What to find out in advance: What is the suggested attire? Are kids invited? "Settle any doubts ahead of time," says event planner Kimberly Schlegel, author of The Pleasure of Your Company ($40, amazon.com).
What to give:
- Not flowers. "They may not go with the look of the party, but the host would feel obligated to put them out," explains Schlegel. Instead, try a low-maintenance potted plant, which will last beyond the holiday season.
- A pail full of shiny red apples or a box of small, sweet clementines.
What to do:
- RSVP. Even for a casual event, the host needs to plan how much food and drink to get, says Schlegel.
- Make an effort to mingle, so the host doesn't feel she has to entertain you.
- Don't take the term "open house" literally. Keep to the areas clearly decorated for the party.
How to dress: A crowded party can get hot. To stay comfortable, make sure the layer closest to your skin is something lightweight. A colorful shawl adds festive flair and is easier than a sweater to put on and take off as necessary.
Coming and going: Showing up anytime from five minutes after the designated start time to 30 minutes before the stated finish is OK.
How to follow up: Send a thank-you note, and if you have talked to the host about something in particular―a DVD she might like, for instance―send that along, too.