Holiday Ornament Traditions

•November 4, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Long before the advent of Christianity, plants and trees that remained green all year had a special meaning. In the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the US. While Europeans used four foot trees, Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.

Evergreen trees have been part of seasonal celebrations since the time of ancient Egyptians, Iranians, and Romans who used fir trees in festivals of Saturnalia (Rome), Mithras (Iran), and Egypt’s Ra and Osiris. Estonia and Latvia both claim the earliest use of the Christmas tree, but by the 1600s, decorated trees could be found throughout Germany at Christmas time.

Christmas trees and in fact the celebration of Christmas itself was outlawed within the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a pagan ritual until 1681.  It took until 1856 for Christmas to become a public holiday. By that time, Christmas trees were sold commercially throughout the US and glass ornaments from Germany became available as tree decorations. Flame candles were actually commonly used to light the tree boughs until the 1930s. The trees had to be especially fresh, well-watered, and closely monitored to minimize the fire hazard. During the 30s, electric Christmas tree lights became affordable enough to take over for candles.

The early tree ornaments in the 1600s were paper roses, nuts, and fruits. Glass ornaments originated in Germany in 1848 and were called Kugels, a German word meaning “ball” that can be used to describe any type of ball-like object. These ornaments have since evolved into many shapes, from the original round and fruit shapes, to detailed reproductions of famous buildings, attractions, animals, and even fine art.

The early tree ornaments in the 1600s were paper roses, nuts, and fruits. Glass ornaments originated in Germany in 1848 and were called Kugels, a German word meaning “ball” that can be used to describe any type of ball-like object. These ornaments have since evolved into many shapes, from the original round and fruit shapes, to detailed reproductions of famous buildings, attractions, animals, and even fine art.

Today’s ornaments can promote your favorite sports teams, remind you of past vacations, pay tribute to local landmarks, and in general, turn your Christmas tree into a personalized 3-dimensional installation artwork. Let us assist you in creating a work worthy of Ai Weiwei, Lisa Congdon, and Ashley Longshore!

See the Massachusetts Bay Trading Company ornament collections


Five Welcome Gifts That Embrace The New England Experience

•February 3, 2023 • Leave a Comment

Gift Ideas to Welcome Newcomers to the Region

Relocating to a new area can be both exciting and overwhelming. A thoughtful gift goes a long way to make newcomers feel welcomed and at home in their new surroundings. Picturesque New England has a special culture that both inspires and cries out for unique welcome gifts. If you have a loved one or cherished colleague relocating to historic New England, consider giving them a gift that celebrates the region’s unique charm, character, and legacy.

At, you’ll find a wide selection of gifts that are perfect for anyone moving to New England. Here are five fun and unique gift ideas to get you started:

  1. A cozy throw blanket featuring a classic Massachusetts or Boston scenes. Nothing says “welcome to New England” quite like a Boston or Massachusetts-themed gift! A cozy throw blanket from is sure to be a hit with any new New Englander. As Boston weatherman Dick Albert says, “Just because it’s 70 on Monday doesn’t mean it won’t be 22 on Tuesday.”
  1. A set of artisanal New England-themed coasters. These coasters from feature a variety of classic New England scenes, including lighthouses, autumn foliage, and more. They make a charming addition to any home and are sure to bring a smile to the face of anyone who has recently moved to the area. Give the gift of a touch of New England charm and décor to help your loved one feel at home in their new region.
  1. A New England breakfast gift set that includes locally-made breakfast roasted coffee beans. New England is home to a number of fantastic local coffee roasters, maple syrup producers, even cocoa makers, and what better way for new arrivals to welcome in their New England mornings. At, you’ll find a variety of options to choose from, including the popular Breakfast Blend from Boston’s Best Coffee. As the late, great Boston chef Julia Child once said, “Coffee is a language in itself.” Give the gift of a delicious New England breakfast to help your loved one start their day off right in their new New England home.
Boston Breakfast Muffin Gift Basket
Boston Breakfast Muffin Gift Basket
  1. If your loved one is a fan of Boston sports, consider giving them a gift that celebrates their favorite team. At, you’ll find a wide selection of sports-themed gifts, including hats, games, puzzles, ornaments, and more. As the legendary Celtics basketball coach Red Auerbach once said, “The best teams have chemistry. They communicate with each other and they sacrifice personal glory for a common goal.” Help your loved one feel connected to their new community by giving them a gift that celebrates their favorite local team.
New England Patriots Gift Set
New England Patriots Gift Set
  1. A selection of locally made gourmet food items. New England is home to a number of fantastic artisanal food producers, and what better way to welcome someone to the area than with a selection of locally made treats? At, you’ll find a wide variety of options to choose from, including artisanal cheeses, jams, sauces, and more. One particular standout is the “New England Sampler” gift basket, which includes an assortment of locally made treats like maple syrup, cranberry relish, and honey mustard – something from each New England state. As Julia Child once said, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” Help your loved one embrace their new
Massachusetts Lunch Box
Massachusetts Lunch Box

