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The New Christmas Party Rules

Michael Hennegan explores the new rules of merrymaking etiquette to make sure you’re partying like it is 2021*

17 December 2021

The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel
The Cadogan, A Belmond Hotel 
Smythson personalised stationery, from £194.50 for a set of 50 

Uber? Puhlleease, have you tried to get one past midnight recently? The city is in the middle of a driver drought, big time. Instead, book yourself a hotel room at The Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel, or Beaverbrook Town House and make a night of it. Better still, get ready there and have drinks at the bar beforehand. After all, who wants to go home after being there for most of 2020?


We’ve been trapped away for so long that more is definitely more when it comes to your outfit for the party. Sequins, velvet, the family tiara, the jewels from the vault – the works. “Don’t save anything for best, just wear it. Repeatedly!” says the super-stylist Luke Day. So, more is more, think extra, extra, extra. Don’t just wear one bangle or necklace, wear seven. Imagine yourself as Nancy Cunard and pile it all on at once… we have spoken.


Gone are the days of a simple, polite reply to your host to accept or decline an invitation. Now, a yes must be accompanied by a negative PCR or lateral flow test and for public events, a vaccine passport. “It’s all about the PCRSVP,” says tablescape queen and super-host Fiona Leahy. “One doesn’t go without the other.” For the 1%, hosts are now providing a doctor at a guest cottage on the way in to provide testing. Chic hosting circa 2021.


It’s all about the party prep, no one wants to turn up to a festive soirée looking as cooked as the turkey. Head for a full day at Urban Retreat, try to get an appointment with Sarah Bradden at Hershesons for her method blending traditional Chinese practices with modern science and guaranteeing to make you look like you’ve had two weeks of rest. For the men, look sharp at Pavilion Barbers and pop into Harvey Nichols for a quick cryo chamber at 111 Skin to make sure you’re feeling fresh as a daisy.


Lay your rescue remedy on the bedside table before you head out for the evening. Still water for getting in, along with paracetamol. Sparkling water for getting up, plus rehydration salts for two, in case you’ve brought someone home and really need to impress. For the hardcore, a tasty, helping nightcap is a Vorocca on the rocks. Yes, that is vodka and Berocca on ice. You’re welcome.


Legendary party host Nicky Haslam, as known now for his list of what he finds common as his interior design, says to invite “anyone who is around” when it comes to putting together the guestlist for a party. In fact, the only people he says aren’t allowed are children. “Well, there just isn’t the room,” he says, “and the parents have much more fun without them.” Well, quite.


You really have to judge the mood on this one. If visiting an upwardly social household then bringing a bottle is a no-no, “so terribly common,” says socialite and boy-around-town Henry Conway. So, gauge your hosts’ wine cellar. No wine cellar? Then you’ll need two bottles of Champagne. Prosecco and screw-top wine are a shortcut to social pariah status. Without exception. Cut flowers are likewise verboten, “so, so bad for the planet”. Instead, take them a potted plant to be cared for by the gardener.


As a host the biggest gift you can give your (smoking) guests is a designated smoking room, even smokers don’t deserve to be banished to sub-zero temperatures for a quick fag fix. Top tip here – fill ashtrays with bicarbonate of soda, which absorbs the smell and won’t leave your house smelling quite so much the next day… just call me Martha Stewart.


Then we’re off… sorry. What is this, a two-up, two-down house gathering in Milton Keynes? Perhaps the rudest of all party requests, unless of course the hosts are Scandi and gifting slippers at the door. Personalised and monogrammed, then even better.


Always send thank-you notes on personalised stationery, always in tissue-lined envelopes, always handwritten and always within seven days. Go to Smythson for these. Rumour has it Princess Diana would always leave an addressed envelope on her desk with a card ready to write the next day. Savvy.


When it comes to drinks, try to see Champagne as something to keep you going in between other, stronger drinks and, if you’re the host, then try to stick to coupes – not flutes. Terribly déclassé. At all costs avoid the white wine witch – unless accompanying dinner, and for shorts think full flavoured and strong. On the rocks in small glasses, anything with orange bitters. If you’re in the market, The White Company does a fine line in coupes.


When to leave the party is always a tricky subject. Err on the side of caution and as soon as you notice the party starting to thin then make a gracious exit. If you don’t, and you’re single, you’ll be left with the last-chance salooners or, even worse, be put under pressure to stay… run! Also, worth note: never arrive early for a party – your host won’t be ready. Being early is far ruder than arriving late.

*This article was written prior to the introduction of Plan B covid restrictions due to the Omicron variant and, all silliness aside, we always recommend that you adhere to government guidelines and be safe. No matter your personal views, Covid is a real party pooper.

Michael Hennegan is a writer, author and creative consultant. He has curated events for brands including Dom Perignon, Moët & Chandon, Selfridges, Soho House, The NoMad Hotel and GQ Style, and writes for titles such as ES Magazine, The Evening Standard, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, GQ and 10 Magazine.

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