Another Light-Hearted Holiday Survival Guide: What to Do When Gifts Go Wrong

During the holidays, you’ll probably attend a family holiday party. You know, the one with relatives you know, weird family friends, and relatives you’re sure you’ve never met (but they seem to know a suspicious amount of stuff about you, like precisely how tall you were as an eight-year-old).

During holiday parties like these, you’ll probably encounter some gift giving and receiving. The best part of the holidays, right?


The holidays are about more than gift giving (yeah yeah we know, Linus), that’s not what I’m referring to here. A lot of gifting snafus happen, and if you’re not prepared, you may find yourself in an awkward situation. And if you’re like me, you will try to talk so much in attempts to make it better that you will only dig deeper into the pit of foot-in-mouthiness. So if thinking about any of these situations pangs you with anxiety, let’s make a game plan for how to handle them! You got this!

1. You Received a Gift You Don’t Like

Great Aunt Millie really hoped you’d enjoy a gently used Barbie Mermaid Lights Rainbow Doll. Obviously, Millie didn’t realize that you’re 23 now and you’ve graduated to L.O.L. Surprise! dolls and have no use for another Barbie in your collection.

When I need to smile and act happy and I’m not in the mood, I make a little gasp before I speak. It’s a weird trick that lets your tone sound more genuine. Note that this is, in fact, a little inhale and not comparable to when you are about to have a huge sneeze. You can practice a bit, get the hang of it. It may feel silly, but you’ll feel good about how you sound when you know what to expect. Suddenly, saying, “Thank you, this is wonderful!” becomes a little more sincere and a little less like you’re actually saying, “Piss off.”

If this gift is from someone to whom you’re particularly close, like a significant other or parent, try being honest with them to avoid having to carry out a charade. But in other cases, a genuine smile and thank you will work great. Even better, write a thank you note. Then, take that baby back to Walmart because you know they will accept any and everything with or without a receipt.

2. You Can Tell Your Gift Was Not Well-Received

What do you mean Cousin Luke doesn’t like the Baby Yoda onesie you got him? Does he not understand the Internet right now?

Even if someone’s clearly wrong, pointing out their displeasure in front of the group will just make everyone feel uneasy. Instead, you can pull them aside later on and ask about exchanging. If this person insists that they like it, no matter how insincere they sound, try your best not to push the issue.

And a great way to avoid these potentially uncomfortable conversations altogether is to always include a receipt with each present! Then they can try out the weird gasp + smile trick I explained in #1 (because clearly everyone at your party will be reading this in preparation).

3. Somebody Gave You A Gift and You Don’t Have One for Them

Of course your sweet friend from high school stopped by to tell you her mom said hi and to drop off some cookies. That bitch. Now what do you do?

An easy fix is to give a genuine thank you, then later on, send a thank you. In your thank you, mail or email a small gift in return, like a gift card to a favorite restaurant or store. Think of it as a New Year’s gift. If the person’s appearance was unannounced, they probably don’t expect you to have a gift anyway, and your email or letter will be a nice surprise. And if you don’t have any desire to give something in return, just do the thank you note.

If you want to stay on your toes during the party, prep a few “just in case” gifts for these exact moments. Bottles of wine or mugs full of treats usually go over well. Keep them somewhere that you (or the host) will know the location and leave the packages unmarked. “Oh, thank you! Did you open my gift? I don’t think you did; here.” They will never know.

4. You Clearly Received A Re-Gift

“Wow Uncle Henry, thank you for this doughnut maker that has burnt batter already stuck to the sides!” Well, don’t say that. But gosh, wouldn’t you like to?

My mom and I once knew we received a re-gift because of the old to/from sticker still on the box.

Or the worst of all, the re-gift is given to you, the original gift-giver.

All of these scenarios are potentially uncomfortable. Hell, even seeing a price tag still on something makes me feel uneasy. But, if anything has been learned from this article, it’s that genuine thank-yous are always the best way to go. Pointing out anything above is going to embarrass the person, and it’s probably best to avoid upsetting someone you’re going to spend the rest of the party avoiding, too. Just follow the steps in ol’ reliable, tip #1.

If you think you’ll re-gift something, start a little list on your computer or phone of the gift, when it was received, and the gifter’s name. Avoid putting yourself in the same situation, my friend!

Your gift unwrapping has ceased and you’re hopefully holding something you really care about. Maybe it’s a new-in-package Betty Spaghetty (if you don’t know, look it up), maybe it’s a tin of picked-over butterscotch candies. Whatever the gift, know that thank you notes are always a good idea and mean a lot.

Now go talk to your second cousin, Carl, and his vegan orthopedic shoe insert business. Or navigate questions about your relationship status. You can do it–I believe in you.


If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out Home For The Holidays

by April Yanko

My name's April, but Post March is my fun riddle alias.

Lover of cats, eater of pasta. Hoping to make you laugh with silly things that come from the heart.