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

Read Original Version (CLB5+) You are reading the Simple Version (CLB3-4)

Skip to:

Christmas is important in my home country. We have many events and parties. We also do a lot of shopping. You must give presents to many people. By “many people,” I mean all the people you know. This includes friends, family, and even the newspaper delivery person. This tradition costs a lot of money. We often say, “Christmas is only once a year!” to explain why we spend so much.

If you are from a place like mine, you might wonder if Canada is the same. Here is a guide for you:

Should I give my boss a gift?

Think about it before you buy a gift for your boss this Christmas.

People in Canadian workplaces do not often give gifts during the holidays. There are many reasons for this. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. If you give your boss a gift, others might think you are trying to get special favors. This is especially true if the gift is very expensive. Your boss might feel they have to give you something in return. Also, your co-workers might not be happy if you only give a gift to your boss. Everyone should be treated the same at work.

Here are some simple ideas for giving gifts at work:

  1. Ask about how your workplace celebrates the holidays. Many do a “Secret Santa” or a gift swap at the Christmas party. Remember to check the rules for gifts, especially in government jobs. Your work handbook might have information too.
  2. Bosses usually make more money than workers. So, they don’t expect gifts. But sometimes, workers put money together for a big group gift. This is if they really like their boss or for a big event like a birthday or retirement. Everyone agrees on what to buy and how much to spend. The gift is not too fancy.
  3. It’s okay to give a small gift to say thank you to your boss. But don’t buy something too personal.
  4. You can give small gifts to the people you work with. These can be things like sweets, key rings, and other small items.

Is it okay to give my teacher a gift?

  1. Adult students in an ESL class or a short course might give their teacher a gift. They do this to show they are thankful.
  2. Grade school students often give a gift to their teacher. They do this on the last day before the Christmas holiday. It is not required.
  3. College and postgraduate students should not give gifts to their professors. Giving a gift might look like they are trying to get a better grade. It is not a good idea.

Is it okay to give gifts to service providers?

In Canada, it is okay to give extra tips during holidays. You can give extra tips to people like postal workers, cleaners, or baby-sitters. This is based on how long they have worked for you. It also depends on if you know them well. For example, you might have the same mailman or garbage collector for many years. If you like their work, you can give them a gift. You might give them cookies, candy, or a gift card to Tim’s. You do not need to give holiday gifts to people who get tips all year. This includes waiters, hairstylists, barbers, or food delivery workers.

Am I required to give something to my neighbours?

Giving gifts should not be a must. It should come from your heart. Give a gift if you are close to your neighbour. They might like holiday food such as cookies or pastries. But remember to think about food allergies (see more tips below).

General gift-giving etiquette:

Canadians like practical things during the holidays. This year, rising prices are affecting many people. Remember this when you choose gifts.

Most cultures do not like it when people ask for expensive gifts.

A few more tips:

  1. If you are not sure what to give, send Christmas cards. Write a sincere note by hand. Wish them well for the season.
  2. People like getting food as gifts. But if you are not sure about their likes or allergies, give them a gift card. For instance, teachers often get cookies, candy, and other common Christmas foods. They might like a gift card better.
  3. If you want to give small gifts to your workmates, give the same thing to everyone. Let them know you do not want anything back.
  4. If someone invites you to their home in Canada for dinner, bring chocolates, wine, or flowers for the person who invited you.
  5. Always thank someone for any gift you get. Say “Thank you” and “Happy holidays!”
  6. Think about giving money to a charity instead of buying gifts. You do not have to give a lot. People will be thankful for any small amount you give.

Article updated November 21, 2023.
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.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

WorkCom_Before you begin

A woman giving a presentation at work

Thinking about your knowledge and skills is an independent learning strategy. When you think about what you can do and what… Read more »

WorkCom_Week 4

A woman giving a presentation at work

This is our last week of Workplace Communications. This time you are in the driver’s seat. We look forward to your presentation… Read more »

WorkCom_Week 3

A woman giving a presentation at work

We have now reached week 3 of Workplace Communications! This week, we are engaging in a number of activities that allow… Read more »

WorkCom_Week 2

A woman giving a presentation at work

In week 2,  we continue practising working with others by doing a peer review. A peer review helps you develop… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.