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Adopt 9 Pandemic Gift-Giving Rules for 2020 Holiday Joy

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It’s holiday gift-giving season, and this year is going to be unlike any other in modern memory. As challenging as 2020 has been so far, with coronavirus lockdowns, job losses, personal losses and protests against racial violence, really, seriously, who’s in the mood for holiday shopping? We feel you, dear reader. But do not despair. Our ace correspondent Julie Chang Murphy has done some research and she’s sharing 9 gift-giving rules (guidelines, really) about how to think about holiday 2020 shopping – and holiday joy – in the midst of a global pandemic. Adopt some or all of these pandemic gift-giving rules, and you may actually have a shot at generating some 2020 holiday joy.

who’s really in a gift-giving frame of mind this year?

We’re just going to state it up front: 2020 has been one of the worst years in modern history. The only good news is — it’s almost over!

Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.
Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.

And fortuitously, the end of this year coincides with holiday gifting season – which should be a bright way to end quite a dark year. But, we get that gift giving can be a source of stress in even the best of times. Which is why we’ve already covered common gift giving myths, gifting at work, and gift giving etiquette.


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This year, we need some strategic ideas to make gifting during a pandemic a little more seamless, meaningful, and even enjoyable (especially if you’re the bah humbug type.)

We are addressing all this and more in our 4th installment of The Psychology of Gift Giving.

pandemic shopping and gift-giving guidelines for the 2020 holiday season

1. Safety first! 

The pandemic has already changed our shopping behavior in many relevant ways. You can most likely postulate on your own that one of the major differences – as our friends at McKinsey & Company confirm – is that consumers are steering away from brick and mortar stores in favor of shopping online. This is true across all categories, including essentials like groceries and household supplies, but also discretionary categories like makeup and jewelry.


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This holiday season, with a third wave of the virus sweeping the country and with pending family get-togethers, it is common sense that reducing exposure by physical distancing and staying at home takes precedence.

Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.
Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.

2. You’ve got some free time – so try something new.

So, shopping online is a no-brainer, right? But we totally feel for all the “Mom and Pop” boutiques and indie brands out there. And, it seems that other consumers do, too. Despite the ubiquity and ease of shopping Amazon and big box stores, loyalties are shifting, with 36 percent of consumers trying a new product brand and 25 percent incorporating a new private-label brand.

Since many of us are finding ourselves with a little more time on our hands – not having to commute and having perfected our sourdough starters by now – that leaves time to do a little more research. And discover new brands, or hyper-local merchandise.


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We love the idea of finding a boutique in your gift recipient’s hometown and shopping local to support the community they live in. Check the store’s website, Instagram and Facebook pages for new merchandise. Use the DM functions or pick up the phone to communicate and ask for suggestions. It will almost be like shopping in person.

Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.
Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.

3. Choose to Meet the Moment.

This year, the Black Lives Matter and sustainability movements are top of mind. Sending a gift that directly supports these brands, designers and causes are especially meaningful. Not only to your intended recipient, but, for society as well. For easy reference, check out some of our own recommendations here, here, and here.

You can also look for cool gifts in a category that has come to define this moment as much as anything: face masks! Friends and family have been giving them to us for months, and we love the assist in building our mask wardrobes!

Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.

4. Homebodies and home goods rule.

We can all agree that gift-giving, perhaps more than ever, is a means of reconnecting with friends and family. Travel restraints like quarantine requirements and new lockdown measures have made people hesitant to visit loved ones. In lieu of face-to-face interactions, we are looking to gifts to express our love, appreciation and gratitude.


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One surprising development is that the best gifts to give this year have actually been somewhat taboo in the past. Exercise equipment, boring sweatpants, and vacuums? They’ve all been removed from the naughty list. As McKinsey reports, even as economies reopen, “73 percent of consumers are still hesitant to resume regular activities outside the home.” Instead of gift certificates to a spa or restaurant or tickets to events, it’s all about the “homebody economy.”

Things that help make staying at home more enjoyable for your friends and family are one of the most thoughtful and desirable gifts to give. Like a really good book! Or think loungewear, kitchen tools, beautiful cookbooks, home decor, and gaming. And if you can’t get your hands on a Peloton, consider other exercise equipment instead.

Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette guidelines for 2020.

5. Start early

All of the big shipping companies went on the record in mid-October to say that thanks to all the online shopping we’ve been doing during this coronavirus pandemic, they’re at full capacity already – and that’s before any of the crush of holiday packages.

If you’ve ordered home goods or other items – or even jockeyed for position to get a grocery delivery – then you know that everything seems to be taking 2-3 times as long as pre-pandemic. Every year we’re reminded: don’t wait to do your holiday gift shopping! Take that to the bank this year – there’s a high probability that shipping dates are going to be further out than what you’ve seen in prior holiday seasons. So if you’re going 100% online, you should fire up your shopping now.

6. Give the gift of something to look forward to.

Another idea is a gift that keeps on giving in the form of subscriptions. While we love an avalanche of gifts in December, this predicament is likely to continue into 2021. Give your friends something to look forward to every month whether it be craft kits, subscription to online classes, flowers, or meal delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh.


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7. DIY the holiday décor.

We’ve been learning how to make our own floral arrangements at home during this time of social distance. We are totally going to make our own holiday wreathes this season. And give some of them away, too!

Remember how much fun it used to be to string popcorn to decorate the tree? Head to a cut-your-own tree farm and then go old-school with the decorations. It’ll be a way to catch all the holiday feels with your quaranteam.

Pandemic holiday gift-giving etiquette for 2020.

8. Get creative with whatever budget you have.

The proverbial elephant in the room when it comes to talking about gifting this year is a sense of unease about the state of the economy. 40 percent of US consumers have reduced spending in general, and expect to continue to cut back on nonessentials. As of this posting, the country is still down 10.7 million jobs since February, before Covid-19 hit.

Holiday 2020 shopping and gift-giving coronavirus pandemic etiquette guidelines.

Some of the best gifts we’ve ever gotten have been totally free. To get your creative juices flowing about creative and safe holiday shopping in the midst of this 2020 pandemic, here are ten ideas on how to make the most out of the holiday season without breaking the bank.

  • A heartfelt note on beautiful stationery
  • Organize a personalized group message from all the kids to their grandparents on a site like com or
  • Binge watch a show with them via Binge Together
  • Bring friends and family together with a special Zoom event. Now’s your chance to finally try out karaoke or hire a DJ.
  • Celebrate a good cause by making a donation under someone’s name
  • Show off your quarantine baking skills and send them a batch of the muffins, breads, and cookies you’ve been perfecting
  • Get those photos off the cloud and put them together in a real photo album
  • Find a meaningful theme relating to their life and make a cookbook. Don’t forget to include libations!
  • Create a customized playlist of songs that remind you of a time in your life together.
  • Re-gift! If there is something in your home that they always compliment or use, share it.

9. Give everyone – including yourself – a break

The final etiquette guideline for holiday shopping and gift-giving in the midst of a pandemic like the one we’re in the midst of in 2020? Don’t expect too much of yourself – or of anyone else. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, dear reader. 

2020 gift giving rules

Dear reader, coronavirus has cancelled so many beloved traditions and ruined many plans this year. We’ll be darned if we can’t close the year out in a way that uplifts and illuminates – if even for a few days. We hope that these holiday 2020 pandemic shopping and gift-giving guidelines will help make that happen. As we head into the holiday season, we hope you continue to stay safe, and find moments of merriment wherever you (safely) can.

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This article contains affiliate links to products independently selected by our editors. As an Amazon Associate, Dandelion Chandelier receives a commission for qualifying purchases made through these links. 

Crediting her training as a cultural anthropologist at Wellesley College, Julie has immersed herself in various industries in the last 15 years including fashion design, event planning, and fitness. Julie lives in New York where she loves trying every ramen and dumpling restaurant with her husband and three children. She finds joy in bold prints, biographies of fierce women, kickboxing. And spending way too long finding the perfect polish color to express her mood.

see luxury in a new light

Join our community! For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. 

WAIT! see luxury in a new light

Join our community! For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. 

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