It’s an important question. You live with these people, you see them all the time. But do you need to give them presents? It depends …
Last year we considered how to do a Roommate Gift Exchange, but this year a consideration of whether to do it is covered in depth – both in the column you’re reading and here.
Personally, I find the assumption that one should give holiday presents a bit unusual. This is probably because I’m male, and, not to stereotype (though I’m about to), the response to the question of whether to give your roommates a present is highly gendered.
To wit: for much of my life, if someone had asked me if I gave my roommate a Christmas present, my response would be: “Wait, what? A Christmas present? Why?” I would turn to the roommate in question (who would happen to be sitting across the room), he and I would lock eyes, laugh hardily, and then resume doing whatever stereotypically male activity we were doing (mostly likely: chest-pounding, beer-drinking and burping).
It was only until recently, when I spent more time with females and had a female (non-girlfriend) for a roommate that I realized that, generally speaking, women get presents for everyone, while men try to limit themselves to as few people as possible (for quite a long time in my adult life, I managed to have that number be three, as in my father, my mother and my sister – and that was it. I did not understand why people found the holidays so stressful. Certainly, they weren’t for me.)
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Now, Alex, this is all good and well, I appreciate your sharing, but what does this have to do with me and whether I should give my roommates(s) a gift?”
Well, consider the following: I have never received a Christmas present from a roommate. I have, in my adult life, had six bona-fide roommates over the course of seven years. I’ve gotten along well with five of them and still talk to some on a regular basis. I like them all and I don’t think one iota less of any of them because they did not give me a Christmas present.
In fact, had one of them hauled off and unexpectedly given me a present, I would have been very polite about it, but two things would have happened:
1) Likely, the present would have been $20 or less, meaning that, were it something I’d really wanted, I would have already bought it for myself. Therefore, unless the person were exceptionally gifted at gifting (and few are), it would be something I didn’t need and that cluttered up my room. And, lord knows, I dislike clutter.
2) A sense of obligation would be created. I would think: “Oh, crap, now I have to get them something.” I would do my best, but I’m not great at this, it’s a pain, and the present itself would be procured at the last moment and hastily wrapped. Like I said, not great.
Now, I’m not a Grinch. I can see the value of a present as a gesture of kindness and esteem, and certainly an unexpected present for a roommate can be touching. My words of wisdom are these: know your audience. For some, a heart-felt pat on the shoulder and a “Merry Christmas, man,” will do just fine, and will be appreciated more than a gift or a pre-planned exchange.
Think about it: your roommate(s) will know whether they are appreciated by your actions throughout the year. A present in December likely isn’t going to change their view of your relationship. Either you put the work in to make sure you and your roommate(s) are buds, or you haven’t. If you want to exchange presents, that’s cool – there’s nothing wrong with it.
And, certainly, some friendships require the exchange of gifts. In such a case, by all means… but, as Alissa notes in a previous post, if you know you and your roommate(s) want to exchange presents, you could instead plan to spend some time with your roommate(s) that day, or as part of the process of the exchange – the bond together-time creates will likely be as (if not more) important that the actual presents.
Well, that’s all I have for now. That and: Merry Christmas, man. I’ll be back next year, with bells on.
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