Do I Have to Reciprocate All Christmas Gifts?

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

So a friend of mine asked me for my address the other day so she could mail me a Christmas gift, and now I’m wondering if I’m obligated to reciprocate. We met online about five years ago but we’ve never actually spent time together in person. I know her interests very well and had some cute ideas right away, but I had no intent to get her something before she asked for my address. HOW HELP?


Giftless and Feeling Guilty

Official Etiquette:

Miss Manners wrote a lovely essay about choosing which holiday traditions to celebrate while remaining thankful and polite about all overtures made to you. You can read it here.

Our Take:

Victoria: So basically the answer is yes, it’s totally fine not to give a gift in return if you weren’t going to in the first place.

Jaya: Totally. You know, thank her and everything, but it’s really out of the blue.

Victoria: Yeah, actually! This JUST happened to me.

Jaya: What!

Victoria: [Redacted] texted me and was like, “I broke the rules and got you a Christmas present because I happened to see the perfect thing and you aren’t allowed to get me something in return.”

But then again, there are some years that I do a small homemade Christmas present for all my friends and some years that I don’t and its all fine either way.

Jaya: Yeah, I think it depends on your friends and traditions, but I do think at some point we all end up agreeing that holiday presents are for family and like, really really close friends or a Secret Santa group or something.

Victoria: Yeah, although some people go totally nuts with gift giving. Like- there’s a part in Love Actually where Emma Thompson is wrapping gifts for her kids friends and I’ve always been so confused about why you would give Christmas gifts to random children.

Jaya: I think after a certain age, if you’re one of those people, you have to accept that as your thing and not everyone’s thing.

Victoria: Haha yeah, totally.

Jaya: Like, do it because you found something great for your friends, not because you’re trying to backhand pressure some gift-giving exchange onto people who don’t have the capacity or energy.

Victoria: Yessssss

Jaya: And you know, a million times, a gift is a gift. So Matt was on the phone with his mom the other day and asked if she wanted anything for Hanukkah, and she was like “of course not, Hanukkah is for children.” Which is sorta great, like it’s totally a kids holiday pumped up to compete with Christmas so Jewish kids don’t feel left out, but the adults know it’s for them. I sorta wish we could have a bit more of that sensibility all around. I mean I love gifts and holiday spirit and stuff but it does cause a lot of anxiety.

Victoria: Eh, I mean it depends. That whole “love languages thing.” One of my favorite parts of Christmas is exchanging gifts with my family and my family does tend to be very gifty. But yeah, not like, with the neighbors.

Jaya: Love languages is a good way to put it, as much as that concept isn’t perfect. I think here it totally works.

Victoria: Like, the rest of the “gift giving” times of the year are very one sided- one person gives and one person receives, whereas “Christmas” is more about the exchange. Haha which I just realized totally contradicts our advice that you don’t HAVE to give a gift in return.

Jaya: Hahahaha it does! I mean, the exchange is great if you’re predisposed to like the exchange or see it coming.

Victoria: Yeah, exactly. It’s very lovely with your family is what I’m saying.

Jaya: That’s the thing that throws me. Like, I’ve bought gifts for my parents and siblings and husband, because I spent Christmas morning with them. And we did the Secret Santa thing with friends, which was fun, but also totally voluntary, like, you didn’t have to sign up.

Victoria: Yeah! It was fun!

Jaya: Which I like more than just getting a gift out of nowhere from someone I’ve never met. I mean I understand internet friendships are 100% real friendships, I have many, but still.

Victoria: Oh right, this person is an internet friend. Does she say specifically that she is sending a gift. Because maybe its just a Christmas card? Oh yeah she does. Lol. Read the question, Victoria.

Jaya: Hahaha

Victoria: Well, I would say, just comfort yourself knowing that its probably something small. And maybe it is Anthrax! This is a person from the internet after all.

Jaya: Hahahahaha! So right like, holiday cards are another thing. Some people love sending out holiday cards, and some don’t, but it’s not like if you get one you have to make one to send back. I always think I’m gonna do them and then I remember it’s extra money for me to send something most people are gonna throw out.

Victoria: Lol yeah, I want to do Christmas cards, but whoops, I did not. If it comforts you, my mom always displays all the cards they get for the whole month. And my sister and I go through and make fun of the Christmas letters, so its not such a waste.

Jaya: Hahaha that’s good. Yeah I think I always forget until I get one, and then obvs it’s too late.

Victoria: Haha yeah. My sister and I did them last year, but she did all the work sooooo…Okay, this year I will buy cards on clearance in January and then I will do them. This is my resolution.

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