10 Vintage Holiday Party Tips from Old Etiquette Manuals

gregory_lee/iStock via Getty Images
gregory_lee/iStock via Getty Images

The holiday party season is always packed with events, and sometimes it can feel like more of the same. Spruce up your festivities by taking inspiration from party mavens of the past. Here’s some vintage holiday party advice for discerning hosts.

Holiday Party Tip No. 1: “An appropriate rime or jingle by way of invitation adds to the charm of this very delightful season.”

All holiday parties start with an invitation, and Dame Curtsey’s Art of Entertaining for All Occasions (1918) has you covered. The book includes a whole host of suggestions for the wording of your invites. For example, never miss the opportunity to throw in a rhyme:

“We wish you a Merry Christmas
And hope you all will come
To our Christmas tree and party
And help us enjoy our fun!”

Too vague? How about this short and snappy holiday party rhyme: “Come and see, our Christmas tree, Wednesday next, at half-past three.” Or, if you're worried about tardiness, perhaps you might prefer this invitation/warning:

“Won’t you come to our Christmas tree?
We’ll all be glad to see you—
Please come at eight, and don’t be late.”

Holiday Party Tip No. 2: For a fancy dress party, “there is a wide range of historical and mythological characters to select from.”

These days, most of us reach for an ironic novelty Christmas sweater when the invite reads “costumes encouraged.” But back in the days of yore, holiday party looks were rather more elaborate. Etiquette, Health and Beauty (1899) recommends an outfit with a unique design and accessories based on the invitation’s description. Let’s say it’s a wintertime ball: An “ice maiden” look can be easily created from “a short white dress of some thin material, and a veil of the same.” Simply re-purpose glass chandelier drops as icicles; “a fan painted with snow scenes and robins would be a suitable one to carry with such a dress.” Delightful!

Holiday Party Tip No. 3: “Simulate the sparkle of newly fallen snow.”

Vintage Christmas ornaments
VictorHuang/iStock via Getty Images

The Good Housekeeping Hostess (1904) recommends using silver and white decorations for your Christmas tree to create a magical feel. Lightly brush the branches with glue and then add a sprinkling of salt, which under the soft lights will have “the appearance of glistening frost.” Etiquette and Entertaining (1903) says that the room should be “gaily decorated” with “long swags of evergreens caught up in the center and at each side with a bow of red or blue ribbon” for a cheerful look.

Holiday Party Tip No. 4: “If you are entertaining 10 or more guests you had better have punch.”

Punch is the classic holiday party drink. The 1930s book Shake ‘Em Up says simple finger food should be laid out on the other side of the room from the punch bowl to “keep the guests in motion.” What goes in the punch bowl? “For the Christmas or New Year at home, egg-nog has long been the accepted beverage,” but the authors admit that it is “a nuisance to make.”

Holiday Party Tip No. 5: “Guests can help themselves from [a] party nut tree.”

A 1956 ad for Royal Nuts recommends that holiday party hosts fashion a fabulous Christmas nut tree for their guests. The “tree” is made by shaping a loaf of brown bread into a cone and then sticking it onto a candle holder so it stands up. Then, the host should spread the cone with cream cheese (made green with food coloring) and stick nuts onto the tree with toothpicks for a fabulously festive appetizer sure to get guests talking.

Holiday Party Tip No. 6: “Let the first care be, not the cakes and apples, but the games and other entertainment.”

Who needs food and drink when you have party games to play? An 1876 article in American Agriculturist exhorts any good party host to provide a constant supply of games and amusements so guests don't get bored. It cautions, however, that non-stop games can become tiring. Now and then, hosts should offer attendees “something which will amuse while resting in their seats.”

But if you’re thinking Spin the Bottle, think again. One of the amusements suggested in the article is to create an elaborate ruse in which a young child is dressed up convincingly as a large doll. Guests would then be encouraged to ask questions of the 'doll,' and be shocked when the supposedly inanimate object responds with a nod. The magazine does admit, however, that "any of these tricks, if poorly done, are very stupid."

Holiday Party Tip No. 7: Have an “exciting, spectacular feature” on the holiday table.

Holiday table
DragonImages/iStock via Getty Images

What could be a more exciting centerpiece than a vegetable en flambé? Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook (1956) recommends a flaming cabbage for your holiday party table. You can make your own by hollowing out a cabbage and placing a small can of Sterno inside, then lighting the Sterno. The lamp should be entirely hidden by the cabbage, while the flames should emerge from the cavity. For a little extra pizazz, stick cocktail sausages on toothpicks into the cabbage’s outer surface. Naturally, guests will then gather 'round and cook their own wieners over the open flame.

Holiday Party Tip No. 8: Set the stage, then “in comes Santa.”

A visit from Santa Claus is the highlight of any holiday party. The Complete Hostess (1906) knows how to set the scene. Christmas music should drift into the room followed by “a recitation of The Night Before Christmas by the little hostess, dressed as a fairy.” Now, the poor soul wearing a red fur costume outside the room should ring sleigh bells, then get nearer and nearer, until who should come into the room, but Santa! Then “with many a quip and jest,” Santa should produce a gift for each guest.

