British Columbia

Holiday gifts: Who, how and what to give

If you're spending $50 every time you see your manicurist, you should tip them $50 during the holiday season, according to etiquette columnist Karen Cleveland

Giving gifts to co-workers and bosses can be tricky. And don't forget manicurists, and even your barista

"As you hit the stores, as you look at your shopping lists, if you look at the plethora of parties you've got to hit, just exercise patience and really try to enjoy the spirit of the holidays," says etiquette columnist Karen Cleveland. (Getty Images)

The holiday season can be stressful for many reasons, and arguably one of the largest causes of anxiety is around gift giving — especially who to give to, and what is appropriate to give.

Karen Cleveland is an etiquette columnist. (

"Now is starting to get to be the time where we're all kind of wondering, 'Are we exchanging gifts with this person? Are we doing a secret Santa? Or are we just getting together?'" said Karen Cleveland, an etiquette columnist who runs the blog

"I'd say planning is really your best bet at this time of year in particular."

Cleveland and workplace psychologist Joti Samara joined Gloria Macarenko on B.C. Almanac to share their tips:


Cleveland says giving gifts in the workplace can become "an emotionally charged thing."

She says to avoid giving cash, and to give gifts privately if unsure of the gift-giving culture at work.

"So maybe go for a stroll, or on your last day of the holidays offer to walk them to their  car, because you don't want to make anyone feel like they've dropped the ball because they didn't bring a gift for another person."

Cleveland says there's no correct amount one should spend, but it should be appropriate to the level of the relationship.

"If you know the person quite intimately and you know what they enjoy, you can buy at a much more personal level."

Managers, bosses?

Samara says the first thing to consider is the intent of the gift:  "Is it to show gratitude or appreciation to a boss or a supervisor, or a co-worker or an admin staff that's highly supportive? …[or]  is the intent to suck up to a boss or be seen in a particular way, and are you inadvertently alienating, or putting pressure on other colleagues?"

It can be tricky deciding whether or not to give a gift to your boss. Workplace psychologist Joti Samara recommends departments pooling together to get a joint gift for their supervisor or manager. (Getty Images/Image Source)

Samara recommends talking to others in the same department or division and thinking of a "joint collective gift" for a boss or supervisor or administrative support person.

"That is a wonderful way to have everyone feel involved. It maintains the spirit of the gesture which is to express gratitude and appreciation."

If taking this approach, she recommends ensuring the monetary amount is kept low for everyone so that it doesn't become a burden on any one person.

"The act of acknowledging that teacher or coach is really special, and the gift is supplemental to that," Cleveland said, adding that it is it is up to the individual to determine how much time they have to prepare or go shopping for a gift.

"When receiving a gift the value has very little to do with how we feel about it."

Babysitters, dog walkers and other service providers

Cleveland said there is no "magic price point" for gifts for one's dog walker, the person who cleans your home or a caregiver that looks after an elderly parent.

It's not the value of the gift, but the thought and gesture that counts, and a handwritten thank you card can go a long way, according to etiquette columnist Karen Cleveland. (Getty Images)

Since they may not like chocolate or wine, Cleveland recommends a "perennial evergreen gift" such as a candle, along with a thoughtful, handwritten card.

Cleveland also says her rule of thumb is to tip a value equivalent to one service:

"Let's say your dog walker or your babysitter charges $30 per visit. Leading up to the holidays you'd want to put together a nice little envelope with their regular payment and then a nice handwritten note saying, 'Thank you for making my life easier, thank you for a wonderful year,' and then include the same value of one service."

"And I'd say that rule will hold true for the manicurist that you go to, even your barista every morning whose always got your favourite drink waiting for you," she said.

She says some might "roll their eyes" at that, but "if you can afford to go for that regular manicure service to the degree that you've built a rapport with that person, you can afford to tip them properly."

"I can assure you that it's not about the currency, even though that's greatly appreciated, it's the gesture. And you will quickly become a very treasured customer because you're acknowledging their hard work for the other 11 months of the year."

Cleveland says she hasn't personally met her postal worker, but plans to give him a gift card for a coffee shop in her neighbourhood.

"I'd say in the range of $20 to $25 is probably appropriate for that."

To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: Holiday gift giving etiquette tips from columnist Karen Cleveland


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