Etiquette Tips For Celebrating the Holidays This Year

Thanksgiving and the holiday season are going to look and feel a bit different this year because of Covid-19. Instead of hugs, there will be elbow bumps. Fine china may be replaced by paper plates, and large family gatherings may be replaced by a Zoom call.  So, how do you navigate the etiquette around these changes? Here are some tips below.

Who do I invite to my house for Thanksgiving?

Keep it small. Although we’d all love to see our extended family and friends over Thanksgiving, everyone will understand that you’re just going to have your immediate family for Thanksgiving. It’s best to share this news as soon as possible so that everyone can make their own plans. When you tell them it’s because you care about them and you couldn’t bear it if they got coronavirus from being at your house, people will certainly understand.

Picture courtesy of Pexels

What if people still want to come over to your house?

Option A. Get tested then quarantine. If you do need to have extended family over, suggest that everyone get a COVID-19 test before the holiday and then quarantine themselves from when they get tested to when they come to your house. If not everyone can do this, then you will need to go to Option B.

Option B. Take all precautions.

These precautions will only work if everyone adheres to them. Tell people BEFORE they come over so they know what to expect. If they too are concerned about coronavirus, this will set their mind at ease about the situation. Know this… SAFETY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ETIQUETTE. When you invite someone over just say something like, “We’d love to have you over for Thanksgiving, but I want to make sure that the people I care about do not get exposed to Coronavirus so I am going to ask everyone to follow some simple safety rules. We will… (see below). Will all of this be okay for you? If not, I certainly understand if you want to make other plans for Thanksgiving.” You do not need to apologize. This is your house, your rules, and you are doing what you think is best for the people you care about.

  • No hugging. Not even grandma or your little cousin. No physical contact.
  • Always insist on mask-wearing except when eating. Have a supply of extra masks on hand.
  • Make sure everyone is staying 6-feet apart. During the meal, seat family units together and then spread others apart. You can have separate tables in different parts of the house. The best bet would be to eat outdoors if at all possible.
  • Use disposable products and have a trashcan out so everyone can throw their own things out and not have to touch other people’s things.
  • Have good ventilation throughout the house. If it’s going to be cold outside, just tell everyone ahead of time to bring a sweater and warm socks as you will have the windows open in the house.
  • Don’t let people touch all of the food. This is not the year for a big buffet style, serve yourself situation. It’s best to have one person serve the food plated and then one person to take plates to the table. Both wearing masks. Minimize the number of people who are around the food.
  • Have plenty of hand sanitizer around. It’s the new favorite household decoration.

How can I politely decline an invitation to someone’s house?

Be honest. Just tell the person who has invited you that you are wanting to limit exposure to COVID-!9 and so while you really appreciate their invitation, you and your family are just going to stay in and be together.  No need to feel bad about this. You are doing the right thing by prioritizing your family’s health over feeling obligated to do something.

What if I go to someone’s house and they are NOT being safe and I feel uncomfortable?

You can and should ask host ahead of time if they were going to be having people wear masks, socially distance, and do other things to limit the spread of coronavirus. If the host says they are, but then when you get there, people are hugging, not wearing masks and everyone is going to be sitting indoors together eating, then you have two choices.

  1. Privately, you can tell the host that you are feeling uncomfortable and you’re wondering if she/he would mind reminding the guests to put their mask on, etc. and see if you can open some windows to increase the ventilation.
  2. You can decide to leave. As hard as this might be, you can privately tell the host how you are feeling and that you don’t want to make others change what they are doing so you are going to just say goodbye. Say it with a smile, no tone of judgement, and say you hope they will understand that this is just very important to you (for your own health or because you’re around those with compromised immune systems). Know that making decisions based on your health and of those around you is always the right thing to do.
Picture courtesy of Pixabay

General Thanksgiving Etiquette

Like typical Thanksgiving, there are still some basic etiquette tips to follow to make the holiday easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

  1. Do NOT talk about politics or anything else that is controversial. Do make conversation with everyone and ask questions of others and not just talk about yourself.
  2. Offer to bring food and/or other items for the celebration. If you’re not a good cook then offer to bring a pie, wine, or other items.
  3. Bring things to entertain your children if dining at someone else’s home, but make sure that your children are not just connected to electronic devices the whole time.
  4. Teach your children proper table manners if dining in someone else’s home like to wait for everyone to be seated and have their food before they begin to eat. In fact, you should really wait for the host to start eating before you do.
  5. Bring a hostess gift to those who are hosting the Thanksgiving meal. Nice gifts are wine, flowers, or even a family game.
  6. If someone is hosting you for the holiday, remember to send them a handwritten thank-you note.

For more etiquette advice, or to book an etiquette course for your company, group or family, contact Aimee Symington, CEO of Finesse Worldwide, Inc. at


Aimee Symington
Aimee is the CEO of Finesse Worldwide, and an etiquette expert with almost 20 year's experience teaching etiquette to adults and children throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Aimee has appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, and she regularly shares her etiquette advice on Charlotte Today, Fox News, and WBTV, on radio programs such as NPR, and in newspapers and national magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Woman's Health. Ms. Symington is also the creator of the award-winning, nationally acclaimed products on manners for children called “Blunders®” and “Manner Mats®” For more etiquette tips for adults and children, please visit her website at Connect on Facebook.