Though there are slight variations, gift giving among western European countries and the countries in which they settled–The United States, Canada, South Africa and Australia–is pretty consistent.
Like many other countries, gift giving traditions, occasions, customs and etiquette stem from the religious preferences of those who originally settled that region. For Europe and the countries in which it settled, gift giving coincides with the Christian philosophy.
Gift Wrap and Presentation: Gifts should be wrapped nicely or arranged in gift bags with tissue paper. It is also expected that a card will be given that has a message and tells who the gift is from. Colors don’t hold a lot of symbolism, however, wrapping often correlates with the holiday like green and red paper for Christmas.
Gifts are usually given and opened upon arrival or at a traditional time (after cake at birthday parties, at home after the wedding) and in front of the giver.
Etiquette: Thank you cards are seen as the proper way to thank someone for a gift. It is also expected that if you gave someone a gift for their birthday or another holiday, they would return the favor when your time comes around.
In Ireland gifts are often refused a few times before accepting. It’s believed that this is derived from the potato famine times when recipients wanted to ensure that the giver could really afford to give them a gift without embarrassment.
Go to Gifts: You can’t go wrong with edible gifts or a nice bottle of wine or liquor.
Gift cards and gift baskets are very popular. In Australia, gift baskets are called “gift hampers.’
Flowers are another popular gift but keep in mind that in Europe they still often adhere to old European tradition in flower gifting. This rule states that red roses are reserved for romantic intentions, chrysanthemums are used to decorate graves, never give 13 flowers (it’s bad luck) and bouquets should be made up of an odd number of flowers.
With the global attempt at keeping the planet green, trends in green gifting have been emerging. This includes things like non material gift giving like experience gifts and digital gifts via the internet. Another trend has been “gifts that give back’ to charity causes.
Taboo Gifts: When gifting overseas, don’t give someone something from your country that their country is famous for. For example don’t give beer in Germany, don’t give chocolate in Belgium. Don’t give wine or cheese in France.
Business Gift Giving Standards: Generally, gift giving isn’t a part of a business exchange. However, it’s common for employers to give employees gifts at Christmas time whether it is in the form of a bonus, gift card or small gift.
Historical Gift Giving: England started the trend of experience gifts. Red Letter Days, the first experience gift company started in England in 1989.
Gift Giving Occasions: Christmas is the biggest gift giving occasion and department stores make 30% of their revenue for the year in the month leading up to Christmas.
*Hostess Gift: Hostess gifts are always a nice gesture and in Europe especially, are standard. Good hostess gifts include flowers, desserts or a small decorative item like a candle. In many countries, it’s acceptable and common to send your hostess gift after the dinner party or occasion. In this case, it would usually be flowers or a bottle of wine delivered with a card.
When giving a hostess gift from overseas, something from your own country is best.
* Birthday: Birthdays are a big gift giving occasion especially for children and those celebrating milestone birthdays like 30, 40, 50, etc.
* Weddings: Along with Christmas is one of the biggest gift giving occasions. Wedding gifts tend to be the priciest of gifts and usually include things for the couple’s home. Gifts are often chosen off registries made by the bride and groom, and unlike many other countries, cash isn’t a common wedding gift. And, because the gifts are pricier, sometimes friends or family will all go in on a large gift.
Bridal showers are a common gift giving practice. Usually the bride’s mother or maid of honor will throw her a shower. Another popular trend are lingerie parties where girls give the bride various bra and panty sets.
*Valentine’s Day: Legends of Saint Valentine originated in Rome and in the 1800s the U.S. began commercializing this holiday. It’s now a huge gift giving occasion between lovers all over the U.S., Europe and Australia. Typical gifts include a romantic dinner, chocolates in a heart-shaped box, teddy bears and red roses.
*House Warming: Desserts, wine, meals (like a casserole) and things for the home are standard. Home decorations such as a picture frame, plant, candle or small statue are also acceptable.
*Baby Gifts: Sometimes baby showers are thrown and the mother gets gifts to prepare for the arrival of the baby. In the more Catholic dominant regions, gifts are more prevalent at baptisms. In both cases, gifts include money, clothes, toys and religious memorabilia.
*Christmas: Though all the European countries recognize Christmas as a national holiday, there are many variations of Saint Nicholas and the day in which he visits homes and leaves presents vary. Perhaps this allows him to visit every home!?
– In the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria Sinterklaas visits on Dec. 5. He comes by boat from Spain and leaves bags of presents on doorsteps.
– On night of Dec. 24, Santa, Father Christmas, Saint Nick or Pere Noel leaves presents for children to find on Christmas day morning. He leaves presents in stockings and under the tree.
Christmas traditions vary by country and even by family, but for most this is a time to spend with family, celebrate the birth of Jesus, eat a meal and exchange gifts. One Christmas gift giving trend that is gaining speed is gift exchanges.
Whether white elephant where people draw numbers and pick gifts, or secret santa where you draw from a group of names and only give that person a gift; these are great ways to spread cheer and save some money on Christmas gifts.
*Mother’s and Father’s Day: Taking place respectively in May and June, these dates are set aside to celebrate mothers and fathers. Children typically give their parents gifts on these days and plan special activities to spend the day with mom or dad.
*Enjoy this article? Click here to learn about gift giving in other parts of the world.