Don't be a Grinch stealing the joy out of the season. Keep the holiday cheer flowing by adding brilliant holiday etiquette. Photo credit: Rodnae Productions on Pexels

Tip drill, and other holiday etiquette we need to bring back

The world fell on its knees two years ago. Wiping ourselves off, in reflection, what we need is a good dose of Dionne Warwick’s advice “love sweet love,” oh and some  holiday manners.

Every year, my mother tucked $20 in several envelopes then placed them on the étagère in the living room. One at a time, she would dole them out: to the sanitation workers, the letter carrier, then the landscaping crew. For some, she would bake a cake or offer a tin of her famous pralines. 

As a girl, I used to think my mother was “doing the most,” or grandstanding, but I was immensely wrong. When I bloomed into adulthood, I realized that her kindness was the most gangster thing about her. Those simple acts of generosity provided such heartfelt connections to an ecosystem she both nurtured and fed from. So as a note to self, for the winter holiday season, I give to the ecosystem from which I thrive.

“Paying it forward, good karma, or being a blessing . . . whatever you call it . . . the 2021 holiday season is the perfect time to show kindness and appreciation to anyone who makes your holiday season easier,” culinary expert and ethnographer Cassandra Loftlin told Ark Republic.

Pay attention to those around you that connect your days and months to be in the world. People like the mechanic who knows the stubborn rumble in your car, an administrative assistant who remembers every birthday, even your local butcher or fishmonger who gives you the best cut: they are the blood and bones of our lives. 

We often take those who provide us services that keep our own lives together for granted. Like your child’s teacher or the health home aid who assists in the care of an elder parent. Manuela, a cook, says that cash and a note of thanks she recently received made her “feel warm and fuzzy.”

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Meghan, an administrative assistant received cash and hard to find food items from her home country. “The past few months have been so difficult, it feels wonderful to be appreciated,” she gushed in gratitude.

At this time of the year, the conundrum is that we are really busy. With presents or wrapping up work projects, we can forget about the people in our lives. Or, procrastinate so long that we miss them before holiday break. Loftlin wisely adds, “The shipping delays, supply shortages, and the general chaos created during a pandemic,” threw the whole world a curve ball both financially and logistically. Two years later, we’re still trying to map things out.

But for many, it is not about the money and gifts are on-time when they are given. Because of the economic uncertainties as of late, many of us are counting pennies to stay afloat. 

“American capitalist culture and entanglement with racist employment policies enmeshed in the service industry dictates that gratitude is best expressed and understood when it is a cash tip, but lack of funds should not be a barrier to spreading good will,” explains Loftlin. 

Loftlin, who has almost two decades in food and hospitality suggests that “a heartfelt thank you note or a homemade gift can go a long way to spread good cheer.” She adds, “No matter the gift . . . the handwritten note is cherished long after the gift has been consumed or the cash is spent.”

This is seen in Helen, a teacher who has recently given birth: “It feels so amazing to be loved” when she received a small note on her life accomplishment. Overall, the gesture goes to a simple African perspective—to see someone affirms their sacred existence and your humanity. Tommy, an administrative clerk who was given a gift card, and a hand-knitted scarf. “It means so much to be in someone else’s thoughts.” 

Yet and still, if you can, a small annual monetary thank you stretches the whole year; especially on those days when the people who provide essential services really need it. To keep the good juju flowing, an effective way to ensure you remember everyone is to make a list using categories like this:

Food

  • Bakery staff (even those at the market)
  • Butcher (old school, but they are still around)
  • Specialty foods/beverage store owners and workers
  • Favorite take-out place
  • Vendor at the farmer’s market

Home

  • Landscaper
  • Sanitation worker
  • Doorman/woman
  • Building maintenance
  • Mail carrier
  • Nanny/ Au Pair
  • Babysitter
  • Plumber
  • Amazon and Instacart deliverer

Health/Education

  • Home health aid
  • Pharmacist
  • Doctor/specialist (small gift instead of money)
  • Dentist (small gift instead of money)
  • Teacher (give them some money, they are sorely underpaid)
  • Herbalist
  • Chiropractor
  • Therapist
  • Physical trainer or fitness instructor

Work

  • Administrative Assistant
  • Staff
  • Boss
  • Janitorial Staff
  • Barista/Cafe attendant
  • Security guard

Appearance

  • Barber/Hair Stylist
  • Tailor
  • Dry Cleaners
  • Manicurist
  • Waxer

Transportation

  • Mechanic
  • Regular bus driver on your route
  • Crossing guard
  • Gas attendant (for those who live in states like New Jersey where your gas gets pumped for you)

Spirituality

Some debate it, yet others enjoy giving to their church leader. However, there are ways around this. Give to the maintenance staff, the choir director and that woman who makes all the choir robes but rarely gets credit.

