cheer, can all too easily lead to hurtful indiscretions, so don’t let your social media get out of hand.

• Christmas Day is all about socialising with family and friends and enjoying good food and good conversation. So don’t spend the big day glued to your mobile, interacting with your phone rather than your family.

• If you’re with your family on Christmas Day and you want to make some calls to friends elsewhere, be discreet about it. Take yourself somewhere private, where you can’t be overheard. You don’t want your family to feel like they’re your second-best option.

• Don’t turn into an obsessive Christmas photographer. If you chart every moment of the day with photos, and constantly badger unwilling relations to participate in a barrage of selfies, you may well get on people’s nerves, as they will justifiably feel you’re having more fun recording the day than living it. They might also be less than pleased to see endless photos of themselves, looking increasingly dilapidated and worse for wear, on social media.

• Ban all mobiles from the Christmas table. Eating together is all about sociability and it’s a real insult to the host and/or cook to be transfixed by your texts rather than the turkey and table talk.

• If you’re hosting at Christmas, accept that guests will want to stay connected over the festive period. If you have friends or family staying in your home, make sure that you have your WiFi password to hand, offer them access to your network, and hope that everyone adheres to good festive netiquette. 

• Christmas is the perfect time to make a video call but choose your timing carefully. Nobody wants to be talking to virtual visitors during lunch so make sure everyone is aware of the Christmas Day timetable and adheres to it.

• Remember the power of the written word. If you are the lucky recipient of a generous present or lavish hospitality, then hand-writing a proper thank you letter is a much more elegant gesture than texting or emailing and will be noted and appreciated. It is fine to email or text your thanks for small presents.


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