The Social Rules of Holiday Gift-Giving

One major clue that it’s holiday time? The mall is packed. Head there now and you’ll probably find yourself in a sea of shoppers. Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid the chaos and shop online. But even without the crowds, picking out holiday gifts can still be stressful, especially if you’re choosing gifts for your friends.

You may be worried about choosing the perfect gift. But when it comes to gift-giving, selection is only one potential problem. You’ve also got to be careful about the cost of the gift, who you choose as a recipient, and what you’re expecting in return. Otherwise, a nice gesture can turn into a majorly awkward social situation.

It’s important to remember that gifts are not the point of the holiday season. You do not need to give presents in order to impress your friends. It is far more important that you treat them with kindness and gratitude. But if you find yourself swept up in the holiday spirit, and wanting to pass out presents, here are some guidelines you should follow:

Stick to your Closest Friends: Buying gifts for certain friends, while neglecting others, can lead to hurt feelings. That’s why you need to think carefully about the number of gifts you plan to give. Fewer is usually better. The more gifts you give, the more likely you are to overlook someone. Plus, trying to gift everyone in your social circle can cause unnecessary stress (for you, and your wallet). Consider limiting the gift giving to your absolute closest friends. It may even be a good idea to suggest a “secret santa” exchange with your squad. Lots of friend groups choose to do this because it saves time and money, and ensures that no one gets left out!

Try to be Subtle: It’s probably not the best idea to exchange your gifts somewhere crowded, like the cafeteria. If a lot of people see you giving out gifts, you run the risk of making someone feel left out. That can cause drama, and create rifts in your social circle. Try to find a time to exchange gifts one-on-one. It might be a little trickier to arrange, but it will be worth it to avoid any hurt feelings.

Aim for Personalization: Whenever you’re buying a gift, you should consider the recipient’s interests and personality. Just because you like something, doesn’t mean they will like it too. You may love reading comic books, but if your friend does not, a comic book would not be an appropriate gift. Try making a list of your friend’s favorite activities and interests. You probably shouldn’t commit to a gift, unless it relates to something on your list.

Don’t Overspend: Remember, a great gift doesn’t have to be expensive. Sometimes, homemade gifts are more meaningful than big, fancy purchases. Besides, if you spend too much money, and your friend can’t reciprocate, they may feel embarrassed or guilty. So, don’t go overboard. Focus on finding a gift that shows how much you know about your friend, instead of how much money you have. Maybe you could choose a book you think they’d love, or burn a CD of songs by their favorite bands. The phrase “it’s the thought that counts” may be cliché, but when it comes to choosing a holiday gift, it definitely holds true.

Focus on Giving (Not Getting): The point of giving a gift is to show someone they matter, and you are thinking of them. You shouldn’t give a gift just to get a gift in return. Keep in mind that if the present is a surprise, your friend may not be prepared to give you anything back. They should not have to feel bad about this. And if they give you a gift, and you just don’t like it? You still shouldn’t make them feel bad. You still have to be polite and say “thank you.” If you have a friend who cares about you, listens to you, and makes you feel important, you’re lucky. You shouldn’t risk losing them, just because you got a disappointing gift.

The holidays can be a crazy time, and can cause all kinds of stress. When it comes to gift-giving, you shouldn’t have to feel overwhelmed or worried. Keep things simple. Don’t look for presents that will break the bank, and don’t feel obligated to gift every person in your social circle. And remember, while gift-giving can make the holiday season feel a little more special, it is not necessary. It may even be a better idea to forget about shopping, and spend time with your friends instead! Focus on being a supportive, appreciative, and caring friend. That’s really the best give you can give!

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Adriana Miano