Colin Cowie's advice on holiday parties

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Myth 4: You can't skip the party.
Streamlining your holiday calendar is perfectly acceptable as long as you say no early, according to Colin Cowie, the New York–based event planner and author of Effortless Elegance with Colin Cowie. "You'll always be considered a gracious guest if you RSVP right away—whatever the response," he says.

As the invitations start piling up, just follow a few guidelines in narrowing the field. "I always support good friends first, because I'd expect the same from them," says Cowie. "I pick their events over business ones in a heartbeat." (That said, you are obliged to raise a glass of eggnog with your boss at the official company shindig.) Big cocktail parties are easier to skip because your absence is less noticeable. "And the two Saturdays before Christmas are so hectic, people understand if you're booked," Cowie says.

Once you accept an invitation, though, stick to it. If you can't make it at the last minute, call the host that afternoon to leave a voice mail explaining. "Call the next day, too, to apologize again," says Cowie. A little groveling goes a long way this time of year. 

— Jenny Bailly