Halloween has passed and Thanksgiving is here. The holidays have officially begun. People in the American culture generally have two views on holiday decorating and gift shopping. Either you are the type of person who is ready to decorate the moment the Halloween decorations come down, and you are an early shopper, or you are the type of person who insists on waiting until after Thanksgiving to decorate for Christmas, and your shopping window is much smaller. You could, of course, be a combination of these two people also.
The gift giving tradition in America is a pretty strong one. Although Christmas is not the only holiday for which gifts are given, it is certainly a big one. People of many walks of life participate in Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa during the winter holidays in the United States. The big shopping day is Black Friday. Black Friday this year is November 25th. Shops will open super early and people who like to get the best deals will brave the long lines to make sure they are first through the door when the stores open. There are lots of shopping opportunities online too. Cyber Monday falls on November 28th this year. For those who do not want to wait in the lines or be out in the cold, shopping online on Cyber Monday is a great way to get deals. The limit for each household holiday gift spending varies. The important thing is that everyone on your list gets a reminder that they are important to you.
Americans give all sorts of gifts to friends and family during the holidays. Presents range from big to small and pricey to inexpensive. In the last few years, it seems that more and more people give gift cards or cash as presents to ensure that the recipient gets what he/she really wants. Gift cards seem impersonal, but in reality, they are a great option if the gift giver would rather the receiving person purchase what he/she really wants. It is nice, however, for the person giving the gift to consider the likes/dislikes of the person for whom they are buying.
When it comes to the American gift giving culture, it is now common to give gifts to all those who serve you and your family. Do you have crossing guards who help your child/children get to school safely? They might deserve a gift as a gesture of appreciation. Have you a delivery person who frequently brings you packages? He or she would love a present. In the United States, it is more and more common to give these people gifts. If not personalized, it is now common to leave a cooler of drinks and a basket of snacks out for the drivers of UPS, Amazon, etc., especially during the holidays. Do you have a hairdresser, therapist, or other person who helps or serves you throughout the year? You know what to do…get them a gift!
Giving gifts to teachers is very common in the United States. Teachers love gift cards to places like Target, Amazon and Starbucks (not just for coffee drinkers), but if you are trying to be more personal, have the teacher fill out a favorite things questionnaire so you can customize his/her gift to his/her particular likes/interests. You could also opt to give them Christmas-themed gifts. Teachers love getting handmade holiday items from your children. Check with the school first though, because it is likely the teacher has a form already on file in the school office. If needed, a customizable favorite things questionnaire can be found here. Depending on your level of comfort, teacher gifts in the U.S. can be anywhere from ten to two hundred dollars per present. In addition to your budget, you should check and see what your child's school or school district limit is for gifts that teachers can accept. They want to avoid bribery or the appearance of such.
The winter holidays bring opportunities for celebrations and get togethers which can be lots of fun, but gift giving etiquette for these parties can be tricky. If you are invited to a holiday party, whether or not gifts are being exchanged, it is polite to bring a bottle of wine or some other small present for the host. If the invitation says that the party is “White Elephant,” this means you are to take a small gift (usually a price is set so you know not to spend more than a certain amount). This gift is to be humorous rather than serious or thoughtful. Gifts at White Elephant parties are wrapped, but not marked for any one person. When the exchange takes place, the host will go over the rules for choosing a gift. Participants can “steal” gifts at a White Elephant, so do not get your heart set on the first item you open!
For family and close friends, gift giving in America should not be too difficult. Think about your family or friends’ personal interests and choose something special. For those you know a little less, do not ask them what they want. Ask someone who knows them well what they would like, but do not ask the recipient directly what he/she would like. This may make him/her feel uncomfortable. When in doubt, you can, of course, always go with a gift card.
With any gift in America, it is nice to wrap the present in paper and to put a bow or ribbon on it. There are lots of really nice gift-wrapping ideas if you want your present to look really special. Check out Food 52’s “Best Way to Wrap Presents” for more suggestions. Know also that you can bag a gift with pretty tissue paper, especially if the item is a funny shape and does not fit nicely into a box.
Gift giving is a huge part of the holidays in America, and it should be fun, not stressful. Remember the blessing of giving, and the old saying, “it is better to give rather than to receive.” The smile on the face of your gift recipient will be all the present you need.
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