Better to Give Than Receive: The Etiquette of Gifting

A guide to gracious gift-giving, from registries to regifting.
Better to Give Than Receive: The Etiquette of Gifting
Random gift items can be very helpful to a new mama or young married couple, especially if those items are ones the gift-givers have enjoyed themselves. (Bogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock)
11/27/2023
Updated:
11/27/2023
0:00
‘Tis the season for Secret Santas and stocking stuffers. But gift-giving isn’t limited to the holidays. In fact, having a generous heart should be our practice throughout the whole year. So how can we navigate gift-giving graciously?
Etiquette instructor Bethany Friske shares some thoughts.

To Bring or Not to Bring a Gift

Any birthday or anniversary party invitee should automatically bring a gift to the party, according to Ms. Friske. The only exception comes when the invite specifically states, “No gifts,” an indicator that the host wants to “take out the extra strain” that gifts can bring to guests, both financially and mentally.
For gatherings not focused around a birthday or anniversary, such as a dinner or other gathering, she advises bringing a small hostess gift, such as chocolate or napkins, as a thank you for the hostess.
“If you’re asked to bring food or an appetizer to share, that can be your hostess gift,” Ms. Friske said.

Thoughtful and Thrifty

When choosing a gift, “you really want to think specifically of the receiver,” Ms. Friske said. “Keep someone’s style in mind, their personality,” and if you don’t know the recipient well enough to consider those things, “it’s really more gracious to go with a consumable.”
Everyone likes food, and it can easily be regifted in case of an allergy.
Speaking of regifting, Ms. Friske said such a practice is perfectly acceptable, as is giving items found at second-hand stores. Those who go this route, however, “just need to make sure that [the gift] is in top-notch condition and that it isn’t going back to the person who gave it to you.”

Gift Card Conundrums and Registry Recommendations

Although gift registries for weddings and babies have grown popular in recent years, Ms. Friske says it’s still acceptable to give a gift that’s not on a recipient’s registry. Random gift items can be very helpful to a new mama or young married couple, especially if those items are ones the gift-givers have enjoyed themselves.
Of course, money is always an acceptable and helpful gift.
“It’s not rude to give a gift card,” she said, referring to the fact that many view monetary gifts as “the easy way out.”
Although money may not seem as thoughtful as a tangible gift item, she notes that many young couples especially appreciate monetary gifts, as it helps them fill their home with larger items that can’t be put on a wedding registry.

Making a List, Checking It Twice

Many of us have a slate of individuals to whom we regularly give or receive gifts from—family members, close friends, or even a family with multiple graduates in consecutive years.
“You’re not going to remember from year to year” what you gave, according to Ms. Friske, so to avoid embarrassment to both giver and receiver, she suggests keeping a notebook with names, dates, and items gifted.
“It’s just a simple idea to keep things straight in your mind,” she said.
Annie Holmquist is a cultural commentator hailing from America's heartland who loves classic books, architecture, music, and values. Her writings can be found at Annie's Attic on Substack.