We are frequently asked what may a gentleman most properly offer to a lady as a holiday gift, and what may a lady receive without being supposed to encourage a gentleman’ s addresses. When a pleasant visiting acquaintance only is to be acknowledged, the gift should never be expensive, at least not apparently so. Jewelry, except in the family, or where an engagement is acknowledged, is out of taste, and many ladies would not accept it. No article of dress, as a scarf, shawl, or lace, should be offered. New books, particularly of engravings; new music; a fine single engraving; a hothouse bouquet; a fan; a fanciful box of Paris gloves, if the lady has a pretty hand, and you can manage to learn her number; or of bonbons, if she is not above sugar-plums; a portfolio, or writing-stand, if she dabbles in literature; and, what would be still more acceptable to many, a year’s subscription to some favorite magazine, are all suitable. We cannot too highly censure the practice so many young girls have of throwing out hints or expectations of a gift before their gentlemen visitors. Many are thus made to feel obliged to purchase and offer what they cannot afford, from a feeling of false shame. We know of well-bred women, on the contrary, who make it a rule never to accept any other than the least trifle from any gentleman out of the family circle.
Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] January 1855
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The pitfalls of holiday giving are many. One wonders how intimate one needs to be to learn a young lady’s “number” for that fanciful box of Paris gloves. Surely one would either need the collusion of the young lady’s maid or to measure the pretty hand against one’s own, in the age-old custom of lovers. And if the lady in question has an ugly hand, is she forever doomed to bonbons and books of engravings? Mrs Daffodil also wonders what constitutes a “trifle.” Having known an immensely wealthy gentleman who ordered Faberge baubles by the dozens, enamelled in his racing colours, and scattered them as party favours, it seems as though the definition is somewhat elastic. One man’s trifle is another man’s ruin. Mrs Daffodil’s own Christmas list is modest: she is hoping for a packet of silk cording in her stocking. It functions admirably as a garrotte and can also be used to trim a dress jacket. Mrs Daffodil is also not above sugar-plums.