Etiquette Questions, Answered: Holidays and Gifts
Must I Reciprocate Gift-Giving to Relatives I Barely Know?
Q: I have distant relatives who always send holiday gifts to my children, and I feel the need to reciprocate even though I hardly know them. How can I stop the exchange without hurting their feelings?
A: First of all: Who are these people who have it together enough to send gifts not just to the people they know but to the people they don’t?! Setting aside my own gift-giving inadequacy issues, I would still argue that while it’s lovely for your relatives to send, say, your children gifts, you do not need to reciprocate. There are always going to be a few lopsided exchanges―which is OK! Some years, you might receive a gift from someone you have nothing for; other years, you might give a present to someone who has nothing for you. I like to embrace this as part of the chaos of the season. But for these relatives you ask about, I think the best approach is to send a preemptive holiday card―and a card only. Hopefully, they’ll get the message and follow suit. You never know: It might be a relief for them to end the gift exchange as well. If that doesn’t happen, I would then just send a nice thank-you note, with a few extra “What a lovely surprise!” mentions thrown in to help drive the message home.