The Christmas Etiquette Survival Guide

It's Father Christmas, not Santa, please!
How outrageous that Father Christmas is fighting the North American character Santa Claus for rights to the British chimney. And it's not even Santa Claus any more, just Santa — a horrible diminution of historical characters into one brand-like entity. It's cringeworthy when a British person says it — adult or child, but especially adult, actually; we should know better. Father Christmas is an altogether lovelier name, and lovelier concept. The daddy of Christmas. The guardian of gift-giving. How can 'Santa' compete with that? CS Lewis preferred Father Christmas for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The illustrator Raymond Briggs preferred it for his graphic novel Father Christmas, which depicts the big man as a grumpy old git who's more interested in drink than presents. Ideal for British sensibilities! Apparently, in some spheres he's known as Kris Kringle, which sounds like a budget cereal. We'd be best off ignoring that one.

Equally Hard to Give as to Receive
At work, it has become commonplace to buy gifts for colleagues. This is yet another source of festive angst for the middle classes; should you buy presents for your colleagues? If so, which ones do you include and which ones do you leave out? How embarrassed will you be if you buy gifts but they don't buy you one in return?

Main worries for the giver
• What if everyone else has bought more elaborate gifts and yours seems a bit tight?
• What if everyone else has bought something small but meaningful while you've bought something far too elaborate?
• What if everyone else has bought gifts that are funny, quirky or really say something about the person, and your gift is boring and impersonal and shows your lack of imagination and understanding of your workmates?
• What if you buy something that is too boring and you offend the receiver by implying that they are dull?
• What if you buy something that is a little risqué and you offend the receiver by implying that they are common?

Main worries for the receiver
• The gift you receive is boring and completely impersonal. You think this means that everyone in the office thinks that you are boring and have no interests.
• The gift you receive is rude/suggestive in some way. You think this means that everyone in the office thinks you are brazen or vulgar.
• The gift you receive is clearly meant to be personal to you, yet is something unpleasant. You think this means that everyone thinks you have bad taste.
• You receive gifts. Secretly you're quite pleased, but then you worry that everyone thinks you are so dull and insular that they just couldn't think of anything interesting to get you.

To assuage these fears, here are three things that will convey a neutral message:

• Fudge. But artisan, preferably. You don't want it to say "You like eating, so here's some average fudge" but rather "You really appreciate fine foods, here's some quality fudge."
• A scented candle. Go for a proper luxury one, though, not one that could be mistaken for an air-freshening device.
• Some sort of trendy kitchen accessory such as salad servers in bamboo or something.
xmas stress goes on

There are some activities that very simply distinguish the middle classes from other people — and one of them is the sending of thank-you cards after receiving presents. And there is an angsty politeness that accompanies the ritual. Now your children's birthdays and Christmases are not complete without you sitting on the sidelines and noting down givers and gifts given so that you don't forget. Sending letters is a jolly nice thing to do, and we all feel terrible if we forget, but goodness, the stress that it can bring!

Inevitably there are one or two gifts that have no tags — does one guess, or try to work out a tactful way of enquiring with the suspects?


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