Holiday Party Tip No. 9: “Present[ing] a young lady with articles of jewelry, or of dress … ought to be regarded as an offense rather than a compliment.”

Be careful what you give as holiday presents. An ill-chosen gift can offend the host, according to All About Etiquette (1875). Instead, young men should give the ladies in their lives a bouquet, a book, or “one or two autographs of distinguished persons.”

Holiday Party Tip No. 10: Have a solution on hand “for the party which you know will be too much for you.”

Prevention is better than cure, or so says Shake ‘Em Up. Before you attend a festive party where the booze will be flowing, it recommends a few prophylactic measures. “A quart of milk is a conservative preparation,” while “a physician recommends a large plate of green pea soup.” If neither is available, “a pony of olive oil is reputed to coat the stomach lining and ameliorate the wear and tear of subsequent beverages.” While we can confirm that a “pony” equals 1 ounce, we can’t say if these hangover preventers actually work—so attempt at your own risk.

10 Fascinating Facts About the Thesaurus for National Thesaurus Day

iStock.com/LeitnerR
iStock.com/LeitnerR

Writers often turn to a thesaurus to diversify their vocabulary and add nuance to their prose. But looking up synonyms and antonyms in a thesaurus can help anyone—writer or not—find the most vivid, incisive words to communicate thoughts and ideas. Since January 18 is Thesaurus Day, we’re celebrating with these 10 fascinating facts about your thesaurus.

1. Thesaurus comes from the Greek word for treasure.

Greek lettering.
iStock

Most logophiles consider the thesaurus to be a treasure trove of diction, but the word thesaurus really does mean "treasure." It derives from the Greek word thésauros, which means a storehouse of precious items, or a treasure.

2. The plural of thesaurus is thesauruses or thesauri.

Row of old books lined up.
iStock

How do you refer to more than one octopus? People say everything from octopuses to octopi to octopodes. Similarly, many people have trouble figuring out the correct plural form of the word thesaurus. Though thesauri is technically correct—it attaches a Latin suffix to the Latin word thēsaurus—both thesauri and thesauruses are commonly used and accepted today.

3. Early thesauruses were really dictionaries.

Close-up of the term 'ideal' in a thesaurus.
iStock

Ask a French scholar in the 16th century to see his thesaurus, and he'd gladly give you a copy of his dictionary. In the early 1530s, a French printer named Robert Estienne published Thesaurus Linguae Latinae, a comprehensive Latin dictionary listing words that appeared in Latin texts throughout an enormous span of history. And in 1572, Estienne's son Henri published Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, a dictionary of Greek words. Although the Estiennes's books were called thesauruses, they were really dictionaries comprised of alphabetical listings of words with their definitions.

4. A Greek historian wrote the first book of synonyms.

Stacks of books surrounding an open book and a pair of glasses.
iStock

Philo of Byblos, a Greek historian and grammarian, wrote On Synonyms, a dictionary of synonyms that scholars consider to be the first ancient thesaurus. Dating to the late 1st century or early 2nd century CE, the book lists Greek words that are similar in meaning to each another. Sadly, we don’t know much more about On Synonyms because copies of the work haven’t survived over the centuries.

5. An early Sanskrit thesaurus was written in the form of a poem.

Sanskrit lettering.
iStock

In the 4th century CE, an Indian poet and grammarian named Amara Sinha wrote The Amarakosha, a thesaurus of Sanskrit words. Rather than compile a boring list of similar words, Amara Sinha turned his thesaurus into a long poem. Divided into three sections—words relating to the divine, the earth, and everyday life—The Amarakosha contains verses so readers could memorize words easily. This thesaurus is the oldest book of its kind that still exists.

6. A British doctor wrote the first modern thesaurus.

Portrait of Peter Mark Roget.
Thomas Pettigrew, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Peter Mark Roget is the British doctor credited with authoring the first modern thesaurus. In 1805, he began compiling a list of words, arranged by their meaning and grouped according to theme. After retiring from his work as a physician in 1852, Roget published his Thesaurus of English words and phrases; so classified and arranged as to facilitate the expression of ideas and assist in literary composition. Today, Roget’s Thesaurus is still commercially successful and widely used. In fact, we celebrate Thesaurus Day on January 18 because Roget was born on this day in 1779.

7. The thesaurus has a surprising link to a mathematical tool.

Image of a vintage log log slide rule.
Joe Haupt, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The division between "words people" and "numbers people" is deep-seated. Many mathematicians may try to steer clear of thesauruses, and bibliophiles may avoid calculators, but the thesaurus is actually linked to a mathematical tool. Around 1815, Roget invented the log-log slide rule, a ruler-like device that allows users to easily calculate the roots and exponents of numbers. So while the inventor of the thesaurus was compiling words for his tome, he was also hard at work on the log-log slide rule. A true jack-of-all-trades.

