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Holiday Etiquette: 11 Ways to Spread Joy (and Not Be a Jerk) This Season

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The holiday season is full of (prettily wrapped) potential land mines. Even if you know better than to re-gift Aunt Ida’s sweater or insult Grandma’s fruitcake, you could still be slipping up. We spoke with etiquette expert Joy Weaver, author of How to Be Socially Savvy in All Situations, to get the scoop on how you can secure your spot on the "Nice" list.

1. RESPOND TO INVITES.

Yup, all of them—and promptly. And if you really want to be proper, don’t ring up your friend and let them know you’re calling to RSVP. As Weaver explains, that’s technically an abbreviation for the French phrase “Répondez s’il vous plait” (meaning “reply if you please”): “So you don’t say you’re going to RSVP. It’s not a word!”

2. SHOW UP ON TIME(ISH).

If it’s a sit-down dinner party you should be there right on time, says Weaver. But if it’s a more casual drop-in situation, showing up promptly is actually kind of rude. “You know what it’s like, the party starts at seven and you’re running around getting everything just right,” she says. Best to allow your pal a second to breathe, she notes: “Give it a minute or two before you ring the doorbell.”

3. FORGET THE FLOWERS (BUT DON'T COME EMPTY-HANDED.)

If there are multiple hosts, you only need to bring something for the person whose home it is, explains Weaver, because they’re the ones that had to clean up their spread. And your trinket should be well-thought-out, she says, “You always want to give them something they’ll like.” Off limits: flowers (“Unless they come in a vase so the host doesn’t have to take time out from the party looking for one”) and any wine or food to be set out. “The menu has been determined and the drinks selected,” she says. “So if you bring food or champagne let them know it’s for them to save.”

4. KNOW WHEN TO SAY THANKS.

It’s proper form to send your pal a written thank you for having you at their get-together. But if you’re the host, you’re off the hook. Even though you should, in theory, be collecting all sorts of hostess gifts, you don’t have to send notes for any of them. “This is the one time you’re not required to write a thank you,” says Weaver, “because it’s like saying thank you for a thank you. It could go on and on.”

5. DON'T SKIP THE OFFICE PARTY.

Ever. Even if it’s just a conference room gathering with stale crackers and cheap wine, “it’s a must-attend event,” says Weaver. Opting out “shows disrespect for your company, supervisors, and colleagues and can be a career-killer.”

6. BUT DON'T BE THE LIFE OF IT, EITHER.

You (hopefully) know dancing on the bar is a bad call. (“It’s just not the time to be over-served,” says Weaver.) But overindulging in the cheese tray isn’t a good look either, she says: “You don’t want to seem like you’re going there because the company owes you food. You’re there to establish better relationships.”

7. MAKE IT EASY FOR HIGHER-UPS TO MEET YOU.

If your office bash is a name-tag-required situation, place it high up on the right side of your body, says the expert: “When you’re about to shake hands, your right shoulder comes forward, so it’s a perfect glance.” And when you go in for the palm-to-palm grab, make sure you’re standing. “Never shake hands sitting down,” says Weaver. “It’s a respect thing.”

8. GET (SLIGHTLY) POLITICAL.

Talking too much about business or your kid's latest milestone just isn't done, says Weaver: "Talk about something interesting, current events, just something unique and different."

9. WHEN HOSTING, DON'T FORGET THAT YOU'VE GOT A JOB TO DO.

And it’s not just refilling the chip bowl. It’s considered proper to stand at the door to greet each guest as they arrive. Repeat the process at closing time, walking each of your attendees to the door for a brief goodbye. Note to guests, says Weaver: “Do not engage the host in a long conversation at the door.”

10. MASTER THE ART OF ADDRESSING HOLIDAY CARDS.

If you're keeping it formal, technically, you shouldn’t be sending a card to Mrs. Joy Weaver. Explains the expert, “Mrs. means married to the next person. I’m not married to Joy, I am Joy.” The truly proper form, she says, is Mrs. [husband’s name] Weaver or simply Mrs. Weaver. And these days, she says, Miss is only appropriate for women under the age of 18.

11. NEVER, EVER USE THE EXCUSE "MY DOG ATE YOUR GIFT."

We’ve all been there: your cubicle mate presents you with a gift and you didn’t realize you were that tight. Don’t fib and say you forgot their present at home, says Weaver; simply be gracious. “The only thing they want in that moment is for you to be happy,” she explains. “Do not bring up the fact that you don’t have a gift for them. Just say, ‘This is wonderful. Thank you.’” If you’d like to surprise them with something down the road, you can, but it’s not a must: “You need to think through, is this someone that I want to give a gift to next year, or should I just accept this gift and move on?” Now that’s learning how not to be a jerk to yourself.

