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What to Do If You Receive an Unexpected Gift

Some holiday situations are as sticky as peppermint candy canes, including the uncomfortable instance of receiving an unexpected gift. Usually it's easy to assume who will take part in a gift exchange, but we all know that assumptions don't always pan out the way you predicted.

That friend you haven't heard from in a month, but gave you a gift last year, might come bearing a present around the holidays. And your chatty co-worker whom you call a colleague? She might think you have moved on to friend territory and wants to let you know how much she appreciates you with a gifting gesture. To see suggestions for handling such situations,


  • Friend: You can be pretty honest with a true friend. After graciously thanking her for the present, apologize that you don't have anything for her. Tell her you're sorry and that you'd love to have her (and possibly a plus one) over for a home-cooked meal of her choosing sometime soon. When she calls and asks what she can bring, tell her nothing at all and mention that it's your gift to her. Open a bottle of her favorite kind of wine to serve with the dish she requested, and the time you spend together will mean more than a purchased gift.
  • Family: It really depends on how close you are to the family member, but it's always best to be honest and say you didn't expect to exchange gifts this year. Send a warm thank-you note for the gift you received and include a batch of your homemade cookies or hot cocoa mix.
  • Co-worker: After apologizing for not being prepared, take her to lunch and give her a card making light of what a procrastinator you are.
  • Boss: This one is easy — just give an appreciative "thanks!" You don't need to feel pressure to reciprocate your boss's gesture.

Have you ever received a gift without having one to give in return?


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