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Gift-giving etiquette guide: the unwritten rules on gift giving

As the holiday season draws nearer, many of us are preparing our Christmas shopping lists.

Whatever holiday you may be celebrating this December, it is always an excellent time for goodwill. For many cultures, this is an opportunity to express their appreciation for others, and in many cases, this is done by giving them a well-thought-of gift. Unfortunately, the waters of gift-giving can be rather complicated to navigate, which inevitably leads to potentially awkward situations.

While giving a gift is mostly seen as an act of generosity and benevolence, it also comes with its own set of specific rules. The rules of etiquette for gift-giving are interpreted differently depending on the individual. But, if you wish to avoid any holiday gift-giving faux pas, below is a brief guide you can follow to holiday gifting:

1. Giving what you get

Gift exchange is common during the holidays, but it is worth noting that this is not mandatory. That said, there is no need to find ways to work your Christmas shopping budget into your monthly financial plan for the holidays. In most cases, people give gifts without really expecting in return. The gift is seen as a gesture of generosity and goodwill. As a thoughtful gesture, guests may give a party host a box of homemade cookies or something similar that they made by hand.

However, if you would like to exchange gifts, keep a small assortment of inexpensive and generic gifts ready in your homes. These items can include scented candles, holiday ornaments, or holiday treats and sweets.

2. Gifting when short on funds

If you are short of funds this holiday season, you may be concerned that you will be unable to buy as many gifts as you would like. In other cases, you may be conscious about the gifts you will buy and give. However, there is no need to break out your banks in the name of generosity and goodwill. A family member may be eyeing the new Timex R4 series watch, which is a little out of your budget at the moment. No need to fret; just explain to family and friends that extravagant gifts are beyond your budget this year. They will certainly understand and may even feel some relief because the expectations of high-value gift-giving will be lowered.

3. Value of exchanged gifts

Many people feel compelled to give gifts of similar value to gifts received. However, you should always aim to spend the amount that you are comfortable with, not the amount you feel the other person has spent on yours. Bear in mind that the spirit of gift-giving is kindness, generosity, and goodwill. That said, most people are not too concerned with the monetary value of a gift. As the saying goes, “It is the thought that counts.” Assessing the price tag of a gift received reduces the act of giving gifts to its monetary value, which is not what the act nor the holidays should represent. So long as you have given some thought as to what the recipient would like, the monetary value of a gift is irrelevant.

4. Be culturally aware

With so many cultures in the world, it can be quite difficult to keep track of how they celebrate the holiday season. However, if you are giving gifts to someone from another culture, be sure that you have a thorough understanding of their traditions and norms to avoid offending or embarrassing them.

5. Gifs for everyone

Another dilemma that is commonly associated with gift-giving is feeling compelled to give a gift to everyone within a specific friend group or segment in your life. This gift-gift conundrum typically arises when you intend to gift one person within that group. Generally, you do not have to feel obligated to give gifts to everyone in a particular group. However, if you wish to give just one person in that group, do so discreetly to avoid making others feel excluded.


The act of giving and receiving gifts can say a lot about us as individuals. While certain awkward moments are inevitable, they can easily be avoided by having an understanding of the experiences. As said above, giving gifts is not a mandatory activity. Many people do it to show their appreciation to you. That said, a simple spoken word of gratitude in return is all that is required.

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