While we can all agree it truly is better to give than receive, that doesn’t mean the process of present-presenting around the holidays isn’t fraught with pitfalls. That’s why we asked Canadian etiquette expert Karen “Manners are Sexy” Cleveland for her solutions to some of our most frustrating festive giving dilemmas.

Q: How long do you need to have been dating someone before holiday gift exchange is required?
A: I wish there was a time limit, wouldn’t it make things so much easier? Sadly, in manner of the heart, there is no schedule. Float the idea in a subtle way to gauge if they are buying you something. If you get the impression that they aren’t, abort your gift giving mission.

Q: Do I reallly need to bring a hostess gift to holiday cocktail parties?
A: Yes! They who host you deserve a little something. A beautiful candle? A festive flower arrangment? A tray of baked goods for the next morning? The good-old-standby of a great bottle of wine? Don’t over think it. And certainly don’t over think it to the degree that you talk yourself out of bringing something.

Q: I’d love to give my work mate a holiday gift, but I know she doesn’t celebrate the season. Will I offend her if I give her one anyway?
A: Who knows, ask her. Really: that’s the best gauge of whether or not the idea of a giving her a gift will fly. If it turns out she will be offending, don’t take it personally.

Q: My boyfriend has a large extended family who I don’t know well. We’re spending Christmas, and I’m not sure if I need to get everyone a gift. It’s a lot of people!
A: To avoid that awkward, “oh, I don’t have anything for you!” moment, get your boyfriend to do some recon. If the family plans to have a gift for you, you can have something for the entire family (not individual gifts). A donation to a cause that they adore, fun board game they can play as a family, or a recipe book and some fancy ingrediants to get them started….

Q: If someone gives you a gift, are you obligated to reciprocate?

A: No, but your reaction to their gift can really affect that relationship. If you are caught without a gift, accept the present warmly and graciously. And if you’re so inclined, lie. Lie through your teeth. Explain that their gift is at your home and would they like to come over for a drink the night after next to get it?


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