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

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Many of us come from cultures where gift-giving is a tradition during the holidays. It’s different here in Canada. Here’s a guide for you this Christmas:

Should I give a gift to my boss at Christmas?

You probably have a great boss. But before you buy a gift, think of the following:

  • Not everyone celebrates Christmas.
  • You can be seen as a brown noser if you give a gift to the boss (and other employees don’t) in the Canadian workplace.
  • This happens especially when you give a luxury or expensive item.
  • Your co-workers will say that you are playing favourites. Treatment should generally be equal in the workplace.
  • It can pressure your boss to also give you a gift.
  • You can make everyone feel uncomfortable.

Tips on giving gifts at work:

  1. Ask about the gift-giving tradition at your workplace. Most offices have simple practices like a “Secret Santa” at the Christmas party.
  2. Most employers do not expect a gift because employees earn less than their bosses.
  3. Some give a group gift. This is done on a special occasion like your boss’s birthday or retirement. Everyone is asked about the item and cost. It is not usually an expensive gift.
  4. Give a small gift if you have a good reason to thank your boss. But don’t buy a gift that is too personal or expensive.
  5. Give small gifts to your co-workers only if you have a close relationship with them. Give cookies, keychains, or small trinkets. Give the same thing to each person.

Is it ok to give my teacher a gift?

  1. Giving a group gift is okay for classes like an ESL class or a short term course.
  2. Children in elementary give a gift to their teacher on the last day before Christmas break. This is voluntary.
  3. College and postgraduate students should not give their professors a gift. This may be seen as bribery to get a high mark.

Is it OK to give gifts to service providers?

Holiday tipping is done for service providers like postal workers, cleaning people, or baby- sitters. The amount depends on how long you have known them. Giving a box of cookies or a gift card to Tim Horton’s, for example, is also acceptable. You don’t have to give holiday gifts or additional tips to those who already get tipped throughout the year. Examples of are waiters, hairstylists/barbers, or food delivery persons.

Should I give a gift to my neighbours?

Give a gift only if you have a close personal relationship with your neighbours. Cookies or pastries are appreciated.

General gift-giving etiquette:

Canadians are practical during the holidays. Most people do not like to focus on material things. Never ask for specific gifts. It is in poor taste. Here are other tips:

  1. Send a Christmas card if you don’t know if you should give a gift or not. Write a note of thanks and greetings for the season. This is personal and heartfelt.
  2. Gifts of food are appreciated. Give a gift card if you don’t know their tastes or if they may have allergies.
  3. You can give small gifts to your co-workers to say thank you. But give everyone the same thing. Let them know that you don’t expect anything in return.
  4. Bring a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine or flowers for the host if you are invited to a Canadian home for dinner.
  5. Show your appreciation for any gift given to you. Say thank you and greet them, “Happy holidays!”
  6. Consider donating to charity instead of spending on gifts.

Article updated November 15, 2021.
Sources: Five rules for holiday gift-giving, HRD Canada; 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/November 15, 2021.

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