Holiday Gift Giving

Guidelines for Gift-Giving, Tipping and Re-gifting

Whether you’re a student or young professional celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Christmas, the holidays usually involve gift giving and receiving. Here are some protocol guidelines and tips to help make this ritual a little easier and more enjoyable:

You know how to handle gift-giving within your circle of family and friends, but what about all those other people in your life?

Professors – Generally, it’s not customary for college students to give gifts to their professors, as it might look as though you’re trying to influence them, and it might present them with an uncomfortable ethical situation. Something that is allowed and most appreciated is simply a holiday card with a heartfelt note about how you are enjoying his or her course, how much it is helping, etc.

Teachers – High school teachers and staff members with whom you have been in frequent contact may be given modest gifts to demonstrate one’s appreciation; a too-lavish gift would be inappropriate as it could give the impression of an attempt at influencing your grade or consequences. Avoid monetary gifts, as generally teachers are not allowed to accept them. Class group gifts are also a nice gesture and eliminate the need to select an individual gift. Suggested gifts for either individual or group giving include: theatre tickets; magazine subscriptions; membership in an art, wildlife, literary or other organization; gift basket of desired items assembled by the class, which could consist of DVDs, candy, popcorn and a popper, for example. Checking with your school district’s superintendent’s office on the gift-giving policy and knowing – or researching – your teachers’ preferences can help you to make the best choices.  The same approach would hold true for members of the staff, such as the school secretary, nurse or anyone who has shown you a special courtesy or been especially helpful. And, don’t forget the crossing guards and lunch aids! Remember that the best gifts are notes or letters from you that express your thankfulness for everything that a teacher or staff member has done for you, how they have played such an important part in your college, career and other life decisions.

College Staff

As a student, you come into contact with others besides the faculty, such as the academic advisors, career counselors, etc. Modest individual gifts as well as cookies or candy for the staff are always welcome and appropriate. But, again, a note or letter of appreciation to a staff professional who has helped you is the best gift.

Office Coworkers – Secret Santa gift exchanges (see last week’s post) are popular office gift-giving customs that involves the office staff drawing names and providing an inexpensive gift at an amount set at $10, $15 or $20. You may be creative but tasteful in selecting a Secret Santa gift, and avoid joke gifts, food, alcohol, smoking accessories, an intimate or sexual nature or anything too personal.

If you have an assistant or secretary, or share the services of one, you should check your team’s policy on gift-giving; although it is customary to remember one’s assistant/secretary at holiday time, you don’t want to do anything that would indicate that you are out of step with the rest of the department, especially if you are new on the job.

New Girlfriend or Boyfriend – If you have just begun going out, give your new significant other something thoughtful but not too extravagant. You might discuss a gift exchange to ensure that you don’t give something out of alignment – in cost or spirit – with his or her gift to you (it could be awkward if you give her a CD set – even if she did express an interest and she gives you a diamond-link stainless steel bracelet), or you give him a bestselling book on fly catching and he gives you a pair of diamond stud earrings. It’s best to get on the same page. As their holiday gift to each other, some new couples might decide to do something special to celebrate their new relationship – such as go on a ski weekend. Whatever you do, try to keep it low-key and save the pricier gifts for your first anniversary of being a couple.

Others – Service professionals who are employed by a company, hospital or the government, usually cannot accept cash gifts; instead gifts of fine chocolates (if they are not allergic), magazine subscriptions, books, homemade cookies and the like are good choices.


Holiday tipping is different from gift-giving because of the difference in the relationship and because tipping usually means cash. However, the current economy and the fact that you are a student or young professional just starting out – or a more seasoned professional on a budget – allows for substituting a modest gift, and homemade cookies or a hand-knitted scarf are always appropriate and acceptable. Here are some service people a young professional or student might come into contact for holiday tipping:

Building Attendants – If you have moved into a building that has the landlord or  superintendent on the premises, and/or door attendants or elevator operators or starters and handy persons, it’s traditional to tip them during the holiday season; if you live with roommates you can all chip in and present a gift from Apartment 3-D to each and sign all your names to the cards in which you enclose your gifts, along with short notes of thanks. If you cannot afford to tip the first holiday season that you live in the building, be sure to express your thanks somehow, even if it means baking cookies for everyone along with a notes of thanks.

Hairdressers – If you tip throughout the year, it is optional whether you give an special holiday tip – it really depends on how often you have your hair cut or done and if you have a relationship with one stylist or shampooer or if you. If you have a hair appointment during the holiday season you might add a little extra to the regular tip. This is ditto for the person who does your nails.

Cleaning Person – If you are lucky enough to afford someone to clean your home, do give them a holiday tip; the amount will depend on how long they have worked for you and how helpful they are. For less than a year to one year, if they work one day at week, the tip should equal one day’s pay; for two years and up the tip should be at least two day’s pay. If you get to the point where you have a full-time cleaning person, the holiday tip should equal one or two weeks’ pay, or more if you feel it is warranted.

Others – If you have a regular dog walker or anyone else who performs an ongoing service for you throughout the year who you would like to provide a holiday tip, the guideline is that they should be individuals for whom a cash tip will not be a problem due to any policies or regulations by their employers.


Regifting is the term used for the process of re-wrapping and recycling a gift you have received, from any source, that you decide you do not wish to keep and cannot – for any reason — exchange, and decide to pass on to someone else as a gift. Perhaps it’s a book you’ve already read – or don’t wish to read – from the Secret Santa office swap or another pin from Aunt Jen that is similar to the pins she has given you every year you can remember.  Whatever the gift, here are some guidelines for re-gifting:

  1. Label it with the name of the giver and date of receipt; that information will help you with its recycling or disposal.
  2. Regift an item that has quality, such as a gift that has a fragrance or color that you do not prefer but that someone else would love, and match the gift with the recipient.
  3. If you place unwanted gifts on your “emergency gift shelf,” be sure to dispose of older gifts that might no longer be worthy of re-gifting, such as that 10-year-old bottle of cologne.
  4. Ensure that you do not accidentally give a recycled gift to the original giver.
  5. Don’t regift items that were made or ordered especially for you that you just have to keep.  Rather, tuck them away in the back of your closet and pull them out when the giver comes to visit.  It’s a kindness, and we all have to do that sometimes.
  6. Those items that are in good condition may be donated to the appropriate charities.

Finally, be kind and understanding during the gift-giving season. It’s stressful for everyone, so keep your calm and sense of humor. If you receive a gift that you don’t like or think is adequate, say thank-you anyway, and with a smile. Remember that in most cases it really is the thought that counts; overlook those few cases where thoughtlessness was in play. Others will think highly of you for your graciousness, and you will think well of yourself for it.

Until next time,


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