Etiquette of Holiday Gift Giving
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Etiquette of Holiday Gift Giving
I know that the holiday season is behind us (except for the
upcoming bills!) but I have this lingering feeling of confusion
about the whole gift giving process. For example, we were
invited over to a neighbor's home for dinner where they have 2
young adolescent aged children. We hardly know them (talked with
them 2x prior to this invitation). They asked us to bring
dessert - which we did. They had a gift for my daughter (age 4).
Nothing fancy or expensive, but we did not have anything for
their kids. Then on another occasion, we invited a close friend
over for xmas dinner and they brought our daughter a gift. I
felt like such a lug-head. Was I suppose to give their child a
gift? I always wonder what's all the fuss about this holiday
season and never feel crazy about making purchases. Now I am
beginning to wonder if I am just so out of it and missing
something? I live out in the burbs which I know is a bit more
traditional about these types of things. I also know that the
importance of the season is the connection with others, but I do
want to somehow ''get it'' what ever ''it'' is!
I don't know about gift etiquette, other than to always acknowledge in writing - but I do think
that your recent experiences reflect your friend's belief that the best way to your ''heart'' is
through your ''children''. As a young mother, I was often touched when guests would bring something
for my child, whether it was a toy, a candy or even would make time to play with my child. It
didn't have to be anything extravagant, sometimes a coloring book, a small ball, or even a
I wouldn't feel obligated to reciprocate, but definitely do acknowledge the gift.
I don't think that there is a hard and fast rule during the holidays concerning small ''gifties''
as you describe. The first scenario with the 2 adolescents seems like a situation inwhich you
didn't need to show up with something becuase the kids are older. Perhaps, the host were just
trying to make your younger child feel comfortable and also have something to play with in a
household that might have moved past the toy stage. The second situation seems very different,
especially as it was a more x-mas oriented dinner. You probably should have had something for the
visiting child. I keep a little stash of goodies in tissued gift bags for such an occasion. It is
always sweet to bring something small for the host/hostess or young child when visiting but
probably only necessary on an actual holiday or b-day.
For both situations you described a nice thank you card would suffice. Giving gifts to friends -
either at dinner parties or when people come to your house for one - are at the discretion of the
For your neighbors who invited you over a nice card with a handwritten, sincere thank you would be
thoughtful, touching and completely appropriate. For your good friends I would include a picture
your daughter drew and if she's writing maybe even a few words of thanks from her.
Every family gives gifts differently and there should be no obligation to get gifts for others just
because they give a gift to you. If you are in a similar situation next year maybe bring along a
little something extra for the family of your neighbors and when your friends come over for a party
maybe make up some gift bags for their kids to take home as ''party favors'' or some homemade
treats to bring home for later. Again, this is up to your discretion and neither must be done but
both are sweet gestures.
Happy New Year!
SF Mom of Two
I have a three year old daughter. Whenever I get invited to anyone's house during the entire month
of december or invite anyone to my house, I assume there will be a gift exchange for the kids. I
don't get gifts for the adults, but if only adults are coming over they will generally bring a gift
for my child.
I did the same before I had a child but went to a household with kids in December. I think this is
pretty standard practice.
Good luck next year!
You do what you feel comfortable doing - and that's it. If you are uncomfortable receiving & don't
plan to give, state it out front at the time of the invitation. Or, simply accept the gifts with
huge thanks - and a thank you note afterwards. OR, just get a few small items and give - not
expecting the same in return. The holidays are a time of tradition. You will figure out your own.
I tend to make tons of cookies and bag them in little gift bags with a notecard signed Our Family
to Yours or something like that. That's what we ''give'' at these dinner and/or party occasions.
But, you don't even have to do that. Decide in advance of the holiday what you'd like to do - and
without regrets, expectations, etc..
-Let's see what others say...
You are not obligated to give a gift just because someone gives one to your kid. It is their
choice. You ARE obligated, however, to acknowledge the gift with a proper thank you not. If your
child can write it, you have them do it. If not, you write one saying how appreciative you were of
the gift and the thoughtfulness and how much your child enjoyed the gift. Believe me, that gesture
goes a long way! And will only cost you the price of a card and the stamp. Do not make excuses. Sit
down. Write the note. Address it and mail it.
Pro-Thank you note
It's better to give than to not give. Even if the present is a little something and nothing
expensive (crayons and a coloring book), it's best to show that you are a gracious guest and host
especially during the holiday season.
Would your friends think less of you if they thought of their kids and made an extra effort? It
would just help reinforce that you are kind, thoughtful and generous even if the token is small and
Nice to be thoughtful
I feel your pain (or at least discomfort). I have rec'd gifts around the holiday season from folks
I was not expecting them from and for whom I had nothing to give in exchange. In that situation all
you can do is offer cheerful and profuse thanks, and try not to dwell (as I have sometimes been
guilty of doing) on your own discomfort or embarrassment. Some people prepare for this eventuality
around the holidays by always having a few wrapped, all-purpose gifts handy (candy, candles, etc)
to give in ''emergencies.'' HOWEVER, your situation is slightly different in that people brought
gifts for your child, not for you. To a lot of people, holiday gift-giving is more about kids that
anyone else, and I'm sure the people you were dealing with took joy in picking out a little gift
for your child. For the family you visited, I would send a thank you note for both the dinner and
the gift. You could send a note to the family that visited you as well, but my sense is that
written thank yous are not as expected this time of year. And in the end, remember that people who
give gifts usually enjoy doing so, and hopefully are not doing it in the spirit of ''give one, get
I wouldn't worry about it. We like giving presents. People especially like getting presents for
little kids and babies. Your warmth and happiness probably shine through and that is what is
special about the holidays.
