Ladylike Laws: Holiday Gift Giving Etiquette


Gift giving can be a sticky subject. How much should you spend? Do you give your boss a present? Is re-gifting okay? How do you handle unexpected gifts? These are common questions many of us may find ourselves asking each holiday season. Fortunately, there are some clear-cut rules when it comes to giving gifts…

How much should I spend?
First off, forget stressing over giving people things that have the same monetary value of what they gave you. Instead, figure out the nicest thing you can afford within your means. The best way to figure this out is to make a list of everyone you want to give a gift to. Then determine how much you can (not want) to spend on each person. Having a budget will keep your holiday spending in perspective. Gift giving is about being thoughtful and showing appreciation, it’s not about going into debt.

Who should I give gifts to?
Give presents to the people you want to show your appreciation to such as family and close friends. If you are part of a big group and don’t want to leave anyone out, arrange a gift exchange or plan a Secret Santa with a price point that works for everyone ($10 to $25 is most appropriate). As for people who celebrate different holidays, it’s totally okay to give them a present so long as it isn’t anything religious.

What’s the present protocol for work?
According to co-author of the 18th Edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette, Lizzie Post, the one person you really shouldn’t give a gift to is your boss. “When you’re in a work environment and there is a team of people working together, if you give your boss a gift it can often come across as trying to buy good favor.” However if you work at a company with 10 people and want to give something to your boss, Post suggests making it a group effort. That way it doesn’t come across as though you’re fishing for brownie points. If you happen to be close friends with your boss, keep it personal and give him or her a gift outside of the office. As for co-workers, Post says to “tread carefully.” While there will inevitably be people you are close to, try not to show favoritism. If you have a personal relationship with someone outside the office, Post advises to give him or her a gift somewhere other than work. Otherwise, if you give one person a card, give everyone a card. Another idea is to bring in a treat for the entire office to share (Check out my Recipe Box for ideas!). Communal gifts that can be shared are ideal.

To re-gift or not to re-gift?
Opt for not. Not only is re-gifting dishonest, you will most likely get caught (or be paranoid about getting caught). Re-gifting entirely defeats the purpose of gift giving. Gifts are meant to be a reflection of your gratitude for someone–something that has been thoughtfully selected by you for someone you care about. Re-gifting is both thoughtless and wrong. If you’re strapped for cash, make the gift instead. DIY gifts are from the heart and the recipient will surely appreciate it far more than a random store-bought present.

How do I handle unexpected gifts?
If someone gives you a present out of the blue, you are not required to reciprocate. Instead of scrambling for an excuse as to why you do not have a gift for them, graciously accept the gift and say thank you. Stammering for an explanation will only make things worse. And besides, you shouldn’t feel compelled to give just because you received.

Are gift cards and gift receipts okay?
Yes! Gift cards are actually very thoughtful since you need to consider the recipient’s interests. And it’s much better than giving someone cash, which many consider gauche. As for gift receipts, it’s always a good idea to include them. It tells the recipient you understand if they don’t like the gift and it’s okay for them to return it in exchange for something they really love.

I hope you found today’s Ladylike Laws post helpful! I’ll be posting a follow up blog about the major no-no gifts next week.

What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever received?

XO Lauren

Photo: Neiman Marcus Holiday Book 2011

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Categories: Etiquette, Holiday Specials, Ladylike Laws
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  • Melissa Panici

    Thank you so much for these tips Lauren! So helpful:) To be completely honest with you, I don’t ever remember receiving a strange gift. At least I can’t think of any right now! lol

  • Anna James

    All amazing tips. Thanks, Lauren. The weirdest gift I ever got was from one of my Grandma’s friends. It was a statue that I’m sure is famous, but to me it was just an odd little naked man that I had no idea what to do with. Needless to say, I donated it. lol. Check out my post today. It’s a new trend report. XO

  • Lauren Hoffman

    Awesome tips Lauren! I can’t really think of any strange gifts, I’m always pretty clear with my wish lists! We have tons of Christmas gift ideas for everyone on our blog- moms, dads, boyfriends, siblings and this friday we’ll cover friends!

    It’s also time to start thinking about NYE, I have the perfect list of clutches here…


  • Sarah Heckle

    These are good tips! I’m relying on DIY gifts this year, which take a bit more time, but the effort is worth it :)


  • Stacie Grissom

    I am working on some DIY gifts this year as well! :)

    Like these DIY bows— perfect for headbands, present toppers, broaches, and purse accessories. :)

  • Ashley Dodge

    Great tips- especially the one about unexpected presents! I love making DIY gifts- each year I try to make my mom a hand towel, because my hobby is crosstitching!

  • Shellz

    I love giving Gift cards … it saves you the hustle of trying to figure out what someone REALLy wants…If anyone is interested in some freebies pls check out my current Giveaway :

  • Jennifer Jupiter

    the president of our company is my bf (btw, i started at the top, i didnt sleep my way there) so it would be strange if i didnt get him a gift. the strangest thing i ever got was a family size bag of doritos. & im not even that hard to buy for. the gift i hate getting most all though is candles. my god, in my 40+ yrs on this earth ive probably received 100’s of candles from well meaning friends. seriously, enough w/ the damn candles. i know its the thought that counts, but im allergic to most artificial scents & im fairly certain ive never burned an actual candle in my life. which all my friends know, but it seems to be the “”go to”” gift. candles shaped like snowmen, gingerbread men, candles that smell like birthday cake or cucumber melon, candles that sound like a fire crackling when they are burning, candles in jars, in votives……….they all end up going to good will.

