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Rules of Holiday Etiquette

Is it okay to regift? Do you have to buy a gift for someone if they give you one? There are a LOT of questions this time of year, so the Steven and Chris show had Louise Fox, owner of the Etiquette Ladies, visit the show to cover ALL the hot holiday etiquette topics!


  • It's not such a horrible thing to do if done appropriately, e.g. you're not getting rid of some ill-gotten gifts.

  • In some circumstances the re-gift is quite appropriate e.g. an heirloom like grandma's quilt that's passed along.

  • Anytime you re-gift it should be outside of your normal circle - friends and family.

  • It shouldn't be something you hate.

  • It should be something the person really likes or enjoys.

  • It should be brand new. Don't give electronic gifts that are a year or two old - if someone takes them back they're going to find out that it's an old model or hasn't been made for the last two years. Make sure you give it in its original box with all its pieces and guarantees.

  • Make sure all the labels are off.

Someone turns up with a gift and you don't have one for them?
If it's early in the season you can get a gift and reciprocate. I like to keep some of those generic gifts on hand - candle, note cards.

Returning gifts:
If you don't like it, keep it to yourself and thank the giver for the thoughtful gift. Avoid describing gift too much. If taking it back is going to put you in a spot e.g. something from Grandma that she thought you'd really like, then you're going to have to keep it. If it has tags and it's from someone you have a comfortable relationship with then you can take it back and exchange it.

What to do if you wish somebody Merry Christmas and they don't celebrate it?
How bad is that? Not that bad. It's not an attempt to convert someone to Christianity - you're not a racist. Where there is a lot of cultural diversity you should use happy holidays.

Are e-mail Christmas cards acceptable?
Yes, under certain circumstances. If you customize it to the receiver it's more meaningful than picking one card and e-mailing it to everyone. If you do that remember to use the BCC (blind carbon copy) so you aren't giving away everyone's e-mail address. Remember also that e-mail cards can be misinterpreted so aren't good for meaningful or emotional situations. E-mail cards fall into the better than nothing category. For this reason they are not suitable for business associates or clients because they don't make much impact and usually get deleted if they even make it into the system. If the e-cards you are sending are personal they shouldn't be sent from your work system. If you are sending a card to someone's work, make sure it isn't one that takes a long time to download or is noisy and will disturb others. E-cards fall into the better than nothing, quick and easy category and are more appropriate for the younger generation. They still are not as special as sending a "Real" card, there is no "touch link" no representation of the gift of your time that goes with a real card and they won't be displayed or saved like a real card. The older generation may not be e-mail savvy so do you just cut Grandmas off or go to some effort and send her a real card?

When can you scale down gifts to nieces and nephews i.e. what age should they be?

It varies for different families and their cultural background. Once they have left home is certainly time to reconsider. Consider a charitable gift donation where they can pick something for a disadvantaged child or family (such as World Vision Catalogue) or think of an alternative...rather than a gift exchange with the whole family, ask the family to take the money they would have spent on you and your family and have an outing or do something special together "create a memory" and send you a picture. You do the same for them.

Do you have to tip EVERYONE at Christmas - paper deliverer, mail carrier, hairdresser, etc. etc..?

Tipping is always situational. How much have you used that person, have they done special things for you, gone out of their way, what is your relationship? It is a nice gesture to tip the service people in your life who have made your life easier but you should never tip more than you can afford. You might just give a card and a box of chocolates or some home baked cookies. If your paper deliverer is a young person a tip of a few $ is always appreciated.

What are appropriate gifts for teachers?
Generic gifts are appropriate for teachers, stationary, an interesting book if you know of the teachers special interest, home made treats or get the kids to make something...inappropriate are expensive or personal gifts (jewelry, clothing, lingerie) or alcohol (In spite of how much they might need it) or humorous gifts which usually fall flat. If you are not in the position to give a gift, a nice card expressing holiday wishes and appreciation is enough. Chances are the teacher has a basement full of teacher's mugs and a house full of Poinsettia's.

How much money is acceptable for a new girlfriend/boyfriend's gift?

Take it easy when it comes to this. I think it jinxes the relationship! A gift should be appropriate to the level of the relationship. Perhaps it is better to agree to have a nice outing or do something special. It avoids any bitterness later in January when the person is whining about how much they spent on the person and the relationship is over.

What should someone bring to an X-mas party that isn't a bottle of bad wine?

A box of chocolates, nice fruit basket, if you know their interests something appropriate. Be sure if it is a food item or wine that you tell them it is to be enjoyed later. You can send a gift the next day also and maybe after being in their home you will have a better idea. Don't bring cut flowers, an arrangement or plant is better as the host/hostess is not required to take care of the flowers when she is trying to be a hostess.


  • Be respectful of other people's traditions

  • Maintain a sense of humour

  • Have a few gifts handy

  • Don't question why people aren't eating or drinking more

  • Don't overindulge at the office party

  • Don't bring uninvited guests or kids

  • RSVP means respond - whether you're coming or not


An office party is a business meeting with alcohol - it's not a party. Remember that higher ups are watching their employee's behaviour and will see if you have no self-control - it could impact on your career.

Don't take your spouse if they don't want to go - they could do a real disservice to you. If you misbehave at the office Christmas party it will be remembered forever, even after you've left the company.

Women should not haul out their lowest sexiest dress - the only breasts you see should be the ones on your plate.


Pay attention to RSVP! It's rude to wait to the last minute to respond or not at all, particularly if you're holding off to see if a better invite comes along. It's rude to decide the night of a party that you just don't feel like going.

Arriving at a party without a hostess gift is rude. You can take flowers but make sure they're in a vase or potted. Wine is appropriate but don't expect that it will be consumed - cost isn't important.

Over indulging in alcohol puts you in the Christmas party Hall of Shame.
Asking why people aren't drinking is taboo.
Don't bring kids or another guest when you haven't cleared it before.
Don't over stay your welcome.
Don't snoop around people's homes.
Not being sociable is rude. Mingle and talk to people, that's your duty as a guest, you're not there just to eat. Be prepared to talk about something - if you're challenged in that department then take a look at the paper so you can talk about something current - a movie for example. If someone asks you, "what's new?" and you say, "nothing much." Where can they go from there?


If you have a family member who is obnoxious there's not much you can do about that. We can't control other peoples behaviours so go in with sense of humour and a decision not to wrangle - take a pass on talking about child rearing. The whole event is meant to be a celebration and it takes two to tangle. By not engaging you're setting a better example for your children. That person will realize they're not getting the attention they wanted. Don't let them draw you in.

Blended family situation - if people are going to be where their Ex's are they should try to behave themselves and be respectful - don't ruin the occasion for everyone else. Perhaps it's best not to invite a person who is going to really make trouble. Remember what it's all about.

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