It’s not the holidays until your great aunt’s unicorn-themed gift arrives on your doorstep. The problem is that you haven’t liked unicorns since the second grade, and she’s been sending these presents to you for the past 20 years.
And thus begins the season of awkward gift giving.
The holidays present a veritable minefield of scenarios that don’t exactly promote peace on earth and goodwill toward men—and that includes giving and receiving. How much should you spend on a hostess gift, especially when you have a dozen parties to attend? Do you need to buy presents for all of your friends’ kids? And how do you handle those thanks-but-no-thanks gifts from well-meaning relatives?
This is why we tapped Emily Post’s great-great grandson, Daniel Post Senning, co-author of “Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition,” to answer 10 of the most puzzling gift-related questions that pop up this time of year.
LearnVest: My friend always gives me lavish gifts. Do I have to reciprocate?
Daniel Post: The straightforward answer is no. It’s a cliché, but gift giving is ultimately about the spirit or thought behind the present. Be truly and genuinely appreciative of your friend’s gift, and reciprocate as best as you can in spirit, if not dollar for dollar.
Relatives whom I know can’t afford gifts send me a present every year. Should I say something?
[At the Emily Post Institute], we often say that you want to receive a gift with the same spirit of generosity with which it is given. In this case, you should receive the gift and be appreciative, but if you anticipate hardship for that person, talk to the individual ahead of time. Discussions about money during the holidays should be open, candid and honest. Use simple language by saying, “We’re really trying to keep it minimal this year. I so appreciate everything you’ve done in the past, but this year a card will be just fine.”
I have relatives staying with me for the holidays, and I don’t normally get them gifts. Should I make an exception this year?
If there will be a big gift exchange, it’s a nice idea to include everyone—and that means the guests in your home, too. It’s not a traditional obligation, but it’s good courtesy. You don’t need to break the bank, but you can show you care with a couple of wrapped things under the tree, so everyone can participate.