Here is how you ought to behave and navigate gift-giving.

December 12, 2022

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – and here is how you ought to behave. Christmas Day – like any big family occasion – is formed of traditions. Many of these will be inherited – and therefore any traditions which differ to your own are likely to be deemed incorrect. Here are the rules to maintain best etiquette on Christmas Day for intergenerational success, with siblings and in-laws. You’ll find some of the most common holiday issues, including possibly the most important rule of all for how you ought to behave, as well as tips to navigate gift-giving etiquette.

Your guide to handle Christmas with grace, here.

Possibly the most important rule – whatever you do, don’t bring your own traditions to another person’s house. Photo via Zarahome.UK Christmas 2022.

Take your cue from the host

Possibly the most important rule – whatever you do, don’t bring your own traditions to another person’s house. You have to go by the law of whoever’s house you’re visiting or staying in – whether that’s another family or new in-laws. Perhaps most importantly don’t repel new in-laws with your own traditions; that’s one surefire way to put them right off you. E.g. don’t head for the door after breakfast if a walk isn’t part of their routine – it will at the best disenchant and at worst offend.


Similar to the above – take the cue from your host. If their Christmas Day requires all-out glamour (dresses, baubles,et al) then you must follow suit; if it’s more ‘come as your own Christmas character/decoration’, then equally, you must do that.

If no dress code is outlined, go for ‘Sunday best’ with added sparkle.

How many family members are you expected to buy gifts for?

No one can agree on this. Every family is going to approach this differently, which means communication is key, especially if you have a large contingent of relatives. But in any family children should be the ones raking it in. Showering the little ones and slowly phasing out each generation as they age is the typical move. That may mean you receive fewer gifts, but it also means you don’t have to buy as many for your peers. And if you’re someone with kids, it means there are more people to help you tick off the items on their lists. Win-win-win.

Photo Zarahome.UK

Is it OK to give a combo gift to someone whose birthday, wedding, baby shower, or other event falls around the holidays?

Anyone who has a birthday in December is going to say no, and that’s who we should listen to on this. That said if there’s a more extravagant gift you know this person would love, its value adds up to what you would otherwise spend on multiple gifts and you really, really feel like it should cover everything, try this: Give that gift for the more personal occasion and pick out a small, inexpensive but thoughtful gift for the holiday. That way the recipient gets each of their moments acknowledged, and you don’t go broke.

Is it better to give somebody something they need, or something they want but would not get themselves?

Getting something you need is always going to be appreciated, but does that truly make for the best gift? Your gut is probably saying no. People will naturally buy themselves what they need, but they’re hesitant to make those big splurges. Read more, ‘2022 Christmas Gift Guide, Time For Gifts With Meaning.’

“That’s where you come in. An unexpected gift over a useful gift wins every time.”

Why does giving cash feel weird but giving a gift card does not?

A lot of etiquette involves us, as a society, all agreeing on certain fictions. For gift cards, the fiction is, ‘This is not cash.’ Gift cards can also do something money cannot: show the recipient that you thought about what they like and where they shop and that you want them to treat themselves.

It discourages saving and encourages living a little — and that’s a real gift.

What are some good options for gifts if you can’t spend extra money?

D.I.Y. is the way to go. If you’re smart, one project can go the distance by making a single gift cover multiple people. For example, you could digitise old family photos or videos and share them with every member of the family. Other no-budget ideas include babysitting, planning a hike or a beach day, compiling a digital recipe book or creating a personalized playlist.

If someone gave you a gift, are you obligated to give them one in return?

Gratitude is obligatory, but panic shopping out of guilt is not. If you’re caught empty-handed, just express your sincere thanks either in person or in a note, and then surprise the giver with a gift at the next occasion that warrants one.

Is it rude to exchange or return a gift you don’t love?

Most people would prefer this to the gift sitting in the closet collecting dust, especially as people become more conscious of overconsumption. You should feel especially empowered if the giver included a gift receipt. That’s what it’s there for!

If  you are a serial exchanger, practice what you preach by tucking gift receipts into your presents whenever possible.

If you’re caught empty-handed, just express your sincere thanks either in person or in a note, and then surprise the giver with a gift on the next occasion that warrants one. Photo Zarahome.UK Christmas 2022.

Is it OK to regift?

It’s 2022: Let’s normalize regifting! Regifting with the intention of reducing waste and giving the gift to someone else who might appreciate it more than you do is, in fact, honorable. But a wise regifter should put a healthy amount of space between the person who originally gave the gift and the person who receives it.

Make sure those two people aren’t in the same social circle to avoid any hurt feelings.

Should you ask someone who you are struggling to figure out a gift for what they want?

Children are so much happier than adults on their birthdays or on Christmas Day – Because children get gifts they like, since adults routinely ask them what they want instead of guessing. So don’t be shy about asking — though how you ask matters. Phrase your question so it’s not about your need, but rather about showing interest in them. ‘Is there anything you’re really loving right now?’ is going to generate better ideas than ‘What should I buy you?’

Christmas Day Thank Yous

Gratitude is paramount. The only thing to say if you truly like your presents is “thank you” (with a genuine smile). If you don’t like your presents; go with comments such as ‘I’m being so spoilt’; ‘I didn’t even know how much I wanted this until now’ and ‘this is too generous – you must absolutely never get me a present again.’

Thank You Letters

No Christmas thank-you letters should land after the twelve days of Christmas, meaning 6 January is your cut-off.

You’ve got just under two weeks to rattle them off. Good luck.


The hot topic – these days – is the topic of the lunch. Gen Z cooks are trying to side-step the big issue of turkey and, even worse, do without Christmas pudding. We do think it’s got to be turkey, turkey, turkey. You may be a vegetarian but think how sad your nonagenarian granny would be to see the stalwart bird overlooked in favour of a nut roast. If your Christmas is without oldies (or any sticklers for tradition), then do Ottolenghi your sprouts – but check first, people are often strangely – and alarmingly – tied to their own expectations.


Anecdotally, it would seem that more people dislike than like, Christmas pudding. Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had with dousing the pudding in rum and lighting it up then adding brandy butter to improve the flavouring. Plan b is surely a chocolate cake or log which is about as un-divisive (and pleasing) as an Eton mess pavlova.

Want to one-up Aunt Jane on the news? Or just change the topic?

Get up to speed quickly and be better equipped for dealing with difficult relatives and conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Throw a smart question at the table.  Did Elon Musk bite off more than he can chew at Twitter. How will the Russian invasion of Ukraine end? What lessons did we learn from Covid that we can apply to flu this coming year? What do you think of extreme escapism – the latest in luxury travel?

The hot topic for Christmas this year is lunch. Gen Z cooks are trying to side-step the big issue of turkey and, even worse, do without Christmas pudding. Photo Zarahome.UK Christmas 2022.

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