Amid social distancing, exchanging comes with a different set of rules this year.

Before the pandemic changed everyone's way of life, a big part of the holidays involved giving and receiving gifts. You'd exchange them with friends after work and with your family on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, it's not so simple this year. With the pandemic still a serious threat to the health of all Americans, in-person gift-giving at big social gatherings is a thing of the past. Does this mean gift exchanges are canceled this year? Not at all. You just have to think differently. Here are a couple of ways to do it safely, according to Lizzie Post, co-president of the Emily Post Institute and co-host of the "Awesome Etiquette" podcast.

hands exchanging a gift
Credit: Aekkarak Thongjiew / EyeEm / Getty Images

Shop wisely.

While online shopping guarantees you won't come into contact with others as you search for the perfect gift, it's also possible to safely shop at your local small businesses. Make purchases at stores that adhere to strict social distancing rules within their space and limit the number of customers shopping at the same time. Only visit stores where wearing a mask is mandatory for entrance. You can also call local establishments you love for gift recommendations and to see if curbside pickup is an option.

Send gifts early.

Shipping presents directly to loved ones from online stores is a proven time-saver but, Post says, "because of all the shipping issues we're having this year, plan ahead." That means allowing plenty of time for your gifts to arrive before Christmas Day. "I'm already thinking about sending a gift to my goddaughter a few months ahead of time and having her mom hold onto it until Christmas Day," she elaborates. Another option is to skip shipping altogether and email digital gift cards instead.

Have a Zoom gift exchange.

This will take some coordination but it's worth it: Ask everyone to purchase their gifts online and have them delivered directly to friends or family members by a certain date (allow plenty of time for shipping). Then you get together in a Zoom meeting and all open the gifts at the same time in front of one another.

Limit the size of the guest list.

If you decide to host a get-together in your home and invite your siblings, their spouses, and their kids—plus all your first cousins and their crews—you may be breeching your state's guideline for the number of people allowed at an indoor event. Consider inviting a smaller group, and ship gifts to those who didn't make it in person.

Only invite people who have been compliant.

You always swap gifts with your Aunt Jean on Christmas Day at your home, but she's been defiantly ignoring the medical experts' advice (wearing a mask, socially distancing, and avoiding crowds). So, what should you do? "Tell her you're having a smaller guest list this year," says Post. "Or you could be honest and tell her you're worried about the pandemic and really concerned with her practices." Then again, you could invite her as usual and explain what your expectations are, says Post. "Tell her that everyone must wear a mask indoors; if not, they can stand outside and watch as everyone opens gifts around the fireplace!"


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