You and your friend decided you weren’t going to exchange gifts this year. You’re fine with this because money’s tight and besides— your relationship with the person is gift enough for you.
Then, she surprises you by ignoring your mutual deal. There she stands with a big smile on her face holding a beautifully wrapped gift... for you.
Your friend means the world to you, but honestly right now you’re feeling a little tricked...even betrayed. You kept your promise. After all, aren’t promises meant for keeping? It didn’t occur to you that your friend would nudge on hers.
Possible options for how to respond zoom through your mind at the speed Santa’s sleigh flies through the night. Accept the gift graciously? Accept the gift, but show that you’re a bit miffed? Don’t accept the gift? Accept the gift, and then run out and buy her one?
Here’s how to handle the situation with grace while still keeping your promise and setting boundaries for next year and beyond.
Should you accept the gift? Yes, and nicely, too. Your friend was wrong to not keep her promise, but being rude about it would be wrong, too.
Related: 5 Gift Ideas to Replenish the Soul
Should you say anything about the promise? You can and should politely remind your friend of your mutual decision. “Heather, thank you for the gift. I’m surprised by it. We decided together not to exchange gifts so I don’t have one for you.” Then open the gift and thank her for it as you normally would.
Should you rush out and reciprocate? Nope, for two reasons. First, we all need to be people who keep our word. Second, if you give her a gift this year then next year, even if you decide not to exchange gifts again, you have no idea whether she’ll keep her end of the deal.
My husband and I made a mutual decision with two family members that in order to save money we would only buy gifts for the children, and then only one gift for each child. For three years in a row they gave my husband and I, and our only child at the time, multiple presents each. I felt bad. They spent hundreds of dollars yearly. Each Thanksgiving, after dinner, we made our mutual promise, again. And each year my husband and I kept it. Finally, in year four they understood we were always going to keep our word and since then, they’ve kept theirs, too.
Related: Who is the Gift Really For?
What if the person you’re gifting is in need? Maybe your friend or relative is out of a job or has some other financial hardship. You have the funds to help. You want to make the holidays special for them. Plus, you don’t expect or want anything in return. What should you do? If you’re giving gifts so that their children will have presents to open, or to pay for necessities like groceries or bills that’s especially kind of you. Why not play Secret Santa? Have a friend you trust, but they don’t know, deliver the gifts or money for you. This way you fill their need and there will never be any awkwardness from the person on the receiving end about the best way to thank you. Plus, they won’t feel indebted to you, and they’ll have a great story to share about their own holiday miracle.
Giving gifts is lovely, and so is keeping your word. If you’re on the receiving end of a gift the giver promised they wouldn’t give, accept it graciously, while keeping your promise. If you’re the giver, remember that wanting to give is nice but a promise is a promise.
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