8. The Oxford English Dictionary has its own historical thesaurus.

Synonyms for
iStock

In 1965, a professor of English Language at Glasgow University suggested that scholars should create a historical thesaurus based on entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. The project was a massive undertaking, as people from multiple countries worked for 44 years to compile and classify words. Published in 2009, the Historical Thesaurus to the Oxford English Dictionary contains 800,000 words organized by theme and date. The thesaurus covers words and synonyms from Old English to the present day and lets readers discover when certain words were coined and how long they were commonly used.

9. One artist turned his love of words into a series of thesaurus paintings.

Mel Bochner,
Mel Bochner, "Crazy," 2004. Francesca Castelli, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2014, the Jewish Museum in New York showed a survey of conceptual artist Mel Bochner’s art. Bochner had incorporated words and synonyms in his paintings for years—which were collectively referred to as the thesaurus paintings—featuring word paintings and lists of synonyms on canvas. The brightly colored paintings feature different groups of English and Yiddish synonyms. According to Bochner, Vietnam and Iraq war veterans cried after seeing his thesaurus painting Die, which features words and phrases such as expire, perish, succumb, drop dead, croak, go belly up, pull the plug, and kick the bucket.

10. There's an urban thesaurus for all your slang synonym needs.

Copy of an Urban Dictionary book.
Effie Yang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Urban Dictionary helps people decipher the latest slang terms, but where should you go when you need a thesaurus of slang? Urban Thesaurus, of course. The site, which is not affiliated with Urban Dictionary, indexes millions of slang terms culled from slang dictionaries, then calculates usage correlations between the terms. Typing in the word money, for example, gives you an eclectic list of synonyms including scrilla, cheddar, mulah, coin, and bling.

More Than 100 National Parks Are Waiving Fees on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

noblige, iStock via Getty Images
noblige, iStock via Getty Images

The National Park Service is hosting five "free days" in 2020—the first of which lands on January 20. In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the NPS is waiving its regular entrance fees at 110 national park properties around the country, USA Today reports.

Of the 400-plus parks managed by the agency, 110 charge admission fees ranging from $5 to $35. These include some of the most popular sites in the system, like Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon national parks.

Every one of those parks will be free to visit on Monday. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day of service, and parks across the U.S. will be hosting service projects for volunteers looking to give back to their communities. If you'd like to participate, you can find volunteer opportunities at your local NPS property here.

If you're just looking for a place to reflect, you can't go wrong with any of the sites in the national park system. Before planning a visit to one the parks below participating in the free day, read up on these facts about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here are the National Parks that will be free on January 20, 2020:

  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Adams National Historical Park, Massachusetts
  • Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland/Virginia
  • Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  • Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
  • Cabrillo National Monument, California
  • Canaveral National Seashore, Florida
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts
  • Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  • Capulin Volcano National Monument, New Mexico
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Florida
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah
  • Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico
  • Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia
  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Maryland/West Virginia/Washington, D.C.
  • Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Georgia
  • Christiansted National Historic Site, U.S. Virgin Islands
  • Colonial National Historical Park, Virginia
  • Colorado National Monument, Colorado
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve, Idaho
  • Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia
  • Death Valley National Park, California
  • Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
  • Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
  • Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
  • Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
  • Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York
  • Everglades National Park, Florida
  • Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado
  • Fort Davis National Historic Site, Texas
  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Maryland
  • Fort Pulaski National Monument, Georgia
  • Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas
  • Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National Historical Park, South Carolina
  • Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Oregon/Washington
  • Fort Washington Park, Maryland
  • Gateway Arch National Park (formerly Jefferson National Expansion Memorial), Missouri
  • Great Falls Park, Virginia
  • Glacier National Park, Montana
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah/Arizona
  • Golden Spike National Historical Park, Utah
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
  • Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida/Mississippi
  • Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii
  • Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia/Virginia/Maryland
  • Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
  • Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York
  • Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado/Utah
  • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
  • James A. Garfield National Historic Site, Ohio
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California
  • Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Georgia
  • Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada/Arizona
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
  • Lava Beds National Monument, California
  • Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, Oregon/Washington
  • Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  • Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
  • Muir Woods National Monument, California
  • Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona
  • Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
  • Pea Ridge National Military Park, Arkansas
  • Perry's Victory & International Peace Memorial, Ohio
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
  • Pinnacles National Park, California
  • Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona
  • Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota
  • Prince William Forest Park, Virginia
  • Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
  • Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, New York
  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  • Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, New Hampshire
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, California
  • San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, California
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
  • Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
  • Thomas Edison National Historical Park, New Jersey
  • Tonto National Monument, Arizona
  • Tumacácori National Historical Park, Arizona
  • Tuzigoot National Monument, Arizona
  • Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico
  • Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, New York
  • Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi/Louisiana
  • Walnut Canyon National Monument, Arizona
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, California
  • White Sands National Park, New Mexico
  • Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, Missouri
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial, North Carolina
  • Wupatki National Monument, Arizona
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Idaho/Montana
  • Yosemite National Park, California
  • Zion National Park, Utah

[h/t USA Today]

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