Christmas Controversy: Gift Giving at Work


December 21, 2010

Who’s up for some controversy?  We’re a few days away from Christmas and although not everyone celebrates this holiday, from what I hear, many organizations still recognize it as an opportunity for gift giving.  But, each year I hear more stories about people who are offended by this practice because it does not recognize other religions.  In fact, it’s far more common to hear people with others “happy holidays” in December than calling out a specific holiday.

Where I work, we all receive a gift from senior leadership.  And, from the reactions I have heard so far, everyone really appreciates it.  We don’t exchange gifts in the HR department, but had a wonderful baking-from-scratch contest yesterday, a holiday lunch for the team, some special treats today, and made time to just enjoy being together as a group.  It was wonderful.

I thought I’d do a very unscientific study to find out:

  • Does your organization give a gift to each employee?  Do the employees appreciate it if they receive one?
  • Do you exchange gifts within your department?
  • If you do exchange gifts, how is it done (openly, Secret Santa, White Elephant style, etc.)?
  • Do you think that Christmas gift-giving shouldn’t be done because not everyone celebrates this holiday? Pros/ cons?

Share with me in the comments.  I think it will be interesting to hear how different organizations acknowledge the holiday or if they don’t.


  • There is no exchange of gifts, but I do give my two departmental secretaries gift cards as an expression of thanks.

  • I have experienced all sorts of Christmas/Holiday gift giving protocols. I worked in a place where a person would collect $20 from each person (15 employees) and get the boss a big gift, and the boss would not do anything for the employees. I worked in a place where the company gave really dinky trinkets that ended up in the bottom of a drawer.

    Where I work presently has a gift exchange where one draws a name for the recipient. I would rather adopt a needy family. I need nothing else, and frankly I would rather show appreciation for the ability to help one who needs it. The meaning of Christmas is to give freely, and this should be universal. The sentiment should cross religious lines.

    Why should one be offended by a Christmas gift? I know, it’s not recognising other religions, etc.; however, are the persons who don’t celebrate Christmas willing to give the boss a Ramadan gift or give eight days worth of Chaunukkah to the boss? Didn’t think so.

    As I say- it’s a gift!!! Be gracious and accept it.

  • Organizationally we provide a free holiday meal to employees and a gift card to a local grocery store. In our HR Division gifts are exchanged but not in an organized manner (secret santa, etc.).

  • My organization (or at least the local business unit) does a gift card to a local grocery chain. I’m always thankful for it, mostly because I don’t work in that business, but I sit in their building, so they take care of me. Yes, my name has been misspelled on my card for three straight years. Details.

    Outside of that, not much happens except one-on-one as hoc stuff. I have one of my colleagues on my list this year as a special thank you, but not so much as an Xmas thing.

    The best teams I’ve worked on, though, had their own party and their own gift protocol, regardless of what the rest of the company was doing.

  • We’ve never done a formal gift exchange. We pretty much spend the entire month of December bringing in food and stuff like that. We do decorate in a Christmas theme for sure (thank you, Jason!) – but we also have incorporated elements from other religions represented in our business. We’re a very blunt culture, so we spend most of our time making fun of each other’s religions. Last week I told Lou that Chanukah seemed early this year. He retorted that Christmas was thousands of years late. We have fun with the cultural differences – but I’m not sure that most companies could get away with that.

  • We give away gifts and prizes at our “Holiday Party” – which sometimes is after the first of the year. Other than that we don’t have a formal event of program.

    I must say thought the people that are offended by gift giving and other celebrations of the Christmas holiday never seem to have a problem taking the day off and getting paid for it. – Hmmm!

  • We get a gift from our company, we also have a christmas party before christmas. In Sweden the connection between chrismas and religion is very weak and I dont think anyone has a problem with christmas.

    Our christmas also have a background in the mid winter offering by the vikings, and these guys was definitly not christian.

  • I tend to break the rules (I know you’re shocked…) I gave my co-workers a bottle of wine or champagne.

    • @John- You know I like rule breakers, although I prefer to think of you as a trend setter. Love the wine idea! Happy New Year!!

  • We have a holiday lunch where we give out goody bags to the employees. At the office, we have an optional Secret Santa exchange, which can be a lot of fun. In my (small) department, I give gifts to my employees.

    • @Krista- It sounds like you have a fun and meaningful time with your colleagues. Merry Christmas and hope you have a very Happy New Year!

  • Our company provided a holiday lunch to employees and a gift card to Walmart, which were both very well received. Management takes their employees out to lunch (also paid for by the company), but I was in the minority when I said that managers should pay for this themselves. We also held a completely optional, noncompany sponsored cookie exchange and a regift exchange in January to build community.

    • @Bonita- What great traditions! I love cookie exchanges and the idea of a January re-gift is brilliant! Happy New Year!!

  • We had our holiday party two weeks ago. A catered luncheon was served, and everyone received fleece jackets as a special thank you from members of our senior staff. A young musician from the local high school played his guitar and sang Christmas carols. What a voice! Many of us exchanged gifts Yankee-swap style with a “Right Family/Left Family” twist. Employees who did not participate in the swap watched those of us who did; their rounds of raucous laughter was proof enough that gift-giving is meant to be fun (not offensive) and represents the spirit of the season. The entire event lasted two hours and was enjoyed by all!

    • @Kerry- Thanks for sharing your company traditions! It sounds like a wonderful time and even for those who chose not to participate in the gift exchange. I hadn’t heard of the Yankee-swap style before. It sounds so fun! Happy New Year.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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