In the Present

The dos and don’ts of holiday gifting

 It’s the time of year when we’re all supposed to be wrapped in a blanket of cheer and joy, at least that’s what the movies say. In reality the festive season can prove a difficult time to navigate for a lot of us. There’s a mine field of personal and social dynamics to navigate. Are you expected to cater for your cousin’s vegan, lactose and gluten-free diet? Do you have to dig up all your mother-in-law’s old gifts and display them for her visit? How many of your nieces, nephews and god children’s prize giving ceremonies do you have to attend? And for some, the biggest situation to handle, how you will manage your Christmas gifting.

There are a lot of factors when it comes to holiday gifting, the depth of your relationship with the other party, your budget (of both finances and your personal time) and different expectations of the season that can come into play. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you navigate holiday season gifting.


Prepare for the bait-and-switch

This is a tricky one to navigate, and oftentimes can feel a bit like a trap. We probably all have that one friend who insists on not doing gifts and then whips out something super personal for you while your face turns the shade of a ripe tomato. The best trick here is to listen to your gut really, if your instinct tells you that not getting them something feels wrong then you should probably bring something small, especially if you’re being hosted in someone’s home for a dinner or a stay. A bottle of wine, some flowers or a tin of cookies are all a nice little gesture that can help you avoid a minor shame spiral later. 

Say thank you

I know, you’re probably feeling like you’re twelve years old and hearing your mother’s voice in your head nagging you to write a thank you note to one of your great, great extended family members who sent you a tube of socks, but thank you notes never go out of style. In terms of etiquette, a thank you note for a gift should ideally go out within a week of the day you received it, especially if the other person isn’t there when you open it. If you forget, however, always better late than never.

Handwritten notes are a lovely gesture, but if you’re untrusting of the postal system a nicely worded email or Whatsapp counts too.

Think twice about cash

This can be a decisive one because frankly, who doesn’t like receiving cash, but it can depend on who you’re actually gifting it to. For example, if you know a loved one is saving for a holiday or a new airfryer, cash is a lovely contribution, but handing an envelope of cash to a co-worker can feel a bit weird and might not be understood correctly. Read the room based on your relationship and the relevant context but if you’re not sure what to get someone, a gift card is generally a more tactful gift.

Keep the receipt

Tucking a gift receipt in the package lets receivers subtly exchange the present if it’s the wrong size or not quite their taste. You might have some reservations about adding the receipt because you don’t want them to know how much you spent, but most shops will let you print a gift receipt that excludes the amount. This also allows the person getting the gift the freedom to make an exchange instead of awkwardly telling you that you bought something in the wrong size or, even worse, something they just don’t want. Don’t judge, we’ve all done the post holiday gift swap.


Give inappropriate gifts at work

The office/ workplace has its own eco-system and set of rules, which affects gift giving etiquette. In this space you’ll usually be taking part in a Secret Santa Exchange and maybe gifting something to someone you don’t know too well personally. These can be a fun way to play a game and give a present at the same time, but it’s easy to get confused about some of the basics for the exchange. The best etiquette tip for these exchanges is to use clear communication. Make sure everyone knows the type of gift to buy, the recipient, whether it’s a secret, and how much to spend. It will be awkward if one person spends a huge amount on a gift and another brings a white elephant (a gag gift). If you are clear about the rules, there won’t be any difficult situations. Pro tip: ‘A Dirty Santa’ gift exchange refers to a game where you can steal/ exchange each other’s gifts in real time, it does NOT mean you need to bring a dirty gift, not unless you want to end the year with a fun email from HR…


I’d prefer not to delve into the morals of little white lies but generally speaking if you can avoid lying, I would. We’ve all been in a situation where someone has a gift ready and you might not be as prepared, but going the “Oh, I left yours at home!” route can be pretty transparent. Sorry for those who have actually forgotten gifts at home. Don’t feel guilty if you didn’t buy them something, the point of gift giving is not to give and get something back, and unexpected gifts don’t have to be reciprocated. I will circle back to the whole thank you note thing though…

Buy children’s toys that will drive their parents crazy

For example, don’t buy your nephew a video game if his mom just mentioned that they’re limiting his screen time, or things that might be inappropriate for their age group. It’s also a good rule of thumb to steer clear of anything that’s loud and flashy when you’re gifting things to toddlers and smaller children (like a musical instrument) if you care about the parent’s sanity.

Make these re-gifting mistakes

This is a tricky one. In a world where sustainability is massively important and we all need to be open to forgoing the ‘new is always better’ mentality, there is a fine line with how appropriate it is to re-gift something you received from someone else. If this scenario backfires you could offend or hurt two people – the original gifter (who will know you don’t want or like it) and the recipient (who potentially thought you’d take the time to find something special just for them). That said, something generic like a nice bottle of wine or a scented candle that are just cluttering your home are a suitable things to give to someone who might enjoy it more. You cannot, however, regift your aunt Irma’s antique crystal glass vase that she bought you in Florence. If you do choose to re-gift here are some tips to help you avoid a scandal. Ensure the gift is still in its original packaging, never give something you have already half-used, always make sure you have removed all the tags or anything that has your name on it (i.e. an inscription in a book) and never, ever, gift something if you can’t remember who gave it to you. That is daring the universe to make sure you gift it back to the person who gave it to you, and that’s a tough one to explain.