As the holiday season approaches, along with the gift-giving frenzy, chances are that you’ll be going to at least one Christmas dinner party this month. However, don’t let your anxiety get the best of you, we’ve got you covered with everything from gifts to etiquette.

Dinner parties have a surprisingly wide variety of characters, different vibes, and requirements – think about what you would bring and how you should behave when going to your in-laws, a work party with your boss, or a rendezvous with your high school friends. Some situations will require certain gifts, others will allow you to be more flexible, but the bottom line is that, when it comes to such events, there are good and bad gifts, objectively speaking.

So, in your next visit to the shopping mall, keep these things in mind for those upcoming dinner parties that come with the holiday season.

Stay Away From Clichéd Christmas Gifts

Handmade socks, knitted Christmas sweaters, gift cards, and scented candles are a big no-no. Also, try to steer clear of plain sweets and insignificant personal accessories. Apart from being deemed among the worst gifts you can receive, these have been Christmas staples for so long that they quickly became dull and underwhelming clichés.

DIY gifts are generally a no-no unless it’s a personal gift for a buddy who invited you to their informal dinner party. A handmade necklace, bracelet or Christmas ornament might be a good idea for your best friend, but your boss or your mother-in-law might not appreciate it that much.

Go For Shareable Gifts

As Christmas is all about sharing, dinner party gifts are also appreciated more if they are shared with guests. There are plenty of good alternatives to candy or sweets. Think of baked goods, fancy cookies, interesting cheeses, artisan breads, or even dips. The same goes for a beautiful table set or table decorations that can be used for such dinner parties. These gifts can be appreciated by the recipient alone or they can be shared with other guests.

Other great ideas for shareable gifts include gourmet food and other sorts of delicacies. These are always pleasant surprises for foodies and other guests will appreciate them even more, should the host decide to share his or her gift. For those more formal dinner parties, where you have to impress your fiancé’s family or your boss, you can step it up a notch by simply investing a bit more – people will appreciate a higher quality cheese or a more exotic delicacy that they never tasted before. All in all, there are many ways you can enhance everybody’s culinary experience, and people will remember you for that.

More Informal Alternatives

If you’re invited to a low-key kitchen party with a few friends, you can be more flexible with your choice of gifts. That is not to say you can buy just about anything and people will appreciate it – no, there still is such a thing as a bad gift. Mostly, you have to take full advantage of the informal nature of the party – supposing you know everybody there (or almost everybody), feel free to get personal with your gifts.

After all, what people want to feel, when they receive gifts, is that you thought of them and you care enough to make that count. More and more places offer gift cards for the experiences or activities they offer, so why not get your best friend a parasailing experience which you can both enjoy together? Even the good old spa day booking works. Think outside the box and go for kayaking, golfing, or river rafting, for instance, but make sure you know the person well enough to guarantee that they will indeed want to go through with the proposed activity. Otherwise, it’s a wasted opportunity that will be welcomed only with a fake smile and an awkward “thank you.”

Customized gifts for specific people are also welcome and can turn a frown upside down. This can be as easy as making small accessories personal. Nowadays, you can personalize most items in any way you want. In other words, steer clear of plain key rings, calendars, and phone cases and individualize items – get a T-shirt with an inside joke written on it or personalize a key fob by writing a humorous pun on it. Any gift with a personal touch added to it will be more enjoyable, so make your present mean something to the recipient. If you have to come up with a gift for somebody you don’t really know, ask a mutual friend about what they like and get some themed accessories. Any personal touch will turn a bad gift into at least a decent one.

Finally, you will also find yourself on the receiving end of some gifts that don’t really appeal to you right now but that are still nice. Think holiday décor that’s turquoise – yes, trendy! – but you went for an all-white Christmas scene at home this year. Placing gifts you’re not quite ready to use in your storage unit can be a good idea as they might come in handy after a while. In fact, around 9% of Americans tend to put their gifts in self-storage, which is a convenient and rather inexpensive service.

Conduct And Etiquette – Dos And Don’ts Of Dinner Parties

This is another area where everything depends on the party’s level of formality and on how well you know the other guests. In other words, you will probably act differently at the much-dreaded office party compared to your informal get-together with neighbors or old pals. This is why it’s important to know what to expect ahead of time and to prepare.

Dress code

In the case of more formal dinner parties, you should firstly care about the dress code – is it going to be black tie? Business formal? Semi-formal? Casual? California Casual? Yes, we know that even the names of the dress codes might be confusing, but being under-dressed or over-dressed at a dinner party will make you feel uneasy and you might give people the wrong impression about you. So, take your time to research, talk to other people to see what they’re going to wear, and choose your attire carefully.

In the case of more informal parties, you can allow yourself to be more flexible, but it’s still important to avoid crossing a line. Think about the fact that your attire can not only make you uneasy but can also make other people feel the same way. Even a T-shirt with a message that you consider funny (but others might not) could ruin the mood for other guests – don’t take any risks.

Get to know people, but try to feel comfortable

Start with talking to people you know, and it will be easier to open up to other people afterwards. You don’t need a booklet of conversation starters – since you’re all at the same party, you surely have at least a few things in common, so find your icebreaker in one of those areas.

Regardless of the situation and the environment, as well as the people around you, manners are important – people will instinctively make judgments about you. Avoid controversies and shop talk. Nobody wants to get into a heated discussion on politics or other sensitive topics – that can quickly make a situation awkward and make people feel uneasy.

Help out the host

While having fun, people can easily forget about the host. We all know that being a host is stressful, especially when talking about larger dinner parties with people you may not know very well. Help the host prepare the food or set the table, offer to help clean up afterwards, and talk to them – they’re also trying to have a good time after all. Your help will go a long way and will surely be appreciated. You will be seen as a reliable and thoughtful person, and you can make it easier for the host to relax and enjoy their own party too.

Final dos and don’ts

In the case of bigger parties with more people, it is crucial for the host that you RSVP. There’s nothing worse for the organizer than having too many or not enough people at the dinner party. Cooking, table arrangements and a lot more besides depend on whether you’re coming or not. Likewise, let the host know if you have any food allergies, and if you do, then offer to bring some food for yourself, in order to avoid putting too much pressure on the host.

Finally, respect the timing – meaning you should arrive on time and not overstay your welcome. If you show up unreasonably late, that denotes a lack of respect and can also disrupt everybody’s meal, while if you overstay, the host will feel obligated to entertain you despite being tired and having lots of cleanups to do.

Finally, enjoy the holiday spirit and make the most of this year’s Christmas with our gift ideas. We wish you a wonderful holiday season!