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Holiday parties! Free food and drinks and Christmas trees abound. But if you’re a Hill staffer with a long dance card, how do you decide where to go? Hill Navigator helps.

Q. Holiday party invites are pouring in (well, for some staffers). Some are great networking events and some are a waste of time. Do you have any advice on how to determine which ones are worthwhile to attend and how to make the most of these events?

But wait, you’re thinking, I’ve got access to the staff assistant list. Or the Google doc. Or a master spreadsheet that lists all the fabulous parties with their locations. These parties have great open bars. And sushi! And a small stuffed animal and package of candy canes (or something equally inane) to take home.

If you want to enjoy a debaucherous holiday season and take full advantage of the wonder that is Capitol Hill Christmas party season, by all means, study that spreadsheet, grab a friend and some comfortable shoes, and go for it. But your question implies a more discerning taste. If someone has taken the time to invite you — personally — try to stop by.

Here’s why: This person either has a relationship with you or wants to build one. They took the time to invite you, so they’ll spend a handful of minutes chatting with you over eggnog. And you’re likely to meet a few of their colleagues, and thus you have productive networking.

But say your invite list is on the short side and you haven’t tired of the Santa hats just yet. Team up with a colleague, or find a co-worker or a friend in another office. If they have an invitation to a party, they can often bring a guest. Then tag along as they chat with their contact. And that will be time well spent being merry.

Are those pesky ethics rules cramping your style? My colleague Kate Ackley has a story in Roll Call about what’s allowed for holiday fare and merry-making. It’s a must-read before you start making the rounds, because nothing kills a holiday buzz like inadvertently breaking a rule that could cost you your job.

And remember, behave yourselves. Bosses — and reporters — are always nearby. Unless you want your debauchery to wind up in Heard on the Hill, assume that someone is always listening.

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