Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Etiquette expert MARY KILLEN shows you how to navigate the social minefield of Covid this Christmas

As the Christmas party season approaches, society is once again divided into factions. This time it’s not Brexit versus Remain, or Woke versus Unwoke, but what I like to call the Covid Cavaliers versus the Covid Cringers. We may never agree on what constitutes civilized party behavior.

Personally, I am a party free spirit, a party lover. Like a plant without water, I was wilting on the vine and what I needed to bring me back to life was interacting with other people – and not through Zoom, thank you very much.

After 18 months of sitting at home saving lives, many of us are tired of creeping into our lonely homes in fear.

And as anyone who’s been to a party recently will attest, social events are much more exciting than they were before Covid. There is often a positively euphoric atmosphere, as we now appreciate the joy of socializing so much more in light of having been left behind for so long.

Mary Killen (pictured) says we've appreciated the joy of socializing more since the pandemic — here, etiquette expert shares advice for navigating the party season with ease and style

Mary Killen (pictured) says we’ve appreciated the joy of socializing more since the pandemic — here, etiquette expert shares advice for navigating the party season with ease and style

Above 50, your health is a roulette wheel. We’ve all lost friends to strokes, cancer and so on. Do we really want to waste our lives at home to avoid boredom?

Cavaliers are very proud of the risks. They go out. Pretty out. Sometimes to massive super spreader events. They believe that: ‘I was stabbed double/triple. I’m sure I’ll get it someday, but I’m not going to put my life on hold anymore and besides, with the parties being so good right now, it would almost be worth catching it.”

Cavaliers are busy kissing, cuddling, sharing glasses and cigarettes as if there were no such thing as Covid microbes floating all around them.

In the other corner, of course, are the pandemic partypoopers or Covid Cringers. In complex rituals reminiscent of Japanese tea ceremonies, they still sterilize packaging (even though we now know that Covid doesn’t live on inanimate surfaces) and excessively disinfect their hands until their skin has turned dry and crocodile-like.

To be fair, some Cringers are really vulnerable with pre-existing conditions, so we understand their concerns. In addition, they are often better informed as they operate as if they were on a war base, making the effort to follow the rolling updates on new infections, hospitalizations and fresh variants. Cavaliers, on the other hand, have chosen to bury their heads in the sand.

Other Cringers are just pragmatic people. They are thinking ahead to what they have planned for Christmas and beyond and how their plans to fly to the Caribbean or Australia may be thwarted by a positive Covid test. Let them make their own decisions.

Then there are the flies in the ointment – the Worried Well. If you have had both shots and a booster, it is estimated that you are more than 90 percent safe from developing symptomatic Covid.

It strikes me that among the Cringers are hypochondriacs, control freaks and party rejecters who welcome any excuse to decline an invitation.

Mary advises hosts to let guests roam around the house and open as many windows as possible (file image)

If the Cringers go out at all, they want everyone else to adhere to strictly agreed-upon anti-Covid rules. Obviously a good host wants to accommodate the fears of nervous guests, but the latter should resist the temptation to consult the guest list before accepting, or make comments like, “Did you know she’s an anti-vaxxer?” is?’ Or, “Did you know he just flew back from Austria, where they’ve peaked in numbers?” Or: ‘I assume you won’t be serving dips?’

Risks are everywhere and it is up to the guest to decide before attending a party whether to take them – it is not their duty to take on the role of health and safety advisor.

Let’s face it, it’s a social minefield. So here’s my guide to making your way through the party season with ease and style.


What is it responsible to do if you are throwing a party yourself? I recommend letting your guests roam around the house and open as many windows as possible. Set up a pop-up tent or gazebo in your garden if you have one (good for parents and any elderly guests) – you can buy them cheap at B&Q.

Don’t forget to bring garden heaters. Ventilation is absolutely key to stopping the spread, so tell your guests to wrap up warm and make sure you have a plentiful supply of rugs and blankets.

Mary said social distancing is not possible at standing events because once the drinks flow, people are magnetized to each other (file image)


You can ask guests for proof of a negative Covid test, but it doesn’t make much sense. A significant percentage of people no longer take the tests. They may even lie and say they did. Some will photograph an old negative lateral flow test.

