Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Gift-Giving Etiquette from Anna Post

Recently I was able to meet Anna Post. Naturally our conversation turned to the similar philosophies of etiquette, entertaining, and creating traditions. I am honored that she accepted my request to write a guest post for Table Talk about holiday etiquette. Her advice is both contemporary and timeless. Thank you Anna.  

Compliments of the
Emily Post Institute
It was my pleasure to recently visit Seattle for the first time while there to promote my new book, “Emily Post’s Etiquette, 18th Edition.” One of the highlights was a trip to Rosanna, Inc. and the wonderful opportunity to sit down with owner Rosanna Bowles. Rosanna was kind enough to show me her world—and I found our opinions on entertaining, traditions and kindness to be very much in tandem. Rosanna’s beautiful creations represent easy elegance, entertaining for the pleasure of bringing people together and the values of tradition. These are also the goals of etiquette.

Rosanna asked me to share with you, her readers, what interests people most at this time of year. Not surprisingly, I hear lots of questions about gift-giving etiquette, so compiled here are some of the most popular—which I hope will help you enjoy your holiday season.

Should I bring a hostess gift to a holiday cocktail party? What would be an appropriate gift?

Hostess gifts are totally optional for a cocktail party. A bottle of wine or a batch of blueberry muffins for the next morning are both appropriate. You might also get in the festive spirit of the event and select a holiday goodie or an ornament for your host. Always enclose a small signed gift card as your hostess will want to know who brought the gift and may not have time to receive it from you—much less open it—at the party.

Rosanna's French Perfume decoupage
make beautiful hostess gifts

Should I bring a hostess gift to a dinner party?

Yes. But keep it simple. Anything that distracts your hostess from the tasks at hand may be a nuisance. Food or flowers that need to be tended to are not the best options. A candle or soaps and a soap dish, a small potted plant or flowers already arranged in a vase, are better bets. Wines or chocolates are also nice, though don’t be surprised or offended if your host saves them to enjoy later, as he or she may already have their menu for the evening planned. Overall, keep it uncomplicated and under $20, and base your selection on your host’s taste.

Is it necessary to write thank-you notes to family members?

If you’ve sincerely thanked someone in person for a gift, a thank-you note isn’t obligatory. But, it’s never wrong to write a thank-you note. If you receive gifts from friends or family that you won’t see to thank in person, write them a thank-you note—both to let them know their gift arrived and that you appreciated it. Keep thank-you notes or personalized stationery and stamps on hand to make it easy to check them off your list.

Since I'm single, my brother and his wife only give me one gift, but I buy one for each of them as well as gifts for their two children. It's a bit much for my budget. Would it be inappropriate if I gave them just one house or family gift?

Not at all. Tell your brother and sister-in-law that your affection for them remains the same, but you're planning to adjust your gift giving this year. A house or family gift is a great idea. Other suggestions: some families adopt a “kids only” present policy; or, they draw names out of a hat so that each person concentrates on buying only one gift for one person. Discuss your ideas in advance—they may even welcome the news. And there’s more to the holiday season than gifts. Spending time with your brother’s family instead of showering them with gifts may be just as enjoyable for all involved.

I have a friend who's unemployed. I don't expect or want her to spend money on a gift for me, but should I buy a gift for her? I don't want to make her feel guilty.

If this is someone that you usually exchange gifts with, she’ll probably welcome a gift hiatus this year. It may be uncomfortable for her to discuss her financial situation, so you may want to bring it up yourself. Suggest an afternoon or lunch outing—on you—instead of the traditional gift swap. Of course, there’s no rule that friends must exchange gifts of equal value, so your friend may opt to continue the tradition—with homemade or less expensive presents.

Every year I get at least one party invite that asks guests to dress “festive”. What does that mean? Would it be rude to call the hostess to ask?

"Festive dress" usually means dressy with a nod to whatever holiday you are celebrating: something a little more fun than what you’d wear to work, something not quite as fancy as what you’d wear to a black tie event. Bring in the holiday element with color or something shiny or sparkly. It’s certainly fine to call the hostess and ask her intentions, too. Who knows? Maybe she’s thinking Santa hats and elf shoes. . .

For more on party attire, visit the Emily Post web site.

If you've only been dating someone a short while, how do you decide how extravagant to be with your holiday gift?

The amount you spend on the gift should be based on your affection for the person and your budget, as well as the seriousness of your relationship. Anything too expensive or extravagant would probably be awkward at this point. Don’t let something like a holiday gift get in the way of a new relationship. There’s no downside to keeping things simple. Think little things for the kitchen or house, something to do together like games or outdoor equipment, or even tickets to an event or dinner out.

Should I give a seasonal gift to the mail carrier?

It’s a nice gesture. The U.S. Postal Service has rules about holiday gifts, though: No cash and the value of the gift can’t exceed $20. Also, be sure to enclose a thank-you note and say something like, “Thanks for all you do throughout the year.” It’s okay if you don’t know their name.

For more information on holiday gifts and tips for service providers visit the Emily Post web site.


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