Should I give my boss a Christmas gift? Learn the Canadian gift-giving tradition

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Christmas in my home country is a big deal. The holidays mean a series of parties, feasts, and, most importantly – tons of shopping. This is because you are expected to give gifts to everyone. And I mean everyone! From your friends and family (including extended family) to the person who delivers your newspaper every day. Needless to say, it’s an expensive affair. Most of us justify this extravagance by saying “Christmas is just once a year!”

If you came from a culture like mine and you’re wondering whether you should give gifts at the office this holiday season, here’s a guide:

Should I give a gift to my boss at Christmas?

Having an awesome boss may inspire you to give them a gift this Christmas. But before you swipe your credit card for that special item, stop and think about it for a minute. Gift-giving during the holidays is not usually done in the Canadian workplace for many reasons. For one, not everyone celebrates Christmas. Second, giving a gift to the boss may be interpreted to mean that you are a brown noser, especially if your gift is a luxury item. This can also place an unwanted obligation on your boss to return the favour. Your co-workers may not look too kindly on your gesture, since treatment should generally be equal in the workplace.

In short, you will make everyone feel uncomfortable.

Here are a few tips on gift-giving at work:

  1. Observe or ask about the gift-giving tradition at your workplace. While most Canadian workplaces do not condone extravagance, they may have simple gift-giving practices like holding a “Secret Santa” during the office Christmas party.
  2. Because employees earn less than their bosses, most employers do not really expect a gift. But some may organize a group gift, especially if they like their boss or if it is a special occasion for the boss (for example a birthday or retirement). For this type of gift, everyone is consulted about the item and cost beforehand. It is not usually extravagant.
  3. Giving a small gift can be appropriate if you have a particular reason to thank your boss. Even then, don’t buy a gift that is too personal to show around the office.
  4. When your co-workers become your close friends, you may give them small tokens. These can be cookies, keychains, and other small trinkets. Make sure you give the same thing to everyone.

Is it ok to give my teacher a gift?

  1. Adult students, for example in an ESL class or a short term course, may give their teacher a group gift or a personal gift to show their appreciation.
  2. Children in the elementary grades usually give a gift to their teacher on the last day before Christmas break. But this is voluntary.
  3. College and postgraduate students are not expected to give their professors a gift. A gift may be seen as bribery to get a high mark so avoid doing it.

Is it OK to give gifts to service providers?

In Canada, holiday tipping is acceptable for service providers like postal workers, cleaners, or baby- sitters. But it depends on how long they have provided the service and if you have a personal relationship with the provider. For example, if you’ve had the same mailman or garbage collector for years and you are happy with their service, you may give them a box of cookies, candy or a gift card to Tim’s. Also, it is okay not to give holiday gifts or additional tips to service providers who already get tipped throughout the year like waiters, hairstylists/barbers, or food delivery persons.

Am I required to give something to my neighbours?

Gift-giving should never be required. It’s something that springs from your heart and is not obligatory. Give a gift if you have a close personal relationship with your neighbours. Holiday food like cookies or pastries would be appreciated.

General gift-giving etiquette:

You may have already noticed that Canadians like to be practical during the holidays. The key word here is restraint. Canadians generally do not like to focus on material things; the thought you put into the gift is more important than the monetary value. It is also crass and in poor taste to ask for particular gifts, especially when they are expensive. Here are a few general tips:

  1. When in doubt, consider sending Christmas cards. Include a hand-written note of thanks and greetings for the season. This is more personal and heartfelt.
  2. Gifts of food are appreciated. However, if you are unsure if the particular food would meet their taste (or if they may have allergies), give a gift card instead. For example, most teachers will be receiving food gifts like cookies, candy, and other usual Christmas treats. They may appreciate a gift card more.
  3. Should you wish to give small tokens of appreciation to your co-workers, make sure that you give everyone the same thing. And (this is important) make it known that you don’t expect anything in return.
  4. If you are invited to a Canadian home for dinner, show your appreciation by bringing a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine or flowers for the host.
  5. Always show your appreciation for any gift received. Say thank you and greet them, “Happy holidays!”
  6. Instead of spending on gifts, why not donate to a charitable cause. They would need and appreciate your gift more.

Sources: Unwritten rules of gift-giving at the office or school, Joan Bartel, Canadian Immigrant Magazine/Margaret Jetelina, Thinking Port; Canada gift giving customs, Giftypedia; and Canadian gift giving etiquette, Bits of Australia. Accessed December 20, 2018.

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