Manners & Misdemeanors

A Modern Guide to Gift Giving Etiquette

The rules about re-gifting might surprise you.

The holidays are stressful enough without having to worry if you've offended someone by tucking a gift card into their stocking. Here, etiquette expert Myka Meier shares her top tips for the season of giving.

Are hostess gifts always required? What about if the invitation specifically says not to bring a gift?

"You should always bring a gift to someone’s home. The host may say, “Don’t bring anything” but they won’t refuse your lovely gesture once you arrive. A hostess gift can be a small token such as a candle, festive cocktail napkins, or even a home-baked good."

What is the proper etiquette around gift-giving at the office?

"One nice gesture for large office environments is to bring in baked goods, or something for the entire office to enjoy. Your office may choose to participate in a Secret Santa-style gifting, which would ensure that everyone gets a holiday gift, and each person is only responsible for one. If you choose to give gifts to some people at the office, and not everyone, make sure that it’s done privately so that you do not hurt anyone’s feelings. If you receive a gift, make sure you send a thank you note."

How long do you have to send a thank you note?

"A thank you note for a gift should go out within a week of the day you received it. If you forget, however, always better late than never. To determine if you should send a handwritten thank-you note or an email, I recommend matching the formality of the gift you received to the form of thanks you send. For instance, if someone brings in baked goods for the office, then an email thank you is appropriate. However, if you are given a personalized gift, to reciprocate the thought of that gift, I would send a handwritten thank you note."


What should you do when someone gives you a gift and you don’t have anything for them in return?

"In this situation, you shouldn’t draw attention to the fact that you don’t have a gift for them, and instead focus on showing gratitude to the person who has gifted you. You can always send a gift at a later date if you felt the need or desire to."

If someone gives expensive or over-the-top gifts, are you required to reciprocate?

"The most important thing about a gift is the thought that goes into it. A photo that is in a frame and beautifully wrapped, or even something you made, can be a great option that may not cost a lot of money but does show a lot of thought. A great gift is simply one that evokes positive emotion."

If someone is staying with you over the holidays, who you might not normally give a gift to, should you give them one?

"I would always recommend giving a gift to someone who is staying with you over the holidays. Chances are they will have one for you, but it’s also a thoughtful gesture during the festive season."

Is it ever okay to give cash? What about a homemade gift?

"Instead of cash, a gift card is a more tactful way to give a monetary gift. A homemade gift can be one of the best gifts someone may receive, as it can be both thoughtful and personal."


Is re-gifting ever appropriate?

"If re-gifting is ever discovered it could cause the person who gave it to you to be offended and hurt, and therefore I would not recommend it. If you do decide to re-gift an item because for instance you received a duplicate gift and you know someone who would love it, make sure it’s in its original packaging and is not personalized in any way."

What are some major etiquette mistakes people make involving gift giving?

"Not presenting a gift in the right way. You always want to make sure a gift is nicely wrapped, placed in a gift bag with tissue, or has a ribbon wrapped around it. It should also include a card or gift tag, and a gift receipt if appropriate.

One other thing to note: if you’re not sure of someone’s size, you should not give a gift that is size dependent."

*This story originally appeared on
*Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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Caroline Hallemann
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