Social Gift Giving Guidelines For the Holiday Season

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift.
- Pierre Corneille

Last night I watched a toy commercial on television. It was about 10:15 p.m. and I was amused that a toy commercial was on so late at night. Then it occurred to me -- the holiday shopping season is upon us. Of course, this is not news to those of you who might have visited the mall after Thanksgiving. One of my friends (and you probably have a friend like this, too) already has her holiday shopping done, has wrapped all her gifts and has mailed all her holiday cards. Sigh.

For the rest of us, here are some helpful hints to navigate the gift-giving season.

Know Before You Go ~ The lure of the mall is a strong siren song. Before you go to the stores (or before you get on-line), write out a list of the people you are planning to buy for, some gift ideas and how much you are willing to spend. Then stick to your guns.

It Is The Thought That Counts ~ As in business, throwing money at a problem does not necessarily help the situation. In gift giving, throwing money into a gift does not make it a better present. Take the time to consider the receiver and what they would enjoy.

Be A Detective ~ Not sure what to give? Start paying attention. What does the person talk about? What do they do in his/her spare time? Ask his/her parents, children, spouse, friends, or roommates as to what is on the "wish list."

The Way To The Heart Is Through The Stomach ~ When in doubt, a food gift is always a good bet. Whether it is a box of fancy chocolates or a gift certificate to a health food store, everyone eats and is appreciative of good food.

Dollars To Doughnuts ~ The great debate as to whether or not money is an appropriate gift has been answered. A great gift is something that the person really wants. There are occasions when the person really wants cash. In those cases, money is completely appropriate and acceptable.

Appearances Do Count ~ Take the time to wrap the gift. Presentation is half the present. You don't need to be Martha to make a gift look great. Some Sunday comics and a bit of ribbon can do the trick.

In Case Of Emergencies, Have Extra ~ Never fail, someone who was not on your list has brought you a gift. You have two choices. Either you can sincerely thank the person and remember to add them to your list for next year. Or, you can have some extra gifts on hand. Scented candles, picture frames, or a box of candy all make good generic gifts.

And The Academy Award Goes To ~ No matter the gift, you should act as if you LOVE the present. Put a big smile on your face and tell the giver how much you like it.

Always Put It In Writing ~ Yes, thank you notes are necessary. If the person took the time to give you a gift, you should take the time to write (and mail) a thank you note.

Remember The Reasons ~ Whatever your beliefs, keep in mind that this time of year is more than materialism. Gifts are secondary. Enjoy the festivities with family and friends. The memories are what will endure long after the presents are forgotten.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Help!! I am stumped as to what to buy a close friend. He lives a very comfortable life. Whenever he wants something, he goes out and buys it. This leaves me in the position of trying to find the perfect gift for the guy who has everything.

A: I believe the old line is "something to put it all in." But all jokes aside, I have two suggestions for you. The first is to take the person out for a night the town. Pick up the tab for dinner and a show while enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. The other option is to make a donation in his honor to one of his favorite charities. (It does not count if you make a donation to your favorite charity!)

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ This year, my group of friends decided that instead of everyone buying each other a gift, that we would pick just one name out of a hat and buy a gift for just that person. I understand that this is a "cheaper /easier" option, but I enjoyed buying everyone gifts. I would go ahead a buy all of my friends gifts again this year, but I do not want to make them feel awkward. What can I do?

A: The time to speak up was before the decision was being made. (Hopefully you were included in the decision making process.) Now that names have been chosen out of a hat, stick with the rules of the game. (You can always do a bit extra on their birthdays!)

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ The siblings in my family traditionally buy a joint gift for our parents and the cost is divided equally. This year my financial situation has changed and my budget is much less that the "required amount." I do not want my siblings to think I am cheap, but I also do not want to max out my credit cards.

A: This can be a touchy situation, but you should never be coerced into spending money you do not have. Take the time to speak with the person coordinating the gift. Explain that the suggested amount is beyond your range and let them know what you are able to contribute. (Each according to their means...) You can also offer to help in other ways such as shopping for, or wrapping the gift.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Is it ok to recycle gifts?

A: If the gift has not been open or used and is in store-bought condition, it is perfectly acceptable to "re-gift" a present. Be sure that the original giver will not have to bear witness to the re-gifting!