If you are a parent, you have likely played "Red light. Green light." with your kiddos at some point in their lives. I prefer "The Quiet Game" but winning the lottery would be easier than having my kids play it properly!
If you are not a parent, and you have not played this game, I envy you. Just kidding. Ok, mostly kidding. The game is simple. You yell "Green Light" and your kids RUN. You yell "Red Light" and your kids STOP.
We're going to play a fun version of it below, for some common occasions when you may be unsure as to whether a gift is necessary.
1. You are invited to someone's house for dinner. Green light.
The gift doesn't have to be big, a small token of appreciation is always lovely, and generous. If you ask your host/hostess what to bring and they say "Nothing" you should ignore them. It's probably the only time in your friendship to do this and get away with it... nobody will ever be angry that you showed your appreciation for them in a thoughtful way.
Whether it's your boss, your friends, a neighbor, or your family, showing up empty handed is real a no-no according to the Emily Post-type people who dictate such things.
Kinds of gifts to bring: A lovely candle, a bottle of nice hand soap, pretty napkins, flowers, a unique non alcoholic beverage in case someone isn't drinking, a bowl of lemons you picked from your tree, box of ROONS as you well know, etc.
This category also includes being invited to a party at someone's house (housewarming, birthday, cocktail) or even being invited to stay at someone's house. Although if you are invited to stay for any length of time, the gift should grow in value, according to how much time you stayed for. Where a gift for being hosted one night might be in the $20-$40 range, a week's stay might be more like $100-$250. Were you a pain in the @ss guest? Double it.
2. Someone did something nice for you. Green light.
Did someone do you a big favor? Did someone cover for you at work? Did someone make a call on your behalf? Did someone mow your lawn or take out your garbage while you were away? Did your parents offer to babysit? Yah, mine neither.
If someone took time out of their lives to do a kindness for you, showing them you appreciate their effort will mean a lot. Maybe it will make them happy to help you again in the future. Win win.
In this case your appreciation could be as simple as a really beautiful handwritten thank you note or leaving them some homemade treats or a small gift on their doorstep, if they live nearby. Sending a gift that is delicious in this case is probably the easiest and most effective way to go. Do they love chocolate? Cupcakes? Cookies? Or just popcorn-flavored Jelly Bellys? The internets have you covered, and with little effort you can make a really big impact on someone's day.
3. You got invited to a wedding you won't attend. Green light. Red light.
This is a tricky one.
Green light if the people getting married are dear friends, family members, work colleagues, the children of friends of yours, anyone who pays your salary, or anyone who will remember you didn't get them a gift and hold it over your head for the next 50 years, every time you see them in person.
Red light if the people getting married only invited you because you're 5th cousins once removed and you've never met them in person and they just made a huge guest list to get more gifts.
It is not mandatory to give wedding gifts to a wedding or shower you won't attend, but if you were invited there's a good chance you are close to the couple and the nice thing to do is send a little something, even if it's just a small item off their registry.
4. It's Christmas at the office. Yellow light.
In general, gifting at the office during the holidays is usually a way of saying "Great work this year" or "Ohmigod we survived our first Global Pandemic!" or "Next year we're going to crush it".
Small office? Perhaps homemade baked goodies for everyone? Or personalized gifts for your colleagues and workmates? You may want to give everyone their little gifts at work, or have them put them under the tree at their home and open on their own.
Huge office? Ask to see if there will be a Secret Santa at work. Gift accordingly. If you have very dear colleagues who are also friends, giving a gift is always lovely but not required. There is a world in which people get weird if you give them a gift and they didn't get you one... if your gift recipient gets flushed and awkward when you give them something, it's okay. Tell them you just wanted to say "Thanks" or "Great job" or "It's lovely working with you" and you don't need a gift in return. Also, this is where gifts that are delicious are really excellent - for some reason there is less pressure when the gift is edible!
Gift for the boss? You may want to give your boss a gift, if it feels right. I'm sure they don't expect one, so any gift would really be lovely. Don't go overboard with boss gifts or it'll look like you're sucking up/bribing them in some way. Again, delicious food gifts are really perfect in this scenario.
5. You have children who go to school, who are taught by teachers, who are grossly underpaid and undervalued and are basically the heroes of modern day society. Green light.
There is literally NO scenario in which you should not give your children's teachers gifts during the holidays and at the end of the year. These people should be appreciated most, they often have the patience of saints and the stamina of bulls, and the respect of, well, just about nobody.
Please buy your children's teachers something thoughtful and lovely. If you know something personal about them (they bought a new house, got married, collect pig figurines, etc.) consider buying them something more personal. A gift certificate for a dinner out at a nice restaurant is also nice. A massage, a pedicure, a subscription of socks, a subscription of coffee, a bathrobe, pair of slippers... anything to help them really luxuriate in their time off school would be extra perfect.
This is primarily for daycare-, preschool-, elementary-, and middleschool-age kids. Use your best judgement once in Highschool.
The takeaway is that we gift gifts to connect with people. Connecting with people gives us a sense of purpose and a feeling of satisfaction. Giving a gift has the power to strengthen or amplify a bond with someone. It is influenced by emotion and creates emotion. Making someone else feel good, feel loved, appreciated, special, seen... is actually the best gift of all. Giving gifts is a love language of it's very own.