20 holiday etiquette rules you should stick to this season

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One of the easiest ways to be a kinder person during the holiday season is to know how to conduct yourself properly when dealing with the hustle and bustle. At the end of the day, etiquette boils down to two things: respecting yourself and showing respect to the people around you. So whether you're at a holiday party, family celebration, the shopping mall or at home, these are the 20 holiday etiquette rules you need to adopt.

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Get your invitations out early

People's social calendars will fill up quickly around the holiday season, so if you are hosting an official holiday gathering or even an ugly sweater party or Friendsgiving, get your invites out as early as possible, about four to six weeks in advance of your event.

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RSVP as soon as possible

If you're a holiday guest, don't sit around and wait for a "better" invitation to arrive. RSVP to family gatherings and friends' parties as soon as you know what your schedule will allow. Etiquette dictates that a guest should respond within a few days of receiving the invitation. If you're not going to be sure of your schedule until closer to that final "RSVP by" date, contact your host and tell them you will accept or decline as soon as you are able to.

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Be mindful of allergies

If you're a guest to someone's holiday dinner and have a serious food allergy or are on a special diet, be sure to let your host know ahead of time. If you're a gluten-free vegetarian and show up to a meat- and wheat-filled Christmas Eve dinner, it's going to be awkward for all involved. If you're hosting a guest with a special diet, accommodate them by separating allergens from other foods and being sure to have a few dishes on hand that they can enjoy.

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Arrive on time

You don't want to be the guest who delays everyone else's meal, so be sure to arrive at holiday dinners on time. If you're going to a more casual gathering, show up about 15-30 minutes after the stated start time. Though that may seem counterintuitive to being the most polite person, this actually gives your host a little extra time to finish up those last-minute party preparations.

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Arrive with a gift in-hand

Never arrive empty-handed. If you're going to a family dinner, bring a bottle of wine or six-pack of beer to share with everyone. Remember to bring along a hostess gift to a party, as well, even if it's just a small holiday decoration or some baked goods. This is one of the things the best-ever holiday guests know to do.

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Be a respectful houseguest

If you're traveling home for the holidays and staying with family or friends, be sure to follow the unspoken rules of being a good houseguest. Respect any house rules (such as taking off shoes before entering), keep your space tidy and don't snoop in their personal belongings.

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Help whenever you can

You don't want to force yourself into someone's kitchen or take over party set-up completely, but lending a helping hand around the holidays is an easy and productive way to show you care. If you're attending a party, offer to help the host by grabbing drinks, taking dessert orders or doing a few dishes.

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Be an active participant

Don't be afraid to really get into the holiday spirit and enjoy yourself. Be an active and enthusiastic participant at any holiday gathering. Dress for the occasion, mingle with people you may not know, dance to the Christmas music and dive into the holiday foods.

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Don't overindulge

While you're being an active participant, you don't want to be that guy at any holiday party, be it among friends, family or coworkers. Don't drink too much Champagne or boozy eggnog and don't hog the appetizer table or eat every last sugar cookie. The most polite people know how to enjoy food and drink without going overboard and possibly making a fool of themselves.

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Know when the party is over

It's easy to want to linger when you're visiting with family and friends you don't see all that often. But read the room. If the coffee has been served, most of the party already left and the host is starting to put away the leftovers, it's probably time for you to hit the road.

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Avoid controversial topics

Before you speak, think about the intention of your conversation. There are a lot of things you should avoid talking about at the holiday dinner table, and that includes topics that you know are just going to rile people up. Avoid discussing politics when in mixed company. Also try to stay clear of painful family memories and other harmful topics.

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When shopping, keep your cool

It's easy to get frustrated when you're doing your holiday shopping - malls are designed to confuse you and make you linger. Remember to keep things civil and polite. Go into the shopping experience with a positive attitude and don't let the Grinches around you get you down. Don't yell at sales clerks when something is out of stock, don't cut in front of people in the parking lot and interact with any rude person you encounter with grace.

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Say 'Thank you'

Remember those manners you learned as a kid and be overly courteous and gracious during the holiday season. Tell store clerks, sales assistants and baristas who serve you your morning cup of coffee "Thank you." When asking for help getting an item behind a glass case or high up on the shelf, say "please." Remember all those nice phrases you need to say more often, and while you're at it, add in a smile.

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Be kind

Spread a little joy this holiday season and be kind and polite to those around you. Hold the door open for strangers, tip generously, keep your hands to yourself and put your cell phone away while you're participating in a transaction.

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Be friendly

There are a surprising number of curmudgeons around during the holiday season. When you're out at the mall fighting the crowds, give the cashier a friendly smile and ask them how their day is going. When visiting with family members you don't know all that well, know how to make small talk. Don't just be quietly kind, go the extra mile and be actively friendly to those around you.

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Respect the rules of gift-giving

As a general rule, you're going to want to follow the guidelines of holiday gift etiquette. If you're going to a party with a white elephant gift exchange with a $25 limit, don't show up with a $10 gift but also don't spring for a $40 gift. If you're going to a holiday party and the host says "no gifts," don't show up with a gift. If you're struggling with money, let the people in your life know you're cutting back on presents this year. And if you're flush with cash, be as generous as you can be, but don't make others uncomfortable with grandiose gifts.

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Know how to navigate office gifting

If your office is doing a Secret Santa or gift swap, be an active and willing participant and follow the guidelines set forth by your co-workers. If you are a boss with direct reports, you are free to give them a small gift, but if you give a present to one employee, be sure you give similar gifts to all employees so as not to show favor. Generally speaking, it's discouraged for subordinates to give their bosses a gift - it looks like you're trying to curry favor.

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Remember the art of the thank-you note

The thank-you note is a lost art, but it's an etiquette rule that we need to bring back. Sending your holiday guests and gift-givers a personalized thank-you note will set you apart from the pack and show your appreciation for others' time and effort.

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Know the difference between a gift and a tip

There are some people you should buy a holiday gift for that you may not think of, such as your children's teacher, an in-home nurse and your mail carrier (though they can only accept small gifts). Give a small holiday bonus to any live-in help, hairstylist, doorman, building superintendent or anyone else whom you interact with on a regular basis who performs some sort of service for you.

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Know your limits

It's easy to get carried away during the holiday season, but it's important to know your limits in all regards. In addition to refraining from overindulging on sweets and booze at the office holiday party, it's actually proper etiquette to spend within your means when it comes to holiday gifting and quality time. There's no reason to burn yourself out and go broke at the end of every year, and if you need help budgeting, read up on these tips savvy holiday shoppers follow.

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