11 Dec 2017

The thought that counts? The etiquette of Christmas presents...


Deck the halls: the Christmas countdown has officially begun! With just two weeks remaining, we’re draping the tinsel, hanging the mistletoe, harvesting the holly – and allowing ourselves mince pies for breakfast.

Christmas is also a time for giving, of course, and while we want to show appreciation for our nearest and dearest, shopping for presents can elicit fear instead of a festive spirit. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Sainsbury’s, more than half of us (56%) feel unsure about gift-giving etiquette at Christmas. With that in mind, allow us to help answer your Christmas conundrums for a season of gracious gift-giving.

Bearing Gifts 

If you’ve been invited to someone’s house for supper or a drinks party, bring a present to say thank you. A bottle of wine is customary, but make sure that your host drinks alcohol. Chocolates or flowers will usually be welcome, too.

For a longer stay, take something more substantial to recognise the hospitality being shown

A longer stay is a different matter, especially if you’re visiting over Christmas, so take something more substantial – you could bring a case of wine, or make up a hamper. Alternatively, you could offer to cook your hosts a meal to spare them some time in the kitchen.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image="18016" img_size="full" alignment="center"][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

Culinary Contributions

Cooking a Christmas meal can be challenging, so your host may appreciate you offering to alleviate some of the workload by bringing a contribution such as a box of mince pies or a selection of cheeses.

Be sure to ask what would be most useful so that you don’t end up duplicating dishes, and don’t just turn up with an unsolicited lasagne or your special homemade trifle: your host might take offence at the insinuation that their own food isn’t up to scratch.

Bringing a Bottle

Taking wine or fizz to a party? It’s perfectly acceptable for your host to open and serve it the same night. In fact, 52% of us expect this to be the case, so try not to betray your dismay that the vintage champagne you brought is being lavished on undiscerning palates when you were expecting it to be saved for a special occasion. (Or bring it unchilled – it’s less likely to be opened the same night!)

Sweet Treats

Big tins of chocolates are as much a part of a Christmas childhood as stockings and Santa, but before you buy sweets for other people’s children, it’s polite to check with their parents first. In addition to the potential for allergies, parents might prefer limiting sugary treats to temper the sky-high excitement of the most wonderful time of the year.

Alcoholic Alternatives

A thoroughly convivial 62% of us will give something alcoholic this Christmas

A thoroughly convivial 62% of us will give something alcoholic this Christmas, with friends being the most likely recipients, followed by fathers, colleagues, school teachers and even our priests! As cocktails become increasingly popular, a bottle of spirits can be an unusual alternative to wine. Gin is a versatile option, while whisky is apparently most appreciated by those aged 45 to 55.

[/vc_column_text][vc_empty_space][vc_single_image image="18017" img_size="full" alignment="center"][vc_empty_space][vc_column_text]

Social Strife

Thrilled with your brand new trainers? Already nose-deep in the year’s bestselling thriller? As tempting as it may be to share a photograph of your Christmas haul on Instagram or Snapchat, gloat with caution: you don’t want others to feel that their day doesn’t match up to yours.

On the other hand, publicising your presents means that you might ‘out’ a stealthy regifter if the photograph in question is spotted by the person who originally gave it to them...


On the subject of regifting, we’ve all been tempted to pass on an unwanted present to a more appreciative recipient. A word of caution: ensure the item is generic enough that the original giver won’t spot it – check for engraving, monogramming or any other personalisation before giving it to your neighbour.

Not a fan of the paté or pickle from an otherwise delectable hamper? It may be tempting to regift individual components of a multi-part present, but a lonely jar of English mustard is an instant deconstructed-gift giveaway. A bottle of wine or box of shortbread are more acceptable.

All Wrapped Up

Wrapping paper or a gift bag can transform your present of food or wine from practical contribution to thoughtful gift – while also enabling the recipient to keep track of who gave what. Chocolates and confectionery often come beautifully packaged anyway, so with ‘posh chocolates’ apparently our most preferred Christmas consumable, you can save yourself from papercuts and sellotape. Just be sure the recipient isn't diabetic, or on a diet.

Making a Match

Asking your host in advance what type of wine you should bring to drinks or a dinner party is a considerate gesture, but not essential. Instead, give some thought to what might most appeal to them: you might recall whether they prefer red or white, for example. And don’t worry if your choice doesn’t strictly complement the meal: every wine goes with Boxing Day leftovers.

Saying Thank You

Digital thanks are better than no thanks at all

The handwritten word may be on the decline, but encouragingly, a third of us still send thank you letters. Doing so will reinforce your gratitude for a present or hospitality, showing time and care taken.

If you know that you’re unlikely to locate a pen, paper and a stamp much before 2021, give your benefactor a call to thank them instead. WhatsApp or a text message are the least preferable options, but for the 11% of us who revert to them, digital thanks are better than no thanks at all.



MPA House
66 Baker Street
Weybridge KT13 8AL
United Kingdom
Designed by Anna Ocipinska. Developed by BuiltByGo. © 2021 Debrett’s. All Rights Reserved
menu linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram