How to Avoid Awkward Gift-Giving Situations


The holidays are almost here, and I found myself faced with somewhat of a dilemma this year. For as long as I can remember, I’ve celebrated Christmas with my side of the family, and it’s been awesome. Each couple is tasked with purchasing a gift for someone according to a random drawing, so everyone gets a great gift without anyone breaking the bank. We have a system and it works well.

This year, however, we were forced to break from tradition due to a range of unforeseen events. One of my siblings lives states away with his wife, and she has no choice but to work on Christmas this year. We won’t be seeing them as a result. On Thanksgiving, we awkwardly mused about how to handle the gift-giving situation this Christmas since we wouldn’t be seeing them.

“Don’t worry about it. We won’t see you anyway; we can just exchange gifts like normal when we’re all back together next year!” I said (side note: too quickly and without thinking).

My sister-in-law seemed unsure, but she hesitantly agreed. Now, however, I have the distinct feeling that she wants to (or will) buy presents for my little ones regardless of our agreement. Oof. I definitely put my foot in my mouth, and yesterday my mother reminded me that their absence does not necessarily merit marking them off my shopping list.

Here’s how you can save face if you find yourself in an awkward gift-giving situation like mine.

Holiday Gifting Etiquette 101

According to a recent CBC News post, addressing the situation directly – and before the holidays – is the best way to go. To our credit, we did do this in person during Thanksgiving. Making an agreement is a critical next step, and we accomplished this as well (although I sensed hesitation from my sister-in-law).

The hesitation was what threw me. CBC’s holiday etiquette guide places the most emphasis on open and honest communication between all gift-giving parties involved. Nothing would be more embarrassing than halfheartedly agreeing not to purchase gifts only to have one set buck and buy and mail gifts anyway due to uncertainty about the seriousness of the pact.

That’s why I would add this: follow up on your arrangements a little closer to the holidays. That’s my plan – I’m calling my sister-in-law to inform her that I may be sending a little something in the mail after all (think gift cards to their favorite stores). My gift shame is eating me alive already, and I don’t know if I could live with myself if I were to bypass the tradition altogether. If you change your mind, make sure to give the recipients plenty of notice – that way they’ll have time to purchase gifts for you as well if they choose to reciprocate.

If you’re suffering from gift shame yourself, contact the relatives or friends you’ve made arrangements with and rehash the details. A great compromise would be to buy or make something from your heart – the gesture itself is worth more than springing for something fancy at the last minute. Check out this post for some great examples of DIY gifts you can give as a gesture of goodwill. Remember, the holidays are all about sharing and love anyway, and giving something is certainly better than nothing at all.