Many things can conjure a Scrooge-like attitude during the holidays. And perhaps no situations carry awkwardness more so than presents. Ah, gifts. Their potential for an ear-to-ear smile is equally matched by the dark dread of a disappointed face...
Holiday gift-giving is rife with potential disaster. Expert advice for meeting the challenge. TNS
Many things can conjure a Scrooge-like attitude during the holidays.
And perhaps no situations carry awkwardness more so than presents.
Ah, gifts. Their potential for an ear-to-ear smile is equally matched by the dark dread of a disappointed face. Or that awful moment when you realize you are in the middle of a gift-giving disaster.
We talked to several experts to find out how to best navigate these stomach-churning moments, whether it involves a blunder on your part, or someone else's.
Play it cool and practice your poker face. First, it's not uncomfortable unless you make it that way. Try to keep your composure.
"It's only awkward if you make it a big deal," said Stephanie L. Jones, a life coach who gave gifts for 500 consecutive days and recorded the experience on her blog, Giving Gal.
One of the most common gift-giving nightmares is when you're not actually exchanging gifts - or you thought you weren't.
For example, showing up to a dinner party empty-handed as the hostess places a thoughtful gift in your hands. Or realizing too late that you should have bought something for your in-laws, who bought something for you.
"This is always an uncomfortable situation," said Audra Hamlin, founder of The Gift Firm. "The best way to handle this is to be very grateful for the gift you receive from them."
For those moments when you're unsure whether gifting is on the agenda, a bottle of wine, plant or even homemade cookies are always good just-in-case options, Hamlin noted.
Resist the urge to lie, Part 1. If someone springs a gift on you that you weren't expecting, experts advise not to fib, saying, for example, that you sent something in the mail or left his gift at home.
Also resist the natural instinct to make excuses, said relationship expert April Masini.
"Those excuses turn into white lies and quickly become one giant cloud of awkward," Masini said.
And don't apologize, Hamlin added. "Once the event is over, you can always write a sincere thank you note or have a gift sent to them," Hamlin said.
Resist the urge to lie, Part 2. Likewise, you shouldn't lie when you receive a gift you hate - but do keep mum when you don't like a present.
"It's bad manners to say you hate a gift," Masini said.
Instead, use that newly mastered poker face to focus on the positive. For example, say someone got you a plunger. Think of something - without a hint of sarcasm, emphasizes Kathy Cheng, founder of gift-registry platform Thankful Registry - such as, "This is great, thank you. I've been thinking about getting one of these."
(However, if your partner gets you gifts you loathe year after year, Masini said, "It is appropriate to try and gently guide him toward what you do like.")
Regifting and those missing receipts: Among the most talked-about gift gaffes is regifting. Maybe you put a lot of thought into a pal's gift, and she gave you something that's an obvious regift.
"Regifting is only OK if you tell the other person about it," said Jung Lee, event planner and etiquette expert.
To avoid getting a regift this year, Lee suggested "a casual conversation with your regifter friend and other friends, saying you just read an article about this, and what do they think?"
And if you want to exchange a gift but see no receipt, there isn't a polite way to ask.
"Regardless of the reason - maybe it cannot be returned, or they really want you to keep it - just say thank you," Lee said.
Plan ahead. One potential pickle involves celebrating with a family that's not yours. Maybe a friend invited you to her clan's celebration, or you're joining a sibling's in-laws.
Don't be shy to inquire about the protocol, perhaps even checking with someone beyond your direct family or friend source. That includes money spent.
"Ask upfront if there is a dollar limit," Jones recommends. She also advises asking what types of gifts have been exchanged in the past.
If it's too late - you bought everybody a bottle of Champagne, they're teetotalers who exchange handmade potholders - keep your cool.
"Just trust that your hosts understand this is your first time at the rodeo and that next year you'll bring your own homemade potholders," Masini said.
Dating presents challenges too. Whether you started dating a significant other in February or November, navigating the present-buying can be tricky. Hamlin suggests making an event out of it - designate a holiday lunch or dinner as a date, which can double as a mutual gift.
Set ground rules. Even the youngest family members can cause an annual disaster: a sullen teenager with one-word answers around the tree or menorah, a toddler throwing a fit because he didn't get the toy he wanted.
"Set expectations upfront for your children as it relates to Santa and the gifts he delivers," Jones said. Plus, she noted, "It's a great opportunity to teach them that gifts are not the most important part of the season."
Finally, just let it go. Ultimately, sometimes awkward moments are inescapable - whether you're on the giving or receiving end.
"It's done, so just hug it out and smile," Cheng said. "Then have another drink."