There’s the Christmas gift that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And then there were the other Christmas gifts that made you feel awkward (reindeer underwear from you co-worker), on-the-spot (expensive jewelry from someone you were casually dating) and self-conscious (skin-clearing make-up from your friend… what’s that supposed to mean?), not to mention a complete and total fake (pretending that you absolutely LOVE the lobster-shaped dinner plate from your well-meaning aunt and uncle).
This holiday season, don’t be the person who gives gifts that makes other people feel awkward. Here are 7 strategies to avoid gift-giving awkwardness, emotional burdens and unintentional insults.
1. Have a few generic Christmas presents prepared.. just in case. Your long-distance relative or friend who is never in town happens to pop up in your neighborhood for the holidays and presents you a lavish, thoughtful gift from afar. If you happen to have a few generic crowd-pleasing gifts stored in your closet (a box of Godiva chocolate, a nice teabag set, etc.), you can avoid the awkwardness of non-reciprocity by having the ability to give something back in return. Even the gift exchange is not equal in monetary value, at least you can give back as a heartfelt gesture of appreciation.
2. Make sure your re-gifting won’t get discovered by the original gifter. There is absolutely nothing wrong with re-gifting, so long as the re-gifting occurs in a completely separate social circle and there is absolutely no chance that the original gifter will find out. Avoid the awkwardness and confusion of having to explain to your best friend why the cute scarf she got you last Christmas is now being worn by your next-door neighbor’s daughter at a future gathering.
3. Avoid giving unwrapped presents. At least put it in a box or a bag. Unwrapped presents look like you picked it up from the store on the way to seeing the person you are giving the gift to. Along with the actual gift, you are giving the person the sensory pleasure of unwrapping or unboxing an unknown gift. If you are against buying new giftwrap for environmental reasons, there are many creative ways to wrap a gift without harming the planet: newspapers, secondhand scarves, old boxes, recycled fabric, and so on.
4. Don’t go too overboard. Buying something that is too lavish or expensive may make the recipient feel burdened or uncomfortable, instead of overjoyed. Expensive jewelry might be appropriate for a loved one you’ve known for a few decades, but maybe not so much for someone you’ve been dating for a few weeks. Buying personalized coffee mugs for all your co-workers at your new job might not be the best idea, either.
5. Be careful when giving presents related to self-improvement. Your fitness-nut dad might love getting a gym membership for Christmas, but the same might not be said for your best friend who is super-conscious about her weight. Make sure your gift won’t come across as an unintentional insult if you are giving a recipe book of low-fat food, skin-clearing kits, body perfume or a self-help book on overcoming social awkwardness.
6. Be sensitive to people affected by the recession. Someone you know may be negatively affected by the recession and be unemployed, thus having little to no money to spend on gifts. If it’s not a touchy issue between you and the other person, you can vow to have no gift exchanges this year, and instead spend time on a fun activity like going ice-skating or touring the neighborhood to admire the Christmas lights.
7. Schedule a time after Christmas and before New Year’s to send out your thank-you cards. Make a conscious effort to get your thank-you cards sent in a timely manner. You’re going to forget after New Year’s, and nothing says awkward like receiving a thank you note in April 2010 for a gift given in 2009.