No matter what type of gift you decide to give, be sure to put loving thought into it and choose something that reflects your recipient’s interests and personality. As the iconic designer Coco Chanel once said, “The best things in life are the people we love, the places we’ve been, and the memories we’ve made along the way.” Help your special person make lasting memories in their new New England home by giving them a thoughtful and meaningful gift. I hope these gift ideas have inspired you to think creatively and choose something special for your loved one who has recently moved to New England. Whether it’s a delicious local food item, a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans, or a sports-themed gift, there are so many options to choose from to help your loved one feel welcomed and at home in their new region. Happy gifting!

Holiday Card Tradition

•October 19, 2022 • Leave a Comment

If you took the Massachusetts Challenge Quiz 12, you probably know that Louis Prang, a printer and artist of Boston, is credited with introducing the Christmas card back in 1875. (If you haven’t taken that quiz yet, now you know the answer to question #10 🙂 ). Today, sending holiday cards to friends and family can be taken casually, but you need to be sure to follow the rules of etiquette when sending cards to business associates. Holiday cards can have a strong positive marketing effect, as long as you avoid potential faux pas. Here are the basic rules for sending holiday cards to clients and business associates drawn from my own experience as well as from the wisdom of other etiquette experts.

1. The Card Itself
Keep in mind that you are conveying an image of your business through your holiday card. When your client opens the card, will they be impressed with your quality look and feel? Many recipients display the cards they receive. How will your card compare? Will it even be selected for display? Stick to cards printed on 100 pound premium paper with something like a precious silk or matte finish. The recipient will be able to feel the quality.

2. Card Themes
There are certainly a wide variety of holiday cards on the market today. Since it is hard to predict personal taste and sense of humor, to be safe steer away from the humorous ones. These days many businesses are opting for religion-neutral cards featuring fine art, winter scenes, snowflakes, animals, pinecones or trees, and a Happy Holidays message.

3. Plan Ahead
There is no down-side to sending out your cards early. You’ll be able to put the care and thought into the project before the holiday rush. If you’ve selected a quality, memorable card, the recipient is likely to put it on display and the earlier it arrives the more exposure it will give you and your company at their office.

4. The List
Take the time to be sure your list is up to date with all of your current prospects as well as clients, suppliers, and business partners. We suggest that you add names to your list throughout the year, but if that was not possible, you can go through your address books to insure your list is current. Receiving a card that has been forwarded from an outdated address can be a red flag to the recipient. I recommend always including titles of respect, such as Mr., Mrs., Ms., and Dr.

5. Addressing the Envelopes
The general advice is to address the envelopes by hand. Personally, I don’t think that is so critical. If you do have the time, hand addressing the envelopes will give them a more personal touch, clearly indicating it was not a mass-mailing. But, what is absolutely critical is that both the envelope and the printing on it are of high quality. In the end, it’s the card that’s most important; the envelope is likely to be tossed right out. At any rate, your return address can be imprinted on the envelope without compunction.

6. More On The Topic Of Titles
Correctly applying titles has become more complex today and warrants some further discussion. The traditional and most basic way to address a married couple with the same last name is “Mr. and Mrs. John Alden”. Today, the more informal “Priscilla and John Alden” or “John and Priscilla Alden” is acceptable. Either name can be first.

For people living together as a couple with different last names, the address would be “Priscilla Mullins and John Alden” or “Ms. (not Mrs.) Priscilla Mullins and Mr. John Alden” all on one line. If two people are living together, but aren’t a couple, use (Ms.) Priscilla Mullins on the first line and (Mr.) John Alden on the second line. The titles are optional, but preferred.

In business correspondence, when sending to a married woman, use Ms. rather than Mrs. Either “Ms. Rose Standish” or the less formal “Rose Standish” is correct.

When writing to a lawyer, you can use the suffix Esq. or Esquire. If you do use the suffix, leave off the title Mr. or Ms. A lawyer is addressed either as “Mr. John Adams” or “John Adams, Esq.” The suffix must be dropped when writing to a lawyer and spouse: “Mr. and Mrs. John Adams.”

