Gift-Giving Etiquette This Holiday Season

It is hard to believe that the holiday season is here. Many of us head to the stores as soon as we see the sales and commercials, hoping to take advantage of the best bargains. Our focus seems to have drifted from the real reason for the season. Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa become secondary and shopping becomes primary. Sometimes we even spend more money on ourselves than gifts for others, which should not be the case.

The above holidays all focus, to some extent, on love and family. We give gifts to those to whom we are close to or who have helped us throughout the year. The rules of etiquette are about the way we treat others not how we are treated. The same can be said of holiday gift-giving. As we try to return to the real meaning of the upcoming holidays, I wanted to offer a brief explanation that I believe can help us as we shop.


Hanukkah is celebrated Dec. 12 through Dec. 20 this year. It commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. According to legend, the Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. The festival of Hanukkah was instituted to celebrate this eight-day event. Traditionally gifts were not given but that was added later. Gifts are given on each of the eight days with a different significance.


Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 each year. This day commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ who, in the Christian faith is the Savior and the Son of God. On the day that Christ was born, the Wise Men traveled to His birthplace bringing gifts of Frankincense, gold and Myrrh. These meaningful gifts signified that people would worship Jesus. Today, we give gifts in remembrance of the original gifts given. It is also a reminder for Christians of God’s gift. It is a birthday celebration for Jesus for which meaningful gifts should still be given.


Kwanzaa is celebrated Dec. 26, 2017 through Jan. 8, 2018. It is a celebration of “first fruits,” which is Swahili translation. Although each family celebrates differently, it often includes song, dance, storytelling and a large traditional meal. There are seven days of celebration and gifts are given on the seventh day. Meaningful gifts to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement and success are given. Gifts for children promote or reward accomplishments. Traditionally, handmade and creative gifts are given to avoid the demands of shopping.

Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, you will probably buy gifts to show your love and appreciation for others during this season of giving. As we search for the perfect gifts, I share the following tips to make your shopping more joyful and less stressful:

Make a list

Take the time before shopping to make a comprehensive list including every person/organization you want to buy a gift for. This will save time and help you to concentrate on your task.

Appreciation gifts

Make sure your list includes your postman, hairdresser, sanitation workers and others who provide services to you throughout the year. This is the time to let them know how much you appreciate them.

Bosses and coworkers

Sometimes companies purchase group gifts for bosses or have grab bag gifts for employees. If you purchase individual gifts, make sure they are not too extravagant and not too personal. A gift card works well in these situations.

Make the gift meaningful

Think about each person individually. Their favorite color, store, clothing sizes, etc., will all make your job easier. A modest gift that the person will use is appreciated more than an extravagant gift that will be placed in a closet.

Make the gift appropriate

Gifts should be age appropriate and in good taste. When buying gifts for children, check with their parents for guidelines and ideas.

Gift receipts

Make sure to enclose gift receipts for all purchases. This way, if the gift does not fit or the recipient wants to exchange it for any reason, they will have a receipt. Without the gift receipt, most stores will give store credit, which may be a lower retail price after Christmas.

Don’t break the bank

Nothing is more depressing than debt after the holidays. Again, a small meaningful gift is usually appreciated more that an expensive, useless gift.

While shopping this year, do all that you can to make it fun. Enjoy this time of searching for the perfect gift for those you care about as it should be a time that fills your heart with joy. The best part is the look on someone’s face when they open their perfect gift that you found for them. Happy shopping!

Linda J. Williams, M.Ed. is a certified etiquette consultant.

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Linda Williams
Linda J. Williams, M.Ed. is a certified etiquette consultant.

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