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The 5 etiquette rules of Christmas gifting

You give someone a Christmas gift, they love it, job done. If only it were that simple. From when to take a gift to how much to spend, Christmas present buying can be fraught with etiquette dilemmas. Thankfully, renowned etiquette expert Paul Russell is on hand to tell us the 5 etiquette rules of Christmas gifting.


A surprise gift isn’t always the best gift.

There’s a tendency to believe that the best gift is a surprise gift. And so, in pursuit of this surprise gift, we avoid asking people what they want and instead we guess. Yet a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that gift recipients are more appreciative of gifts they explicitly request than those they do not. Is asking someone what they want as a gift poor form? Not so, according to etiquette expert Paul Russell: “The reason we feel awkward when someone asks what we would like as a gift is because we are taught as children that it is rude to ask for things. It goes against the childhood manners that were ingrained into us. But actually, there is no etiquette rule that says you shouldn’t ask someone what they would like as a gift.” If you simply can’t bring yourself to ask though, send them the What Present Are You Christmas quiz instead as a way to start the conversation. 


Show your appreciation with a thank you gift.

With so many events happening at Christmas time, how do you know which ones require a gift and which ones don’t? It’s appropriate to take a small gift to most sit down Christmas events, like Christmas lunch or dinner, says Paul: “The idea of a thank you gift is to show your appreciation to the host. It doesn’t need to be a huge gift, up to £25 in value is about right. If you’ve been invited to another Christmas event and you’re unsure whether gifts will be exchanged, contact the host beforehand to ask. You wouldn’t normally be expected to take a gift to a drinks party, but a small token is always appreciated.” Town & City Gift Cards are available from just £5, and make ideal host gifts. 

Make it thoughtful.

Everyone wants that ‘wow’ moment when someone opens their gift and their eyes light up. But can gift cards really be a thoughtful gift? The very best gifts are ones where you have put some thought into what the person enjoys doing, and their hobbies and interests, says Paul. “Perhaps they like to travel, to eat out, to shop. If the present you choose gives them the opportunity to do those things, then yes, it counts as a thoughtful gift.” Town & City Gift Cards can be spent with retail, leisure, hospitality and services brands. Order online, and you can add a gift message too, with a note saying how you imagine they might use their gift card.

Don’t worry too much about the value.

If there’s one aspect of gift giving we have a hang up over, it’s the value of gifts. How much is enough and what if, shock horror, they have spent more than you? “Many people would be mortified to realise they had given a more modest gift than they received. If this happens to you, thank the person for their gift, be genuinely appreciative of it, and resist the urge to apologise for your own gift. You certainly should not go out and attempt to make up the perceived shortfall by purchasing an extra gift to ‘value-match’. Gift giving isn’t about value, but about whether the gift given is thoughtful, genuine and appropriate. 

A thank you goes a long way.

Just this November, Buckingham Palace announced the position of full time assistant correspondence officer to pen the thousands of thank you notes sent by the Queen each year. But does the average person need to bother with a thank you? They certainly do, says Paul: “A simple expression of thanks and appreciation always goes a long way. After receiving a gift, ideally you would send a letter, but failing that, an email is fine. Thank them, perhaps add a sentence on how you plan to use the gift, or how useful it will be. A couple of sentences is all that is required, just enough to show your appreciation.”