Social Graces for the Holidays

Parties are about who, not what 

By Abby Deering

The holiday party season is upon us, and it seems at every turn and on every radio station we’re constantly reminded, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” In reality, holiday parties are often a source of stress. Draining energy and bank accounts, preparations can be a tizzy of guesswork for both hosts and guests.

Enter social strategist Suzanne Pollak to demystify the process and remind us of what holiday get-togethers are about, just that, getting together, opening our homes to the people we love and creating memories.

“I think people get caught up — ‘I’ve got to have a really expensive meal, really expensive wine, my house has to be perfect, the kids have to be in bed’ — no, none of that has to happen,” Pollak says.

She has a refreshing philosophy. Is there dust on your table? Who cares? China is chipped? Use plastic. Don’t let picayune worries stop you from getting together.

“Everything is so managed and over-styled these days. We expect our homes to look like they came out of the pages of a magazine. A home should be about showing your individual personality. Nobody expects your house to be perfect,” she says.

Pollak, the consummate host, homemaker and businesswoman, recognizes we lead busy lives. She’s no stranger to a hectic schedule — she’s raised four children, renovated two homes, and was the spokesperson for Federated Department Stores, speaking at seminars across the nation — but she recognizes the importance of maintaining a stable homestead. Growing up in Africa, the child of a diplomat, she and the family moved every few years. With each relocation, she watched her mother leap into action, setting up the house and inviting over the neighbors. “I really learned how to use your house to make a friend and get anchored in the community on day one.”

Today, Pollak is the founder and dean of the Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, a class and lecture platform designed to “equip students with the tools for building a beautiful life.” From baking the perfect soufflé to hosting an oyster roast, from business entertaining to handling household guests, the academy has it covered.

The name is a bit of a send up to the days of finishing schools and lessons from Miss Manners, but the CADP is thoroughly modern. Her book, “The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits: A Handbook of Etiquette with Recipes,” is tempered with a hefty dollop of down-to-earth wit and peppered with panache.  

Advice from the Dean

For Hosts
  • Make the holidays easy with relaxed, uncomplicated parties, and keep it short — i.e. an afternoon tea party or cocktail hour with just a few snacks.
  • No one will notice if everything is not exactly the way you imagined it. Overworking yourself and generally striving for perfection only leads to wishing no one was coming over in the first place.
  • Last-minute parties are particularly fun. Those who R.S.V.P. (yes!) will be the ones who really want to be there.
  • Taste is subjective. If you like plastic and porcelain together, fine!
  • Find your own style. The chic-est, coolest homes in the world reflect the owner, not the decorator.
For Guests

On party manners …

  • Good behavior never goes out of style.
    Do not text or take a phone call in any social situation. It is beyond rude.
  • If you bring one bottle of wine, bring two, perhaps different vintages.
  • Talk to everyone in the room — especially people you’ve never met before.

On gracious exits …

  •  If you won’t be able to stay long, show up early so both hosts see you. You can make your exit after you’ve met the next to arrive.
  • NO GHOSTING! Signal to your date, “15 till departure,” and thank the host(s) before you slip out.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome. Uber has replaced the designated driver if you need a ride.
  • Host gifts are unnecessary and unwanted. No one wants the re-gifts; something homemade is better!
  • The Dean prefers a handwritten thank you note. Always. E

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