10 Gift-Giving Questions Everyone Wants Answered

Cheryl Lock

Awkward GiftIt’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.

RELATED: 15 Buzzy Gifts Everyone Will Want This Holiday Season

  • bstevenb

    Gifts for babies? Kids spell love T I M E . Offer a free baby-sitting session. That’s a thoughtful gift that the whole new family can share.

  • maggie

    how do you handle a situation where you give a gift to a longtime friend and they in turn say it’s really big (when it’s lighter than a feather and the size of their palm), or they say “oh” in that “this isn’t what I wanted” and never saying thank you and being appreciative that someone thought of them?

    • pamb

      Then you stop giving a gift! Next year give a card. If they ask where the gift is (do they buy you one?) say, “I had such bad luck giving you gifts in the past I thought I’d try something different”. If you must give a gift, try fancy chocolate or something else food related.

  • nkdeck07

    The DIY thing always did bug me. I’ve done DIY gifts in the past but trust me I am saving neither time nor money quilting. What drives me nuts is the stuff that is clearly just pinterest fodder and zero thought was put in.

  • pamb

    We normally don’t see my cousins on Hanukkah, but we did this year because it was on Thanksgiving. My kids are in elementary school, but the others are HS/college age. I suggested a gift card exchange and it worked well. Each family bought two $10 gift cards for each of their own children (Starbucks, ITunes) we threw them in a gift bag, and the kids each chose two cards. Yes, we essentially bought our own kids gifts, but it was a little something without breaking the bank. We all brought a hostess gift and a dessert as well.