How to pare down your holiday gift list without ruffling feathers

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Christmas is one of the most hectic times of the year. There is a lot of pressure, with all the planning, parties, food and gifts involved. Not to mention the traveling and temperamental weather conditions. It’s no wonder it causes so much stress among family members. Gift giving is a big stressor, as you have to figure out who to buy for, how much to spend, and what to get each individual person. If you have a large family, or work for a large company, gift giving can be overwhelming! To help with the anxiety and chaos of the gift giving season, here are some rules of etiquette to follow when buying and giving presents.

So, when it comes to gift giving, who can you skip, and who should you definitely keep on your holiday shopping list?


First things first, find out if your office or company is the gift giving sort. There’s no reason to stress yourself out unnecessarily. If it’s not, you’re off the hook. If they are, don’t panic. Find out the boundaries of your office. In some places, managers and higher-ups are off limits for gifts because of ethical dilemmas. Once you know the limits, stick to gifts that are professional, but personable for the receiver. Check to see if there’s a spending limit, as well. For those who you shouldn’t buy gifts for (a boss, or the boss’ boss), a card with a thoughtful note inside or homemade cookies will be sufficient.

Family Members

As a general rule of thumb, all immediate family should be included in the gift giving. If you come from a large family, there are some suggestions to keep the spending and exchanges under control. For instance, you could do a white elephant exchange or draw names from a hat. That way everyone receives something and you don’t have to buy for every individual person. When it comes to in-laws, just the father and mother-in-law is enough, in most cases. Only you know your family, but don’t be afraid to speak up and suggest an alternative to excessive gift giving. More than likely, they’ll be relieved that they weren’t the only ones thinking it.


Of course, this depends on how close you are with the person and how long you’ve been friends. The gifts can range anywhere from a nice gift card to her favorite scented candle to tickets to his favorite team’s game to an adventure together. It can sometimes be more fun to go on a spa outing with your girlfriends or out for dinner with the guys in lieu of individual presents. If you do want to get gifts for your friends, it may be best to give them out when you’re alone with the recipient. This avoids comparison and hurt feelings.


These people work tirelessly for you probably year round. Extend the holiday cheer to them and give them a gift card, homemade cookies, or a nice spa set. Go even further and have your child write them a card to express their gratitude for that teacher/babysitter/etc.

Avoid these things when gift giving

  • Serial re-gifting: his can lead to bad blood between loved ones. The giver will feel like you don’t appreciate their thoughtfulness, and the new receiver will think you didn’t care enough to find something personal to them. Exercise caution before re-gifting something. Remember Christmas is not the time to clean out your house of unwanted items.
  • Don’t buy something for a child that their parents wouldn’t for them. Respect the parent’s rules and stipulations about gifts. Don’t try to be the “cool” relative just to win the kid’s favor. It’s not worth the hostility that may arise. Christmas should be a happy occasion, not angry.
  • Don’t buy gifts for half of your staff or half of your office mates. Again, Christmas is not the season to start a war or animosity among employees. It’s best to get the same type of gift for everyone, so that no one is snubbed or left out. Gift cards are an excellent choice, and if you want, you can vary at which place the gift cards can be redeemed.
  • Giving your boss an over-the-top present: Don’t kiss up to your boss with an outrageous gift. It can be misconstrued as trying to buy their affection or manipulating them to give you a raise. If that is not misconstrued, but your actual plan, it is in poor taste and should not be attempted. A nice card and a homemade treat is plenty. Or you can go in with your other coworkers to buy something from all of you.
  • Giving a hostess flowers: Sure, this seems like a thoughtful gesture. But in reality, the frenzied hostess will have to run around and find a vase and a spot to put the flowers right away. She will have enough on her mind. Instead, offer a candle or a bottle of wine. Classics are classic for a reason.

Kaitlyn is a graduate from Lee University and is a staff editor for R.H. Boyd Publishing. She enjoys travel, books and penguins. When she's not working, she dreams of seeing the world.