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Another year is coming to a close and that means it’s gift-giving season. It’s not an official season, there’s no special date marked on your calendar, but there ARE a lot of occasions in November and December where gifts are being exchanged.

As you are filling your calendar with holiday gatherings and events, you’re likely also looking at what you might need to do before the party: buy gifts or prepare a dish to pass. Here are some tips as you determine what the proper etiquette is for gift-giving during the holidays.

When to bring a gift to a holiday gathering

No matter how many gatherings are on your calendar for the holiday season, chances are you’re not sure which ones gifts are expected at and which ones they aren’t necessary. Here are a few common scenarios and the expectations for gifts:

  • Small party hosted by a friend or family member. If you are close friends with the host and gatherings happen often, hostess gifts typically aren’t expected. Additionally, if you are meeting at a restaurant, a hostess gift isn’t expected. If you are attending a party at someone’s new home or they are paying for the entire meal (and have not asked people to bring a dish to pass), then it’s best to bring a small gift—flowers, wine or a potted plant are all great options.
  • Larger gatherings in a corporate or formal setting. In this case, a hostess gift is not expected, but that doesn’t mean you should forget to show your appreciation altogether. A small and sincere word of thanks can have a big impact—especially considering many hours of planning and preparation led to the event. After the event, consider sending an email (bonus points for a handwritten note) to the event organizers and hosts to let them know how much you appreciated their efforts and enjoyed the event.
  • Family gathering with your immediate family (siblings, parents, grandparents, grandchildren). In this case, you may already be exchanging gifts, so a hostess gift depends on the situation. If you are staying overnight or the host is footing most of the bill, consider bringing a specialty food item or holiday-themed gift paired with a thoughtful thank you note to show your appreciation.
  • Family gathering with extended family (cousins, aunts/uncles, etc.). Hosting a big group of people (especially with sometimes challenging family dynamics) takes a fair amount of planning and likely a little stress, too. Consider bringing a host/hostess holiday-themed gift or food.


How to give your gift at a holiday gathering

Now that you know which situations you should come prepared with a host/hostess gift, let’s talk about when and how to give them when you’re at the gathering.

  • When you arrive. If possible, this is the best action in most cases. It allows the host/hostess to greet you individually and you can share your gift and verbally express your thanks as well. This also gives the host the opportunity to put the gift away or set it out for display if they choose to do so.
  • Shortly after arriving. If you don’t see the host right away or they are busy when you arrive, try to connect with them soon after arriving to thank them for inviting you, as well as to give them your gift.
  • At the end of the gathering. Though not ideal, sometimes events and gatherings can get a bit chaotic, and you may not have had a chance to share your gift with the host until you are ready to depart. In that case, make an effort to go out of your way to find them before you leave to thank them for the invite, as well as to give them your gift.

Looking for more gift-giving and money etiquette tips? Check out our other money etiquette blog posts for other helpful tips.