5 Easy Rules for Giving Great Hostess Gifts (And a Case for Reviving This Fading Tradition)

Kyle Richardson#Love, Austin, Springfield

Hostess Gifts and the Holidays

The holiday season is settling in all around us. Party preparations are underway and invites are in the mail (or on a Facebook event page if, like me, you can’t remember the last time you bought stamps.) This is the time of the year when we gather loved ones close, celebrate relationships, and connect to that deeper sense of gratitude too easily ignored during our day-to-day routines.

With the approaching festivities drawing closer, I want to talk about host/ess gifts and why I see room for adding this practice to your holiday tradition repertoire.

My Assumption

Before writing this blog, I sincerely assumed that most people were sitting next to me on the hostess gift bandwagon. I rarely go to a party with empty hands and NEVER if it is the first time at a new friend’s house.  That is why, when brainstorming blog ideas, I just knew you lovely readers were itching to up your gifting game.

The Reality

You can imagine my surprise when my research revealed that I am in the minority when it comes to host or hostess gifts. Almost everyone I spoke to said they’ve never given or received a hostess gift. What?! In fact, the more people I spoke to, the more my assumption was tested.  I mean, really. Are we not proper, midwestern folk? I sat with my new-found knowledge for a few days, stewed over the implications, and then came to a simple conclusion. Maybe I fell into that too-human pitfall where an individual expects personal experiences to be shared experiences? Hmm. Funny how life keeps teaching us even when we are not looking to learn.

Quote by Judith Viorst

Okay, so lesson learned. Assumptions are often misinformed and hard to spot. But, I haven’t given up on the idea that a host or hostess gift can be an amazing addition to your holiday spirit. Keep reading as I make my case, explain a few gifting faux pas, and then- spoiler alert- share a few relatable reasons to forgo this tradition.

A Case for the Hostess Gift

Okay, so now that I have a new perspective, allow me a moment to make a case for giving a host or hostess gift.

  1. Hosting a party is a lot of work!

    As a fervent party-thrower, I sincerely enjoy giving my friends and family a space to make great memories. With that said, it takes a ton of preparation and cleanup. I don’t do it for gifts, but they are always appreciated while picking up the party remnants the next day.

  2. Gift giving and receiving is fun!

    I am an eager gift giver. It is my “love language” for those of you familiar with Dr. Gary Chapman’s theory. So, of course, I enjoy shopping for that perfect something.
    * If gifting isn’t your love language, your “gift” can take another form. One of the best hostess gifts given to me was a pan of frozen, homemade cinnamon rolls intended to be an easy breakfast for the next day. Though still a tangible object, the gift fell into the acts of service category and meant the world to me.

  3. A gift opened the next day is a great way to ensure you leave a lasting positive impression.

    Okay, so here is where I fashion a plea to the pragmatists and introverts in the room. I know that we all want to put our best foot forward, but sometimes we stumble. Social situations are tricky and the general awakening of our social conscience means that we are expected (and rightfully so) to be aware of what shouldn’t be said or done. If you do slip up and commit a faux pas, a nice gift opened the next day will ensure you end on a high note. Think of it as social insurance.

Dan Millman quote

5 easy rules.

Not that I’ve made my case, here are a few ways to give great hostess gifts.

  1. Keep it small

    Your friend is trying to treat you and their time and effort is the gift that should shine the brightest.

  2. Keep it hassle free

    Hosting is the art of anticipating needs. This skill requires the host or hostess to keep their minds tuned-in to each and every guest. Anything that distracts or demands attention, such as flowers or perishable foods, should be avoided.

  3. Keep it quiet

    Your host can sense the mood of the room. If other guests feel uncomfortable that they didn’t bring a gift, your friend is going to feel that atmosphere change. This will mean more work for the host and takes away from the spirit of giving. Avoid making a big deal that you brought a gift and don’t ask your host to open it immediately. When giving a hostess gift, I usually say “and here is something small to show our thanks for you to look at tomorrow.”

  4. Keep it private

    If you are just so excited that you can’t wait to see your host open the gift, wait until the end of the party or during a calm moment so your hostess can sneak away without feeling guilty. I can tell you from experience, the first 20 minutes or so of a party is the busiest and the most vulnerable time for any host or hostess. Wait for the right time and then give your gift in private.

  5. Keep it interesting

    The goal is to show that you appreciate the invite and that you would appreciate future invites. To make sure your private, hassle-free, quiet gift is also remembered, give your host or hostess something unique. Keep this basic rule in mind: interesting gift = increased dopamine = rememberable.
    *Dopamine is a chemical our brain uses to reward us for specific behaviors and motivate us to do those same behaviors again.  If you want to learn how to expertly take advantage of dopamine’s benefits in social settings, I suggest you check out Vanessa Van Edward’s book, Captivate. It changed my life!  And if you don’t have time to read the book right now because the holidays are so busy, here is a good article that compresses the information in a few Q and A’s.

Pierre Corneille quote

Coming full circle

Okay, so I am obviously a promoter of the host/ess gift idea. However, I did hear a few strong arguments against the tradition. What kind of content creator would I be if I cherry-picked my data solely to support my argument? So here is are a list of reasons to avoid host/ess gifts.

  1. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it

    If you and your friends already have amazing traditions, you might not need to add anything to the experience. In fact, do you really want an extra thing to remember? It takes time to get into a new habit and maybe you don’t want to spend the mental energy (and money) remembering all these rules. If you feel this way, I suggest that you keep the formal hostess gift-giving saved for office parties and other events where you want to make an extra special impression.

  2. Some people feel uncomfortable receiving gifts

    While the notion seems strange to me, many people dislike receiving gifts. And what kind of giver would I be if I only thought of how gift-giving makes me feel? Keep your mission in mind. You want to make your friend feel amazing and show your appreciation for their time and efforts. If something as simple as a sincere thank you will do, stick with verbal gratitude.

  3. The Friend Debt

    One of the best arguments against giving a hostess gift is this: nobody wins in a Friend Debt war. If you or your friend view the gift as a debt, just stop now. Know yourself. When you receive a gift, do you feel the need to “pay it back?” If the answer is yes, I suggest avoiding this particular tradition. It takes away from the spirit of grace and gives room for obligation to sneak into your friendship. I know many wonderful people who view relationships on a carefully calibrated scale. When one side tips the balance, they want the other side to move towards equilibrium quickly. For my equity-centric friends, debts are serious and it is better to avoid the debt war altogether.


What do you think? Are you pro hostess gift or is this a hard pass? If you are on this bandwagon with me, what is the best gift you’ve given or received? If you think this is an unnecessary step,  how do you show your party-invite appreciations?


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