Do's and don'ts for a holiday season in which gifts may arrive late, from etiquette experts

"This is a year where we can all let down our guard," says Mister Manners.


Did you wait until the last minute (again) to do your holiday shopping and mail your Christmas presents this year? Don't worry; you're not alone.

While most retailers went into holiday mode weeks before Thanksgiving and online sales hit record highs this year, delivery companies like UPS and FedEx are still in overdrive one week before Christmas. Even if you ordered your presents on time, the sheer volume of packages out for delivery means delays are not only possible but likely, experts recently told Grow.

However, there's no need to feel panicked if you still haven't gotten to the post office: 2020 may be the year when it's OK to be late, says etiquette expert Thomas Farley (aka Mister Manners).

"Even if you do get your act together, chances are somewhat good that your package will be delayed anyway," Farley says. "This is a year where we can all let down our guard."

So whether your presents are late because of Murphy's Law or because you procrastinated, here are some tips for staying merry, rather than stressed, this holiday season.

Don't break the bank to pay for expedited shipping

It's very nice to have presents arrive in time for Christmas morning, but this year, when money is tight for a lot of people, don't pay exorbitant shipping costs and hope that packages arrive by December 25, Farley advises. Be rational, and put yourself in the recipient's shoes.

"Who among us would be the recipient to say, 'You know what, I would have loved this, but you know, it arrived on December 26. I don't want it anymore,'" Farley says, "That would be a pretty ungrateful recipient."

It's a matter of practicality as much as it is gratitude, Farley explains. Very few gifts lose their value or usefulness the day after Christmas. If it's between paying sky-high shipping prices or having a present arrive a couple of days late, that latter option is fine, he says.

Mister Manners provides tips for proper gift-giving etiquette

Video by Courtney Stith

And if you're still uncomfortable that your gift arrived late, it's not a bad idea to call the recipient on Christmas Day and talk about the gift and how excited you are about it, even if it ruins the surprise, says Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of Emily Post and spokesman for her namesake institute.

"Call on the day and invest in the time to talk about it," Senning says. "Tell them what it is. Maybe it's not about the surprise. Maybe it's about the thought."

Do tell recipients if a gift is coming late

Though it will be more acceptable for gifts to arrive late this year, it's still important to tell your recipients what to expect and not to pretend they'll be getting something on time if they won't be. Even when there are so many extenuating circumstances like there are this year, honesty is at the core of etiquette, Senning says.

If "you didn't order until the last possible minute, you could acknowledge that," Senning explains. "That's sort of a better thing to do than to operate in a place of deception."

Who among us would be the recipient to say, 'You know what, I would have loved this, but you know, it arrived on December 26, and I don't want it anymore'?
Thomas Farley
Mister Manners

Being honest with the recipient (and yourself) will not only help relieve feelings of regret, but also make it easier to focus on the emotional aspects of togetherness, Senning says, which is important in a year when so many people will be physically apart.

"Focus on the things that are an important part of the exchange," Senning says. "The thought. The caring. The gratitude. And the acknowledgement of gratitude."

If, however, you don't mind pushing your luck, the U.S. Postal Service still says that gifts mailed this weekend (with expedited shipping, of course) will still arrive under the tree by Christmas.

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