How to Be a Good Guest This Holiday

Illustrations by Giovanna Giuliano

Being a good guest is easier than a lot of things during the holiday season, like basting a turkey, wrapping presents (unless you go the gift card route), or navigating the unavoidable complexities of your relatives’ unfortunate political leanings. Sure, there’s some effort involved with being a gracious guest, but the impact you’ll have on your gracious, long-suffering hosts will be well worth it. And there’s really no better gift than just being chill. To help ensure you check all the good-guest boxes, we compiled a simple guide that should cover the basics, whether you’re staying for dinner or camping out through the holidays. 

Bring Something. Anything. Wine, Maybe Some Snacks :

Never show up empty-handed. That makes you seem thoughtless and chances are your hosts have put a lot of thought into the festivities. Even the smallest gift will go a long way in terms of showing your appreciation. Wine is an easy go-to and certainly a crowd-pleaser, but if know the crowd is on the drier side, opt for shareable bites like baked goods from your local bakery or some sort of light, savory snack (think nuts, marinated olives, or a homemade party mix) to nosh on ahead of dinner. The plus side of pre-feast snacks is you’ll have something to do while getting through the initial small talk (which is a painful endeavor no matter how well you know your hosts). For the non-edible route, candles or a rustic bundle of flowers from the farmers’ market will do the trick. 

Make Good Conversation, Don’t Hog It
On the topic of small talk, it’s important to make an effort to fuel an engaging conversation. While the intricacies of this social art form could fill a book, the bottom line is to a) make it fun b) appeal to the larger audience i.e. don’t resort to recounting inside jokes or exclusive work topics and c) avoid commandeering the whole thing. Nothing attracts animosity more than a self-centered polemicist who also zones out when someone else is talking (we all know this person). Be an active listener, ask questions, crack some jokes, have a good time! 

Don’t Skimp on the Compliments (But be Sincere) 

You can never say enough nice things to your hosts. Actually, you can, and it could come across as sarcastic . . . so as with anything in life moderation is key. Tell them you love what they’ve done with the place (a classic, but make it specific so it doesn’t sound so canned.). Mention how succulent the turkey is or how the green bean casserole is mind-blowing. Hosting guests over the holidays comes with a lot of pressure and a ton of hard work that often goes unseen. Simple compliments will make a major impact and assure your hosts that they’re killing it. 

Clean Up After Your Dang Self 

This one is a given, but you’d be surprised how many people behave like they were raised in barns. Having pre-dinner drinks in the living room? Use a goddam coaster. Help clear the table after dinner. Offer to do the dishes, or just start doing them. If you’re sticking around for a few days, keep the bathroom tidy (don’t forget to bring your own essential toiletries while you’re at it), make your bed, and don’t let your linens get out of hand. Don’t just treat their home like your home; treat it better than your own home. This isn’t a hotel, so don’t expect housekeeping or turndown service. And definitely don’t go all Mötley Crüe on the place. 

Know When It’s Time to Go 

Overstaying your welcome is both awkward and a major inconvenience. In short: read the room. If 98% of the other guests have taken off, maybe that’s your cue to roll out, as well — after executing the previous step, of course. If the conversation starts to die down and the wine bottles dry up, or if your hosts keep eyeing their watch, then it’s definitely time to bounce. For overnight guests, clearly establish the duration of your stay before showing up to their front step. 

Send a Thank You Note

So the holidays were a success You savored the wine and did the dishes, maybe even made the host blush after complimenting their new gallery wall. Great job, you did it! But you’re not off the hook quite yet. Even though the festivities are all over, you’ve got one last task to seal the deal: writing a thank you note. The overachiever will send a thoughtful, handwritten message on personalized stationery or a card. That’s nice and all, but a simple email or even a text will suffice. Keep it thoughtful, make it personal, and above all, just say thanks. 

Extra Credit: Wear a Festive Fit 

‘Tis the season, after all! We’re not saying show up as the yuletide version of David S. Pumpkins. Go for something that captures the holiday spirit and is a little more elevated than your go-to weekend sweats. A Fair Isle sweater will capture the mood. Go the extra mile and pair a sleek, red and green wool suit jacket with sweater henley and suede Oxford shoes. You’ll show your hosts they’re worth dressing up for while looking and feeling like a million bucks in the process.