All images via Getty 

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Animals
Want to Recycle Your Christmas Tree? Feed It to an Elephant
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Sean Gallup/Getty Images

When the holiday season finally comes to a close, people get creative with the surplus of dead Christmas trees. One San Francisco-based artist transformed brittle shrubs into hanging installation pieces. Others use pine needles for mulch, or repurpose trees into bird sanctuaries. For the average person, sticking it into a wood chipper or "treecycling" it as part of a community program are all eco-friendly ways to say goodbye to this year's Douglas fir. None of these solutions, however, are as cute as the waste-cutting strategy employed by some zoos around the world: giving them to elephants.

Each year, zookeepers at Tierpark Berlin—a facility that bills itself as “Europe’s largest adventure animal park”—feed the elephants unsold pine trees. The plants are reportedly pesticide-free, and they serve as a good (albeit prickly) supplement to the pachyderms' usual winter diets.

A bit closer to home, the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee rely on local residents to take part in their annual Christmas Tree Drive. In addition to being nutrient-rich, the tree's needles are said to help aid in an elephant's digestion. But beyond all that, it's pretty adorable to watch.

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5 Eco-Friendly Ways to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree
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What’s the environmentally safest way to dispose of your Christmas tree? It’s hard to say. Grown, managed, transported, and recycled efficiently, a real Christmas tree’s environmental impact should be near neutral. Unfortunately, not all Christmas tree plantations are equal in their environmental impact.

The most eco-friendly way is to leave the tree in the ground, where it belongs, so you never have to dispose of it. But then you don't have a Christmas tree in your house to bring festive cheer. One thing you can do is be environmentally smart when it comes to the tree's disposal. After this festive season, why not try one of these eco-friendly methods.

1. CHIP IT.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a big wood-chipper, you may be able to chip the entire tree. Wood-chip is great as a decorative landscaping material. But if you really want to do great things for the environment (and if you have access to a lot of Christmas trees), you could make a bioreactor to denitrify water. Nitrates are put on farms across the world to help increase crop output, but a considerable amount is washed away into lakes and rivers where it’s disastrous for fish and potentially toxic for people. A wood chip bioreactor encourages the growth of bacteria that break down the nitrates in the drainage water, reducing the amount that gets into the water supply. It's not a simple project, however. To make one, you have to dig a big trench, get the water to flow through said trench, and fill it with wood chips. More info can be found here [PDF].

2. CRAFT IT.


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If your tree hasn’t yet let go of its needles—and you haven’t yet let go of Christmas, get crafty with it. Cut off small branches and bind them around a circle of wire to make an attractive wreath. This looks even better if some of the cones are still attached. If you’re feeling really adventurous, you could set up an essential oil extractor to get a supercharged Christmas scent. If you are already distilling alcohol, you have everything you need (here's how to do it). With a little less effort and equipment, you can make a weaker liquid called hydrosol, which is a fragrant condensate water containing water-soluble parts of the needles.

3. STICK IT.

Many legumes, such as garden peas, are thigmotropic, meaning that they respond to objects they touch, growing in coils along or up them. Needle-free Christmas tree branches have lots of twigs, texture, and knobby protrusions for peas and beans to get a grip on. This allows them to grow upwards strongly toward light. Simply stick a small tree branch in the soil next to each new shoot for a free, effective legume-climbing frame. Another advantage of this technique is that it makes grazing animals less likely to munch those tender green shoots, as they tend to avoid getting Christmas tree twigs spiked up their noses.

4. TREECYCLE IT.


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Come January, it’s cold, the festivities are over, work looms, and you’ve got too much on your mind to be thinking about dead Christmas tree horticulture or crafts. Fortunately, a simple solution is at hand: Most counties and municipalities now provide Christmas tree recycling points where you can take your tree for chipping. Some “TreeCycle” points will even exchange your tree for a bag of wood-chip or chip mulch. OK, this probably means that you’ll have to jam that Christmas tree into your car once more, but as long as you don’t have to drive too many miles out of your way, Christmas tree recycling is a quick and easy environmentally-friendly option.

5. DONATE IT.

After you’ve had your Christmas cheer, why shouldn’t fish have some fun? Several communities have programs in place where they’ll take your old Christmas tree, drill a hole in the base, tie a brick to it, and throw it in a lake. When humans create artificial lakes, they tend to be relatively featureless on the bottom for easy dredging. That’s great for us, but it means baby fish have nowhere to escape predators. Christmas trees provide a nice, temporary place for the fish to hide out and explore.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to see your Christmas tree mauled by a pride of lions, that’s OK too! Some zoos around the world take Christmas tree donations (but please remove all the tinsel first) and allow the animals to play with them.

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