Be the best guest at a holiday gathering. Bring a treat for the host or group. Photo credit: Nicole Michalou

Holiday dinner. Bring something substantial other than yourself

There is a relative who always brings a sad bag of salad to communal dinners. Or that uncle who quietly sits cheap liquor in the corner, nevertheless solely drinks the premium selections. Ugh. 

We often forget how much resources and time it takes to entertain gatherings. Hosts buy the food, cook, clean then open their homes for family and friends to share space. Then you’ve got lighting, heating or air conditioning to consider. The least you can do is offer something of quality. 

“Bringing a thoughtful gift removes the guilt of asking for anything specific and removes the pressure of having to incorporate an odd dish into the planned dinner from the host,” chimes Loftlin. 

It is an expression of gratitude when you provide a present to the host or add to the food spread. More importantly, it pays respect to the stewards of the house and those in attendance. To bring nothing, or a cheap thing speaks to how you see the people you are breaking bread with. “That type of thoughtfulness on the part of the host should absolutely be rewarded” insists Loftlin.

However, for argument’s sake, let’s say you’re going to that office party or dinner where the host insists that all you bring is yourself. That’s nice, but etiquette demands, or should I say your mother who is looking at you right now. Yes, her. She demands you “act right” and bring something good to them folks house.

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“If you are attending a holiday gathering and the host insists that you should not bring anything, they are not attempting to be difficult,” explains Loftlin “A good host is focused on creating an enjoyable and coordinated event. Racing around town looking for a specialty food item or spending hours before the event preparing a complicated dish to match a specific theme places an undue burden on the guest.” 

But, I get it. Times are getting harder than 1929. If money is tight, try a discount store such as HomeGoods or Marshalls. Their food sections offer specialty, high-quality items. Other great finds are at small businesses. The closer to the holiday, many are working to rid of excess inventory. Plus, you can negotiate in some cases if you are a frequent customer.

If you hail from a big family, use that Costco card to purchase something for a subsection of the gatherers, like treats for the children. If you do not bring food then bring games like cards or  and dominoes. The goodwill gesture is creative and fun. The ensuing, usually hilarious shouting matches are a bonus. Here are some other recommendations from Chef Loftlin.

  • A bottle of wine or spirits: the host can incorporate the beverage into the meal or enjoy it later
  • Serving Utensils, Bowls, or Platters: If the host entertains often, it is an item that is needed, and every time it is used it will remind them of your friendship. 
  • Fresh Flowers: Help the host place them in a vase to admire in their home or send a bouquet the day after as a thank you. Green plants are also an option
  • Professional Prepared Charcuterie Board, Crudite Platter, Snack tower: This can be enjoyed before or after the meal and is helpful if the host is running behind with meal preparation. Also can be enjoyed the next day when the host needs downtime.
  • Boardgame, card game, or conversation starter kit: can be played before or after dinner or later. Also provides something for other guests to do if dinner is running late
  • Hand towels, Dishtowels, coasters, candles, or a set of wine or water glasses: All useful items that help a host continue to be on their best game

If all options are a no-good that is totally fine too. In the end, being there is the most generous thing you can do if you haven’t anything to give. But you have paws and phalanges. An extra pair of hands, even if the host refuses to let you help with dinner, help tidy up, clear plates, and  take out the trash. By the end of the night, I assure you that their feet are singing for a break.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 to January 1 as an alternative to Christmas for African Americans. Photo credit: Askar Abayev

Everybody does not celebrate Christmas. Get over yourself 

As a general note, I say “Happy Holidays,” during this time of the year. The greeting encapsulates all of the winter observances: winter solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year, and even Genna, which is Christmas in January for Coptic Christians. That said, there are several widely recognized non-Western, mainstream holidays. 

Because this time of the year focuses on good cheer and just positive vibes, I prefer to ride the wave with wishing folk to have a great season. Lately however, I get people who respond, “Merry Christmas,” with an acrid undertone. The unspoken suggestion is that the U.S. is an all-Christian milieu. Withal, this can translate into the idea that to be American is to only recognize Jesus, and the white one at that.

In my opinion, this sentiment bubbled around the rise of Islamophobia after 9/11, which then upticked during the Trump Administration, erases the wonderful fact about winter observances in American history. America has never been a solely Christian union, and it never will be. The attempts to clump people into a cultural paradigm laced with xenophobia and racism is a mood killer, but is so far from what the tenants of Christianity espouse.

Moreover, just because people do not celebrate Christmas does not mean they do not enjoy the time nor participate in some of the rituals like exchanging gifts or going to Christmas parties. Of course, the holiday is inescapable, but also infectious and magical if you just chill the hell out and project good energy. Plus, you would be in a tight ball if it were reversed. Thus, give folk some room to engage with dignity and organic love. 

Traditionally, it is stellar holiday etiquette to express gratitude in ways that carry joy and love. With the last couple of rough years, it is overall good karma to let people know that you see their light and are grateful.

Cassandra Loftlin contributed to this article

Kaia Shivers covers news, features and the diaspora.

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