On the other hand, if you want to thin out your numbers, you can let them know that there will be a bouncer at the door asking for proof of your vaccinated status. You get credit for being careful, but if guests forget the required paperwork, it’s not your fault.

If you’re concerned that your friends will laugh at you for being a party fascist, just explain that there will be some particularly vulnerable people there and you don’t want to be responsible for their early demise.


Social distancing is possible at seated events, but not at standing events. Once the potions flow, people become magnetized towards each other.

Mary said a kiss and hug protocol should be gently enforced, but friends who haven’t seen you for months often fall out before you have a chance to say anything (file image)


If the Cringers and Cavaliers in your life are so passionately at odds with regard to party protocol, why not just host two separate events?

Ask your friends to either identify themselves anxiously or carelessly and throw a smaller party with no singing, dancing, no kissing, no communal eating, and enough distance for those who might otherwise be too nervous to get out.

Throw another raucous and reckless party with full song and full dance for those who have decided that life is simply too short to keep shivering and who are willing to take the risks.


This should be clarified and cautiously enforced. It’s all right to say you’re not hugging or kissing, but friends who haven’t seen you in months often snap out before you have a chance to say anything. At a recent rural wedding, guests who didn’t want to kiss or cuddle were given corsages (sprays of sea lavender on pins) to indicate their preference.

A party giver in west London, expecting 100 people for a Christmas dinner, had a brilliant plan to hand out ropes of tinsel when the guests arrive. As she tells me, “Those who don’t want to be kissed can wear them as collars so that there can be no mistake and insult from people ducking from those who take them on.”

Mary recommends discreetly bringing your own glass as we’ve all seen party waiters “wash” glasses with just one dip in filthy water (file image)


Be careful. It was said that hotel breakfast buffets would be a thing of the past after Covid, but they are making a reappearance. Likewise, at parties, shared bowls of things with double-immersion capabilities are popping up.

It is best to serve food without dipping sauces, such as pigs in blankets, which can be loaded onto individual wooden skewers to ease the minds of the Cringers.

A friend tells me that when he makes people drink, he puts nuts in many small narrow-necked violet vases so that people have no choice but to top the nuts in their hands. “I can’t stand people scribbling at the nuts and running their fingers over the nuts they don’t have.”

If you’re nervous about communal dishes, eat before going to the party.


We’ve all seen party waiters “wash” glasses with just one dip in filthy water. Why not discreetly bring your own glass? If it’s a generic, no one will notice – indeed, the Mail’s former social diarist Nigel Dempster first gained a foothold in society through gate-crashing parties. He’d show up in a black tie, already with a glass of champagne in his hand, as if he’d just walked out to talk to someone. He never had any problems at the door.

Mary said to continue hosting a carol party only if the windows can be opened and a certain distance can be reached (file image)


Unless you keep your party dead quiet – and where’s the fun in that? — dancing can break out spontaneously even when neither the guest nor the host expected it, paying good intentions for social distancing. When in doubt, join the Cringers in the corner.


Scientist Rupert Sheldrake has proven that singing together has physiological and mental health benefits. If you’re thinking of having a Christmas song around your fireplace it would definitely be a mood lifter, but think about the aerosol cans. Only proceed if the windows can be opened and a certain distance can be reached.


Worried about the indoor crush at a restaurant party? Sip outside. Your friends will think you are just smoking or talking to the smokers. Who cares about the cold!

Mary warns guests that they could get in trouble with the host’s intro if they post photos of swarms of people being reckless (file image)


Obviously you should tell your host – although it is bad form to accuse them in any way. Get your thank you note quickly so you don’t have to write it after sending an alert to say you picked up Covid at the event.

I suggest you write or email the following: ‘I hope you’re all right. I just got a Covid positive notification! You may feel like you want to tell everyone.’

On receipt of this, it is your duty as a host to text everyone and simply say, ‘We’ve had one positive Covid test since the party. I recommend doing a lateral flow test.’


It’s more tactful not to post anything other than individual photos of yourself at the event. You could get the host in trouble if you post pictures of swarms of people being reckless. You never know how these shots could be used against them. It is also bad form to make other people jealous if they are not invited.