You know that one friend who always gives really thoughtful, on-the-mark gifts? That’s me. I spend a lot of time thinking about what to get people for birthdays, holidays, housewarmings, etc… and although Thanksgiving is not traditionally a gift-giving holiday, it’s always polite to bring a small gift to for the host (or hostess) if you’ve been invited to someone’s home for dinner. Since hosts put a lot of work into holiday dinners — Thanksgiving especially, since the meal tends to be the highlight of the holiday — they deserve a special “thank you” from guests. But what should you bring? The trick to holiday host gifts is to never give anything that will induce (more) stress on the host or make them feel obligated to use the gift immediately. Ideally, the gift should either be consumable (snacks, wine, coffee, tea) or a nice version of something that can be put to household use — think fancy soaps, candles, etc — the sorts of things that people usually like, but won’t buy for themselves.
Here’s my suggestions for what you can bring to Thanksgiving to show the dinner host your thanks!
#1: Savory Snacks
Savory pre-dinner snacks are usually appreciated at larger parties with a “social hour” or “cocktail hour” (whatever you want to call it, depending on how much drinking there is) before or after dinner. Anything good for grazing is appropriate here: think cheese trays and charcuteries, assortments of dried fruits and/or nuts, and crackers, spreads, and dips.
#2 : Chocolates
Chocolates can be served alongside dessert after dinner, or reserved for the host to enjoy after the guests leave. Since holiday dinners usually have no shortage of planned desserts, if you’re going to go this route, I suggest choosing a chocolate assortment and wrapping it in gift paper so that the host can unwrap the gift at a later time and doesn’t feel obligated to serve the treats alongside dessert.
Coasters are one of those things that we realize we should have, but never seem to purchase. For gifts, try a set of coasters in a natural material: wood, marble, sandstone, cork, etc.; usually these will match any sort of home decor. A bonus: if beverages are served before dinner, this gift can be put to immediate use!
A bottle of your favorite red or white wine is usually appropriate, unless the host doesn’t drink. If you’re unsure, try a non-alcoholic beverage or some other type of gift — it’s far better to entirely avoid the awkward situation where you offer alcohol to someone who does not want it in their house. If you do bring wine, deliver it in a fabric wine tote or festive paper bottle bag.
#5 Coffee, Tea or Cocoa
Hot beverages are usually served after the meal and could include coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. To gift coffee, bring something special: try a bag of specialty grounds from a local roaster, or a high-quality bag of seasonally flavored grounds from your favorite shop. Bring grounds, not beans — your host may not have a grinder, and even if they do, they probably don’t feel like grinding beans after dinner. For tea, many attractive gift sets of quality tea bags can be purchased online or in stores… don’t just buy a box off the shelf and call it a day, presentation matters. Again, bring bags (not loose leaf) for ease of use. If you or the host isn’t into caffeine, a canister of quality drinking chocolate (try Cadbury or Godiva) makes a fine gift, too.
#6 Scented Candles
Scented candles are a great gift when you don’t know what else to get a someone — people usually love having nice candles around, but tend to avoid buying them for themselves. Go for a class, clean-smelling scent that isn’t overpowering, like vanilla, linen/cotton, lavender, eucalyptus, or single-fruit citrus. Appropriate seasonal scents include pine, balsam, cinnamon, and peppermint.
#7 Floral Arrangements or Potted Plants
The key word here is “arrangements” or “potted”. Unless you know the host has a plethora of vases ready to go, bring an arrangement that comes with a holder or vase. You can also opt for a potted plant, especially if you know the host has a green thumb. If your host tends to kill plants or they have pets, avoid plants altogether. Thanksgiving cactuses are usually in bloom around mid- to late-November, or opt for a flowering Christmas cactus for blooms in December (yes, there is a difference).
#8 Christmas Ornament (for hosts who celebrate Christmas)
A small ornament for the host’s Christmas tree can be a thoughtful gesture. Hallmark (or similar) ornaments that match up to one of the host’s favorite pastimes or interests make fun gifts, or you can opt for a classic monogram or single-initial ornament. You can go as serious or as silly as your relationship with the host dictates.
#9 Seasonal Soap/Lotion Set
These are ubiquitous around holiday time; the trick is to make sure you are buying a high-quality set, as cheaper options tend to be somewhat harsh and can contain large amounts of allergy-triggering synthetic fragrance. You don’t have to actually buy a ‘set’; gifting a hand soap and hand lotion in matching scents from a quality retailer is better than purchasing something cheaper just because it happens to be prepackaged. You could also try a set of bath oils or bath bombs in an attractive package for a female host; wrap it in gift wrap before giving. (I’m not saying that men doesn’t like fancy baths — but I’d recommend against bath products for a male host unless you know he’ll use them!)
#10 Kid’s Crafts
If you’ve been invited to a dinner where more than one or two children will be in attendance, you can score some serious brownie points with the host (and any attending parents) by bringing something for the kids to do. Holiday-themed picture frame kits and the like made with craft foam can be found at any craft store and many other retailers — these kits use foam with a peel-off adhesive backing, so there’s no messy cleanup for the host or parents, the kids will be entertained before dinner, and they get something to take home with them afterward.
Here are some suggestions from around the internet to get your gift-giving search started:
- Barnett’s Chocolate Cookies Favors Gift Box Sampler, 6ct, from Amazon, $14.99
- Nut Haven Holiday Christmas Dried Fruit & Nuts Gift Basket, from Amazon, $29.55
- Lynne Leea Winter Holiday Soap Sampler, Set of 12, from Amazon, $22.99
- Gold Dinosaur in Santa Hat Premium Porcelain Ornament, from Hallmark, $24.99
- Turkey Lacing Yarn Craft Kit by Creatology, from Michael’s, $2.99
- Thanksgiving Color-In Placemats by Creatology, from Michael’s, $3.99
- Christmas Morning Punch Original Large Jar Candle, from Yankee Candle, $29.50
- Cadbury Original Drinking Chocolate, UK, from Amazon, $11.39