  • Lily Martin

    Hi, Lauren-

    Thank you for the helpful tips! My boyfriend’s mom invited me to their house for New Year’s Eve. It is a small gathering with close family and friends, and I don’t think gifts are usually exchanged, but I would like to get her something as a sign of appreciation for her hospitality. What is your advice in this situation? Or does anyone else reading this blog have any suggestions? xo

  • Tiffani Stuart

    Thanks, Lauren!!! I love the Ladylike Laws– You totally need to write a book. I got my Emily Post 18th Edition Etiquette book… it’s HUGE!! I think I need to put something on the other end of my coffee table to balance it out! ha ha! Thanks for the holiday tips! Especially about giving at work! I’ve been determining what to do in that situation, so it was pretty helpful!

  • Tiffani Stuart

    PS- My weirdest gift has got to be a package of Doublestuffed Oreos… that my mother wrapped and put under the tree… so weird. ha ha. I’m not even a huge fan of sandwich cookies & am always trying to lose weight, so I have no idea why she would think that would make a good gift for me.

  • Janine B.


    These are great tips! I am always confused about things like this…I also really loved your last post about what to get for girls for Christmas. I just ordered the mugs from anthropology! Thank you for the advice:)

  • Jessica Whitmire

    I always keep a couple $10-15 gifts gender specific in the car during the Holidays just in case I slip and forget a gift or someone brings along a friend to a family event that might get left out. My brothers and cousins will up and bring there newest girlfriend and I always like to have something that they can open. Last Christmas I received a pair of earrings. What made this gift unusual…..they were my old earrings from high school. My high school flame who is still a close friend of mine found that them and thought they would make a good gift. So sweet of him, but a funny gift to receive.

  • Kimmy S

    I love these posts!So incredibly helpful too : )

    The strangest gift I ever got was from my grandma…with her old age she’s gotten a little zany (bless her heart) and last year she gave me a little girl makeup kit (and I was 23 years old!). I didn’t take offense, I know she’s old, but let me tell you… it was very strange!

  • Tiffani Stuart

    @ JENNIFER JUPITER– I completely agree!! I HATE getting candles for “”holiday/occasion”” gifts… If it’s a “”thinking of you”” type of thing or “”Thanks for your hospitality”” type of thing or if you don’t know someone well, then they’re awesome…

    For holidays or my birthday, getting candles or lotion sets (like Bath & Bodyworks gift sets) is a little thoughtless, in my opinion, and even more thoughtless if it’s a trendy scent like Cucumber-anything. The important thing to know is the person you’re purchasing a gift for. If you’re close w/someone, you shouldn’t be buying them those things for Christmas. Gift Cards are cool, but also a little impersonal, in my opinion.

  • Danielle Marie {Envision Pretty}

    I think every girl needs to read these ladylike laws! Nothing is worse than someone who doesnt know gift giving faux pas! Especially if you are one recieving end :)

    Whats your opinion on Black Christmas Trees? Are they a do or a dont this year? Check out my post!

  • Afton Williams

    Nice tips and very helpful info! Weirdest gift was definitely a PedEgg from my boyfriend’s Aunt. Ummm my feet are always pedicured! Wtf haha

  • aviana wyall

    i got a jar of pickles, and i dont even like pickles… :)

  • Kellie Norton

    Such great tips :) The weirdest gift I ever received was from my grandmother. She gave me a shirt with a huge Golden Retreiver on it… I’ve never even had a Golden Retreiver as a dog, so it was pretty humorous. Gotta love the gmaws :)

  • Sarah Fagan

    Apparently grandmoms give the strangest gifts because mine gave me a candy bra! It was like made of candy necklace type candy…So weird!!! I didnt open it in front of her so I was free to crack up laughing when I saw it!

  • Lupsie

    Great post! Sometimes I’m so stumped during Christmas time about gift-giving. With the gift receipts, I usually attach them with a quirky tack to the price tag so that they can’t lose it!

  • Tiffani Stuart

    I’m coming to the solid conclusion that food should only be given as a “”family”” gift… Gift Popcorn tins w/the tri-flavored selections, cookies (Which should always be homemade or gourmet… just my opinion), and those lovely meat, cheese & nut trays… Food should not be wrapped & given to an individual under the tree, lol.

  • Maureen Feltz

    The strangest gift I ever received was actually for my wedding: a college roommate of mine got my husband and I two snowglobes that played “”hear comes the bride”” and some other tacky song. But I can’t even ship them off to a thrift store because they have our names and anniversary monogrammed on them! Agh! They’re in boxes in the basement :)

  • Janelle McNeal

    my strange present was a pair of socks. I put on a brave face and said thanks i love it! -__-

  • Elisee prummel

    I love this tips,
    I’m really looking forward to the holiday and all those great Christmas gifts!

  • Helene Sula

    Yes I love and need this! thanks so much!

    Helene in Between

  • Sarah Ti

    Strangest gift I ever received was a bungee jump package. But it was also one of the best. It took all my courage to finally do it but was so glad I did. Amazing! FreemanX GiftsExperience Gifts & Activities across Oz and NZ

  • Indulgent Foodie

    Hi Lauren, great post!

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