Things start to get trickier with earned titles. The rule of thumb when addressing people who have earned a title such as Doctor or Reverend, or a military title such as Captain or General is that the name of the person with the title comes first, and a professional title comes before a social title. If the woman uses her husband’s name socially, the address is “Dr. Ellen and Mr. Robert Richards”. If she uses her maiden name both professionally and socially, it’s “Dr. Ellen Swallow and Mr. Robert Richards”. Note that her name comes first because her professional title “outranks” his social title. If both husband and wife are doctors and they use the same last name, the address is either “The Drs. Swallow” or “Drs. Ellen and Robert Swallow ” either first name can go first. Either of these two options is used whenever both people have the same title.

7. What About An Email Message?
I would strongly advise against using email as a substitute for the real thing. To start with, today’s spam filters are delighted to grab even an innocuous greeting. At best, the email greeting will be read and deleted. Worse would be if the recipient prints your email for display next to the quality paper cards from their other associates who apparently value their client more highly than you do.

Boston and New England’s Favorite Candies and a Peek into Their History

•August 9, 2022 • Leave a Comment

Boston was once the candy capital of America. Main Street, Cambridge was known as Confectioner’s Row

New England has a rich candy history with strong traditions especially in the Boston area. It starts with Dr. James Baker and Irish chocolatier John Hannon who, in 1764, built the first chocolate factory in America at a water-powered gristmill on the Neponset River in Boston. Baker’s Chocolate Company mill buildings are now condos.

Ye Olde Pepper Companie traces its roots back 200 years to Salem, Massachusetts where in 1806 an English woman by the name of Spencer was shipwrecked and in destitute condition. Her neighbors learned that she knew how to make candy and bought her a barrel of sugar. Little did they know that this single act of kindness would produce the “Salem Gibralter”, said to be the first candy made and sold commercially in America and transported around the world by sea captains and their crew.

For a period in the twentieth century Boston was the candy capital of America. In 1950, Boston and Cambridge, Mass., were home to 140 candy companies. Main Street in Cambridge, known as Confectioner’s Row, was lined with New England candy makers: James O. Welch (Junior Mints), Fox-Cross (Charleston Chew), Jack Smiley (hard candies), Graylock Confection (Tweet) and Daggett (chocolates).

Boston Baked Beans Candy

Boston baked bean candy originated around 1924. It is designed to resemble the purely American dish of slow-cooked indigenous beans that originated with Native Americans and were adopted by English colonists of the 17th century. These are the beans that gave Boston its Beantown nickname.

This traditional New England treat consists of peanuts panned with a hard candy cover, colored to look just like the real beans, using the cold-panned candy process. The process starts with single peanuts that are tossed into revolving pans while adding flavor, color, and other candy ingredients. Over a period of four days the pieces grow to the desired size. For a colonial look, the candy is often packaged in a baked beans crock.

Gummi or Gummy Lobsters

Over a century ago, in 1920, German confectioner Hans Riegel created a gelatin-based, bear-shaped candy to sell in his local area. While many people view Riegel as the creator of gummi candies, similar candies were also appearing in other parts of the world. Turkish delight and Japanese rice candies are similar in consistency, but are made with cornstarch or rice, rather than gelatin. Gummi candies are also related to jams and jellies since they all involve combining sugar and fruit.

The first American maker of the candies in 1981 was the Herman Goelitz Candy Company, now known as Jelly Belly. Atlantic Lighthouse created a lobster mold for gummi candies and lobster gummies were born.

Maple Candy

The early settlers of Massachusetts learned sugaring from the American natives who collected sap in hollowed-out logs and steamed away the water by dropping in hot stones. According to the Agricultural Statistics Annual Bulletin of New England, more than 2.7 million gallons of maple syrup was produced here in 2020, with more than half coming from Vermont.  The process to make maple candy is extremely labor-intensive, which explains why it has gotten more expensive. To make a pound of maple candy actually requires 90 gallons of maple sap. And to collect that much maple sap, you have to tap over 350 sugar maple trees, each tree being 30-40 years old. The sap gets boiled down over a long period of time to get to the maple syrup stage. Too little boiling means bacteria will grow in the syrup and ruin it. Boil it too long and it will crystallize in a bad way.

The 100%-pure maple syrup, now concentrated down to one gallon, must be intensely heated and subsequently cooled to get it ready for stirring until the candy crystallization starts. At that point, it is carefully hand-poured into molds. To give the candy a shelf life long enough for consumers to enjoy it, maple candy is often given a thin coating of crystalline sugar. The best maple candy is still made  in New England, be it a single piece or an entire gift box.

