We're all familiar with the scenario. It's Christmas morning, the family are gathered, the presents are heaped under the tree. As you open the lovingly wrapped present under the watchful eyes of the giver, to reveal the book you've already read, the clothes you will never wear, the perfume that smells like disinfectant, the socks you don't need, you must call on all your powers of dissembling.
You must never, ever look anything but delighted with your present. Lack of taste is regrettable, but not a criminal offence. When confronted with stinginess and thoughtlessness, open-faced gratitude may even discomfort the hapless giver.
Buying appropriate Christmas presents demands stamina, discernment, and - in these straitened times - a determination to stick to your budget. Never allow yourself to become stuck in a competitive giving campaign. If someone showers you with extravagant presents you are not under a moral obligation to reciprocate, or outdo them. Take a firm stand, and stop the madness. It may dissipate the magic, but explicit negotiations (e.g. agreeing an upper spending limit) can save you from Christmas Day trauma.
If your extravagance knows no bounds, think carefully before you splash out. Costly presents may detonate waves of guilt, obligation and social embarrassment; not everyone will be able to match your generosity, nor should they be expected to do so.
Give yourself plenty of time to shop, and avoid any last-minute frenzy. Crowded stores and clocks ticking towards closing time lead to panic, unwarranted extravagance and terrible errors of judgement.
If the whole present-buying experience turns sour, don't punish the innocent recipient, thrusting the gift at them with bad grace. Grumpy giving will never elicit true gratitude, and rightly so.
Re-gifting is a potential minefield. Certainly, as the credit-crunch bites, recycling is to be applauded, but employ great caution. Inspect presents minutely to ensure that there are no telltale signs that they are second-hand. Then think very carefully about who gave them to you in the first place; there is a very real possibility that you will re-gift a present to the original giver, or to someone who is intimately connected with them - this is a faux pas from which it is hard to recover.
Keep your re-gifting to yourself. Boasting about your recycling tendencies will make friends feel understandably nervous about the provenance of your presents, and it makes you look irredeemably cheap.
Finally, be prepared. Buy a few generic presents (alcohol, chocolates, toiletries), wrap them, and keep them to hand. With this mini-arsenal, you will be admirably well-equipped to deal with everyone's Christmas nightmare, the surprise present…