Christmas Gift Guide - the secrets of perfect present giving

Buying presents is not as easy as it looks

Buying presents is not as easy as it looks - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo Haywood unwraps the secrets of perfect present giving

It’s not just children who eagerly await the jingling bells of Santa’s sleigh and attack their pile of presents on Christmas morning like a ravenous dog falling on a rump steak. Some adults have also been known to get a tiny bit excited at the prospect of gifts galore. But, fun as it is to unwrap your beauteous bounty on the big day, choosing the right gifts and receiving yours with good grace and gratitude is a minefield of potential faux pas.

According to Yorkshire-based etiquette expert Belinda Alexander, who runs confidence and life skills courses in schools as well as Fashion People, specialising in personal shopping and styling services with her business partner Gail Little, many of us run into difficulties because we find it hard to express our wishes and wants.

‘The English are very bad at communicating when it comes to setting parameters for gift-giving,’ she explained. ‘If you’re going out for a meal with someone, you’re usually happy to agree on a restaurant you can both afford, but we don’t do the same when it comes to presents.

‘It’s embarrassing all round if you receive a full designer gift set when you’ve only wrapped up a supermarket moisturiser. So be tactful, but don’t be afraid to set spending limits. You’ll probably find your friends and family will breathe a huge sigh of relief.’

But what if, heaven forbid, Auntie Gertie has been handy with her knitting needles again and has presented you with one of her notorious Christmas jumpers. Is it ever okay to recycle gifts or file them under ‘not on your nelly’ in the nearest bin?

‘If you see someone all the time, they will expect to see you in that woolly hat with reindeer antlers at some point,’ said Belinda. ‘If you really can’t bear to wear it, however, you must think of a way of getting out of it that doesn’t hurt the other person’s feelings. Try something like ‘I love it but I’m afraid I’m allergic to mohair’ to let them down gently and with kindness.

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‘And if you do like something, tell the person who gave it to you. Say ‘I’m never out of those lovely gloves you bought me’ and they’ll feel wonderful – and you might get the matching scarf next time. It’s about showing appreciation for both the gift and the thought.’

And whether you’re presenting someone with a diamond bracelet or a homemade pencil holder (complete with pasta shapes and glitter), wrapping is a key component in making the receiver feel special.

‘It doesn’t take much – a few sheets of tissue paper and some ribbon – to make a gift look enticing,’ said Belinda.

‘And I find people really do appreciate a present that’s wrapped attractively. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a gift, but you do have to spend a few minutes wrapping it beautifully.

‘It’s hardly a chore, is it?’

For more information about Belinda Alexander, visit and And for great gift-wrapping tips, try, and

Click here to download our Christmas Gift Guide