Gift Giving: Reciprocation required?

by epi on December 22, 2011

Q: If I receive a gift from someone but I haven’t gotten anything for her, do I need to run out and buy a present?

A: Don’t panic.  The most important thing is offering her your sincere thanks, and it’s fine to leave it at that.  But you can certainly get her something if you wish.  (One way to prepare for such emergencies: Keep a few wrapped items on hand during the holidays- a current best-seller, a box of fine note cards, some decorative candles.)  If you do reciprocate, you’ll likely be establishing a gift-giving tradition with your friend- so think about whether that’s something you want.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda December 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Since we moved to this house, the past 3 years, our next door neighbors have always given my dog a treat when they are both outside. So each xmas these past 3 yrs, I have given them a gift. I never received a thank you, nor did I expect one. I just appreciated them giving Charlie a treat. This year I decided not to get them a gift. And as luck would have it, in our mailbox today was a gift to Charlie from our neighbors. It was a box of treats. Should I get them a gift now as I have in the past? Thank you for any input. Happy Holidays! :D


Jody December 24, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Definitely send a thank-you note. Something similar just happened to me — people I met on vacation sent me a Christmas gift. In my case it was a thank-you for a favor I did them this fall. I’ll send them a nice note, but I think neither of us is interpreting it as a “let’s exchange gifts every year” gesture.


Kelly December 30, 2011 at 11:09 am

I work in an office and some of the staff (they are not my direct staff, but office staff) individually gave me small gifts. I felt awful as I had nothing for them – I have never worked in an office (maybe due to locale?) where gift-giving was like this. What is the proper response? A sincere thank you at the time? Thank you notes? Obviously it is too late to buy gifts.

Thank you much,



Winifred Rosenburg December 30, 2011 at 1:28 pm

This is unusual. I know it’s awkward accepting gifts from someone you didn’t get anything for, but you are under no obligation to give them gifts. Write them thank-you notes. If possible, send it to their homes so you don’t have the awkward situation of handing it to them during the work day.


Anne January 8, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I am having this issue too. My very good friend of ten years and myself have been exchanging gifts for the last few years and it has been always just him and I in the exchange. I have been with my husband for 11 years (including time when we were dating), yet as I said the gift exchange is just with my friend and myself, which my husband is fine with because my friend is like a brother. So, he has, for the first time in a long time, a girlfriend for the holidays. The girlfriend seems good. She makes him happy and does not seem to have any issues that I know about, which makes me truly happy for him. As of today, I have only met her three times and I know she is going to be around for possibily forever because after only six months, they got engaged last night. I am fine with this and am happy for him. Back to the gift giving issue, about a month ago, my friend says something along the lines of I am going to love what he and the girlfriend got my husband and myself for Christanaukka (I am Catholic and my friend is Jewish… Christmas+Hanaukka). I was caught off guard by this because, like I said, the gift exchange has always been just my friend and I and at that time, I had only met the girl twice and did not know anything about her… still do not much. Then to add to it, he said that they got me a gift as well. I do not feel that I need to get her a gift nor do I feel my husband and I need to get them a couple’s fit. I do feel a little guilty about it but I very few things about her and other than some idea chit chat on the three times I met her, I do not talk to her (not that I am stuck up, they live in Baltimore, we are in DC, and I just do not know her). Am I wrong?


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