I am so glad you asked this question! We also are always surprised by gifts to our
kids during the holiday season. When we don't have gifts ready for *their* kids,
we feel guilty instead of happy.
Sometimes we see a lot of people on the holidays - how
can we get a gift for everyone and not go broke? And how can we know how
many gifts to get?
What about big holiday parties where children are coming?
We have a yearly tradition of
throwing a Christmas party for our friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
We spend a fair amount on food and drinks for the party. It is
our way of giving a gift to those we love. Many people bring a bottle of
wine or some candy. Some people bring a little gift
for our children instead; a small token, like a lollypop or matchbook car.
But sometimes it's a sizeable present. We feel badly that we didn't get
their children presents. But
also we have already spent so much on the party that presents
for all the kids that come just isn't feasible for us. Should we buy a lot of small token
presents to hand out? But won't that make people feel badly who didn't
bring us a present? We actually don't want presents - their
presence at our party is our present. Conversely, this year we were invited
to a number of work get-togethers, and many of the invitees came with presents for every
child including ours. Nice presents, not just tokens.
We felt like barbarians, not bringing presents. But I guess
next year we know!
I really truly appreciate the spirit behind thoughtful little gifts, and
I know that if you are invited to someone's house, it's polite to bring
a bottle of wine, or candy, or flowers, or some other little token.
A potluck should be just that - you bring a dish to share - no gifts expected.
But bringing a toy for every kid there
does often have the effect of making someone feel badly for not
reciprocating, instead of making them feel good about receiving a present. I
like the idea of exchanging presents with special people who know ahead of
time that an exchange will take place, and then otherwise sticking to standard
host presents for parties. That way no one feels guilty.
When I first saw this question I didn't have any strong feelings about
it and didn't answer--but I have to say something about this response:
'' Whenever I get invited to anyone's house during the entire month of
december or invite anyone to my house, I assume there will be a gift
exchange for the kids. ...
I did the same before I had a child but went to a household with kids in
December. I think this is pretty standard practice.'' I do not think
this is standard practice and certainly do not wish it to be! If a
holiday is dragged out over a month, what is the point?
I am sure this poster is just a very generous person but I want to tell
the original poster that they do not have to do the same! And you
gift-giving types could give us tightwads a heads-up when making plans
by saying ''We have a little present for Ichabod'' so we have a chance
to reciprocate for your little one.
I am wondering if there is a proper ''miss manners'' type of
protocol for the following dilemma. My ex-husband and I are
recently divorced and have 1 child. Each of us has siblings
with multiple children. In recent years we have collectively
decided to buy holiday gifts for the children, and we draw names
for the adult gift (so we each buy one adult gift). Now that we
are no longer together, should we each be buying gifts for each
of the children (there are 10 cousins between both sides) or is
it still appropriate to buy one gift for each child from
our ''family''. One concern is that neither of us has much money,
and we have definitely been struggling more to maintain separate
households than when we lived together (ah, the beauty of bay
area living!). Any thoughts from those who have experience with
this (on either end) would be greatly appreciated!
I am not in your situation, but with the gift-giving season fast
upon us, I can only think ''less is more, less is more.'' Having
said that, you and your ex-husband have a child who is a children
of both of your families. So a connection is still there that
should in some way be acknowledged and honored, I think. Perhaps
a gift from you and your child to the families in question like a
basket of goodies or homemade items or a gift certificate for the
whole family (if financially feasible) such as a family
membership to the zoo or Mocha or the science museum or such. It
would seem odd IMHO (though certainly not impossible) for you and
your ex to continue to draw names together to distribute to your
Well, my ex has two sisters with 5 kids between them and I have no
siblings (so there's no problem there!). What I have done in the
past is sent gifts to these children myself and let him do what he
wants. We weren't that close to negotiate a gift together. I have
drifted apart from his sisters, but would like to maintain a
relationship so my daughter will have a relationship with her
cousin's at some point. It's tricky, and I know what you mean
about the money. Maybe you could send something to the household
or just for the kids to share (a game, a video or some kind of art
project). I did a donation to the Heifer project one year for the
relatives (heifer.org). Honestly, I rarely got a response back
from the kids or the sisters, so I let it go a few years. But
thanks for reminding me! It's good to keep the connections.
Unless I'm missing something here, it seems obvious that you
should give gifts to your siblings and their children, and your
ex should give gifts to his siblings and their children. Both
of you should include your child's name on the card, but not
each other. Personally, I would find it very awkward to get a
gift from my sister's ex; they are split, we are no longer
family, why would he get me or my child a gift? I'm not
planning on giving him one. I guess the exception would be if
there was a long-standing personal relationship apart from the
marriage - like if my sister's ex and I went to high-school
together or something and I was still very close friends with
him. If that is your case, you should do for your ex's sibs the
same thing you would do for other similar friends with no family
I am not in your position but if any of my kids' aunts and uncles
wouldn't want them to get more gifts (and write more thank you notes)
bet your siblings feel the same way. I'm sure your nieces and nephews
need more gifts either. FWIW, I would still just send one gift from
and Uncle Joe''. And I would only include an ex-spouse in the
exchange if they will actually be visiting the in-laws' family.
this page was last updated: Nov 23, 2013
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