Lobster Pops

Lobster pops are relatively new on the scene. Red lollipops shaped as lobsters began showing up in Boston-area candy stores in the 40s and 50s. They now come in different flavors, with cherry being the most popular, and are often made with barley sugar. Individually wrapped and measuring 4 1/2 inches with the white stick, they can be used as New England party or wedding favors.

Salt Water Taffy

Saltwater taffy was first popularized around 1883 at Fralinger’s, a shop on the Atlantic City boardwalk. Though the recipe calls for some salt, the taffy was never actually made with saltwater; the name likely refers to the boardwalk’s proximity to the sea. Another fun, but most likely mythical story has a storm passing through a boardwalk candy shop, soaking all the taffy with salty seawater. Reportedly, the shop owner joked that all he had was salt water taffy.

Maple and Molasses Peppermint Drops

Maple and Molasses Peppermint Drops have likely been around New England for a century or more. They make a wonderful treat for all or a special dessert treat. Each bag is still handmade the old fashioned way using original recipes dating back over a hundred years. The candy starts with only the finest ingredients, all cooked in small batches in copper kettles over open-fired gas stoves. The Ye Olde Pepper Companie is one of the few companies still makin this candy.

Chocolate Covered Cranberries

Cranberry harvesting originated on Cape Cod in the early 1800s. The berry itself is one of three fruits native to North America. Coating them in thick tasty chocolate just seems like a natural thing for New Englanders to do.

Necco Wafers

Necco was headquartered on Mass Ave, Cambridge until Novartis took over the building in 2003

In 1847, a young English immigrant and progressive thinker, Oliver Chase, invented the first American candy machine, a lozenge cutter. As the new candy began to sell, he joined forces with brother, Silas Edwin and founded Chase and Company. In 1901, Chase and Company merged with both Fobes, Hayward & Company and Wright & Moody to officially form the New England Confectionary Company, or Necco.

Over the years, Necco prospered and produced many well-known products, but its success was propelled by its most beloved candy: Necco Wafers. Up until 2003, Necco candies were made on Mass Ave in Cambridge at the site now occupied by Novartis Biomedical Research. Spangler purchased the Necco Wafer brand in 2018 and after a two year absence, The Original Candy Wafer was returned to fans in the summer of 2020.

How Maple Candy Is Made

•December 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

A number of my friends in the New England area enjoy maple sugar candy during the holiday season. But maple candy seems to be getting less readily available and the prices are a bit higher than I remember as a kid. I’d heard that it takes a lot of maple sap to make a small amount of maple syrup and maple candy, so I thought I’d find out more about how the candy is made. Here’s what I learned.

The process to make maple candy today is extremely labor-intensive, which explains why it has gotten more expensive. To make a pound of maple candy actually requires 90 gallons of maple sap. And to collect that much maple sap, you have to tap over 350 sugar maple trees, each tree being 30-40 years old. The sap gets boiled down over a long period of time to get to the maple syrup stage. Too little boiling means bacteria will grow in the syrup and ruin it. Boil it too long and it will crystallize in a bad way.

The 100%-pure maple syrup, now concentrated down to one gallon, must be intensely heated and subsequently cooled to get it ready for stirring until the candy crystallization starts. At that point, it is carefully hand-poured into molds. To give the candy a shelf life long enough for consumers to enjoy it, maple candy is often given a thin coating of crystalline sugar. The best maple candy is still made  in New England.

Pure Maple Sugar Candy

Pure Maple Sugar Candy, 8-ounce gift box by Massachusetts Bay Trading Company

International Birthday Customs

•August 24, 2011 • 1 Comment


A cake is baked and a number of candles to match the person’s age is placed on top. Happy Birthday is sung as the cake is brought out to the birthday girl or boy who makes a wish and blows them all out. Superstition says that if you tell anyone your wish or take more than one breath to blow out the candles, your wish will not come true. Milestone birthdays like 18 – the legal age of adulthood, 21 – the drinking/gambling age, 30, 40, etc. merit special attention. The birthdays of famous American heroes as celebrated as national holidays, such as: Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington.


The birthday child often has his nose greased so that bad luck cannot stick to them during the course of the year. Birthday cakes are important – they are often baked with a coin inside; if you find the coin you get the first try at the party games. Prizes often include party crackers with a toy or fortune inside.


