True story of a hostess gift etiquette snafu:
Once upon a time, I hosted a party just because I wanted to dazzle my friends by preparing recipes I'd found for delicious hors d'oeuvres. I prepped, I cooked, I coerced my boyfriend into vacuuming the floor, and then I welcomed in a number of friends who came bearing six-packs of beer and bottles of wine. I was carrying a tray of goodies out from my kitchen when a friend pulled me aside. "Listen," he said quietly, "we brought a really nice bottle of wine for you, and want you to enjoy it — don't feel pressured to put it out for everyone, okay? It's our gift to you." I was touched that he and his girlfriend were thinking of me, said as much to him, and pushed the bottle to the side of all the other bottles crowding my kitchen counter. A couple of hours later, with plates of hors d'oeuvres turned into plates of crumbs and friends satisfied and happy, the party was winding down when the girlfriend of the thoughtful couple approached me with a bashful expression. "Look," she said, "the bottle of wine we brought was pretty pricey. Since no one opened it, would you mind if we took it back home with us?"
On the inside, I was laughing pretty hard, and on the outside, I was nothing if not completely nonchalant about this couple's lack of communication. I mean, I wasn't going to argue her on this one. "Yeah, of course. No big deal," I said, and she thanked me. To this day I'll always wonder how the conversation went when the boyfriend and girlfriend reconvened for the car ride back to their place, with one of them holding the nice bottle of wine that the other clearly thought was a hostess gift. Alas, I never found out.
So let's just review the etiquette of hostess gifts, shall we? In December when gatherings of friends and family are frequent, a little guidance on this topic never hurts. The etiquette gurus at EmilyPost.com put it pretty simply, "A gift for your host or hostess is a lovely way to thank them for their hospitality and is always appreciated. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive; simply consider the nature of the occasion and local custom when making your choice." Flowers are a popular choice, but always consider bringing them in a vase or even a simple mason jar so your host doesn't have to take a moment to arrange them. It's also my opinion that wrapping a gift for the host and placing it in his hands, even if it's just presenting a bottle of wine in a free metallic bag from the wine shop, is a nice touch, and indicates that it's a gift for the host himself, rather than one to be shared with all of the guests.
There are just so many things that make great gifts for hosts over the holidays — books, candles, olive oil, jam — but I have this feeling you know what I'm going to suggest you do, right? It's my duty as a tea blogger:
Tea. Tea! If you know the host likes tea, you're golden. Either buy his favorite variety or introduce him to something new.
If you don't know if the hostess likes tea, you're still golden. Who doesn't like to have some attractive tea on hand to offer to guests? And hey, maybe she'll turn into a tea lover, and you'll be a hero.