11 Rules of Gift-Giving Etiquette to Know for the Holiday Season
From how quickly you should send a thank you note to the perils of re-gifting.
The holidays are stressful enough without having to worry if you’ve offended someone by tucking a gift card into their stocking. We asked etiquette expert Myka Meier, who is also the author of Modern Etiquette Made Easy, to share her top tips for the season of giving, and for her advice on some of the most commonly encountered gift giving dilemmas.
ARE HOSTESS GIFTS ALWAYS REQUIRED? WHAT ABOUT IF THE INVITATION SPECIFICALLY SAYS NOT TO BRING A GIFT?
You should always bring a gift to someone’s home. The host may say, “Don’t bring anything” but they won’t refuse your lovely gesture once you arrive. A hostess gift can be a small, token item, such as a candle, festive cocktail napkins, or even a home-baked good.
ARE THERE ANY ETIQUETTE RULE AROUND GIFT GIVING GAMES, LIKE SECRET SANTA OR WHITE ELEPHANT?
If you’re hosting a White Elephant or gift exchange party, it’s important to tell guests in the invitation what type of party it will be so they understand what they are expected to contribute to upfront.
Once people RSVP, I recommend sending more specific rules, detailing if gifts should be of a particular theme, cost no more than a certain amount, or if they should should come wrapped or unwrapped. Giving a little bit of direction ensures that guests have a base to work off of and are not embarrassed if they arrive with a gift totally different than the other party guests.
At the end of a White Elephant exchange, usually one guest is “stuck” with the most unwanted gift. One idea is at the end to have everyone vote on who they think ended up with the “White Elephant” gift. Then the host or hostess would bring out a wonderful gift that would be given to that person….so the surprise in the end is that they really win too after all.
As the host, you are in charge of activities, decor, food, and drinks. Since you are already asking guests to bring a gift to the party, I recommend not asking guests to bring anything else. Some guests may bring a host or hostess gift, which is excellent etiquette to do, and you therefore would not want to task them with bringing anything else.
For Secret Santa gifts, if your gift is humorous, make sure it’s not offensive. Even “anonymous” gifts often can be traced back to the gift giver!
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO WHEN SOMEONE GIVES YOU A GIFT AND YOU DON’T HAVE ANYTHING FOR THEM IN RETURN?
In this situation you shouldn’t draw attention to the fact that you don’t have a gift for them, and instead focus on showing gratitude to the person who has gifted you. You can always send a gift at a later date if you felt the need or desire to.
IF SOMEONE GIVES EXPENSIVE OR OVER-THE-TOP GIFTS, ARE YOU REQUIRED TO RECIPROCATE?
The most important thing about a gift is the thought that goes into it. A photo that is in a frame and beautifully wrapped, or even something you made, can be a great option that may not cost a lot of money, but does show a lot of thought. A great gift is simply one that evokes positive emotion.
HOW LONG DO YOU HAVE TO SEND A THANK YOU NOTE?
A thank you note for a gift should go out within a week of the day you received it. If you forget, however, always better late than never. To determine if you should send a handwritten thank-you note or an email, I recommend matching the formality of the gift you received to the form of thank you you send. For instance, if someone brings in baked goods for the office, then an email thank you is appropriate. However, if you are given a personalized gift, to reciprocate the thought of that gift, I would send a handwritten thank you note.
IF SOMEONE IS STAYING WITH YOU OVER THE HOLIDAYS, WHO YOU MIGHT NOT NORMALLY GIVE A GIFT TO, SHOULD YOU GIVE THEM ONE?
I would always recommend giving a gift to someone who is staying with you over the holidays. Chances are they will have one for you, but it’s also a thoughtful gesture during the festive season.
IS IT EVER OKAY TO GIVE CASH? WHAT ABOUT A HOMEMADE GIFT?
Instead of cash, a gift card is a more tactful way to give a monetary gift. A homemade gift can be one of the best gifts someone may receive, as it can be both thoughtful and personal.
IS RE-GIFTING EVER APPROPRIATE?
If re-gifting is ever discovered it could cause the person who gave it to you to be offended and hurt, and therefore I would not recommend it. If you do decide to re-gift an item, because for instance you received a duplicate gift and you know someone who would love it, make sure it’s in its original packaging and is not personalized in any way.
WHAT IS THE PROPER ETIQUETTE AROUND GIFT-GIVING AT THE OFFICE?
One nice gesture for large office environments is to bring in baked goods, or something for the entire office to enjoy. Your office may choose to participate in a Secret Santa-style gifting, which would ensure that everyone gets a holiday gift, and each person is only responsible for one. If you choose to give gifts to some people at the office, and not everyone, make sure that it’s done privately so that you do not hurt anyone’s feelings. If you receive a gift, make sure you send a thank you note.
WHAT ARE SOME MAJOR ETIQUETTE MISTAKES PEOPLE MAKE INVOLVING GIFT GIVING?
Not presenting a gift in the right way. You always want to make sure a gift is nicely wrapped, placed in a gift bag with tissue, or has a ribbon wrapped around it. It should also include a card or gift tag, and a gift receipt if appropriate.
One other thing to note: if you’re not sure of someone’s size, you should not give a gift that is size dependent.
WHAT ARE SOME GO-TO GIFT IDEAS FOR THOSE WHO ARE DIFFICULT TO SHOP FOR?
Unless it’s a humorous gift that will get a laugh, random gifts just end in the donation pile. Try to think about gifts that everyone needs. A few go-to gifts for those who have everything are a personalized jar of Nutella with their name on it (yep, that exists), a leather card holder, a personalized luggage tag, linen cocktail napkins embroidered with funny quotes, coasters with maps of their favorite city on it, a compact mirror phone charger, or a monogrammed keychain Swiss army knife.
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