Advice Columns

Miss Manners: Nudging people toward thoughtfulness in gift-giving

niversal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Is it possible to discourage or redirect adult relatives away from the practice of making Christmas lists?

I have tried and failed so far. At the tender age of 53, I am embarrassed to write out a “Dear Santa” letter, especially since my husband and I are lucky enough to be able to buy everything we need and much of what we want.

My relatives (siblings, their spouses, my mother) are in similarly good financial condition. However, they exert a great deal of pressure to produce these Christmas lists, which suggests to me that they can’t be bothered coming up with something to wrap up and put under the tree.

It’s depressing. Are we really such strangers to each other? I would be happy to forgo gifts altogether, but that option was not popular with my family. It seems so silly and kind of sad to buy things for people they could easily buy for themselves. It’s not really the end of the world to take a chance on someone even if the present later ends up being re-gifted or sent to charity, is it?

GENTLE READER: Like you, Miss Manners has tried and so far pretty much failed to discourage people from trashing the ancient custom of exchanging presents and substituting the exchange of shopping lists.

What (she keeps asking) is the point? The choice of presents is supposed to produce that warm feeling of knowing that someone else has noticed you and considered how to please you. When that element of thoughtfulness is eliminated, what is left?

Of course, she knows that the real answer is getting stuff one wants and having other people pay for it. But as a rough reciprocity is required, no one should come out ahead.

Some people solve this by making charitable donations in one another’s names, instead, but that, too, is something people should make their own choices about and do themselves, not to mention for which they should get the tax credit.

Until we succeed in making people understand the value and meaning of giving presents, Miss Manners suggests that you nudge them toward a minimal amount of thoughtfulness by listing “A book, DVD or CD that you think I might enjoy.”

Fishing for an invite

DEAR MISS MANNERS: We just moved to a very small town, away from all our family and friends. Due to a back injury, I am unable to cook Christmas dinner.

Would it be inappropriate to post on Facebook a request for an invitation to spend Christmas with somebody local? It is just my husband and I. If that is OK to do, what would be an appropriate manner to phrase the request?

GENTLE READER: Although kindly souls may be grateful for the chance to take in the destitute at Christmastime, Miss Manners has the impression that you do not qualify. And advertising that you would merely like to be invited out is a bit crass.

What you could do is to see whether there are any community organizations that do serve Christmas dinners to those in need, and ask whether there is any help you can offer that would not strain your back. At the least, you will have made overtures to local people who may invite you next year.

Judith Martin writes the Miss Manners column with help from her son, Nicholas Ivor Martin, and her daughter, Jacobina Martin. Send your questions to Miss Manners at her website,; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

© Universal Uclick 12/16