The whole family is invited for a birthday lunch of long noodles – to symbolize a long life. Children receive money from their parents. On their first birthday, family members place toys and objects on the ground around the baby and whichever toy the baby picks foreshadows their future profession. Tigers are symbols of good luck, so anything with a tiger on it makes a great birthday gift.


A cake is baked with coins and small candies and whoever gets the pieces with the toys will have good luck. Sending birthday cards is a tradition that started over a hundred years ago in England and now is used all over the world.


Children wear a colored dress and pass out chocolates to their class.


Children wear a brand new outfit on their birthday.


Children are blindfolded and swat a piñata hanging from the ceiling. When it is cracked open, candy and toys explode out. On a girl’s 15th birthday a HUGE celebration called a quinceañera takes place.


The person who is celebrating their birthday prepares their own birthday cake and party and invites all their friends.

South Africa

The 21st birthday is of tremendous significance in this culture. A key made of silver, gold or aluminum foil is given, by the mother or father, to signify the unlocking of their future.


The Vietnamese do not know or celebrate individual birthdays, instead everyone celebrates on New Year’s Day (Tet). Children receive red envelopes with money.

The Story of Sea Glass

•March 8, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Sea glass is made when glass is discarded in salt water, and smoothed by tumbling against rocks and sand. In a process called hydration, water filters out lime and soda from the glass, leaving a frosted surface where it was once shiny and translucent.

Sea glass can be found all over the world, because glass can be found all over the world. The highest concentrations of

SeaGlass Jewelry at Massachusetts Bay Trading Co

sea glass are found in the northeast United States, California, northwest England, Mexico, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Nova Scotia, Australia, Italy, and southern Spain.

To produce the different colors of glass, various minerals were ground up and melted with the glass (cobalt to make blue, metallic gold for deep red, silver for orange, selenium for pink). Some of the minerals are more expensive and therefore the colors of glass they produce are rare.

Walking along almost any beach, it is common to find clear, brown or green sea glass – usually from beer or wine bottles. It is very special to find red and pink because these shades are now rarely produced. Red sea glass most often started out as car brake lights, warning lights on boats, lanterns, lamps, and stained glass. Orange is not well matched with other colors; therefore orange glass was not widely manufactured and also has a low demand for use as sea glass jewelry. Orange sea glass was sometimes used with tableware.

Sea glass enthusiasts are also discovering sea glass tinted purple or amethyst because of a sun activated chemical called manganese – which was used to counteract the natural green tint of glass to make it clear.

Sea glass is most often compared to precious gems in rarity and value. Just like gems, sea glass is used to make jewelry. It can also be used as an accent to brighten your home.

There are four major categories within sea glass pieces: craft-grade A and B and jewelry-grade A and B. Jewelry grade A is worth the most and the highest in demand.

Massachusetts Bay Trading Company carries a gorgeous line of sea glass jewelry. Valerie Gates’ sea glass comes from Cape Cod and her SeaGlassWear Jewelry comes in a wide array of sizes, colors and pieces from earrings to necklaces and bracelets.

Are you interested in finding your own sea glass? Some beaches are better than others if you are in search of this treasure. Specifics like wave height (1-2 feet minimum), the width of the beach (must be more than 25 miles) and the population and history of the area all affect your chances of finding sea glass. The best time to look is during low tide after a storm.

Here are locations around BOSTON where sea glass can be found.

  • Boston Harbor
  • Cape Cod
  • Cohasset
  • Centerville – Craigville Beach
  • Cuttyhunk – Barges Beach
  • Gloucester – Buzzards Bay, Pavilion beach, Ten Pound Island,
  • Wonson Cove
  • Marblehead – Rock Beach, Browns Island, Grace Over Beach
  • Martha’s Vineyard – Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Sound
  • Nahant
  • Provincetown
  • Race Point
  • Red River Beach
  • Revere Beach
  • Rockport
  • Salem
  • Scituate
  • Swampscott – Fisherman’s Beach
  • Westport – Horseneck Beach

Buy American!

•September 16, 2010 • Leave a Comment

As an American, there are plenty of good reasons to purchase products made in the USA, especially when it comes to gifts. Hopefully, the following has never happened to you. As your visit to China winds down, you give your gracious local host a thoughtful gift from home. After it is opened and shown around, you notice a tag on the bottom, small but nonetheless visible, that reads in bold, “Made in China.”

American Made Products from Massachusetts Bay Trading Co

Beyond avoiding this sort of embarrassment, the reasons to purchase locally-made products have to do with our economy, the environment, product quality, convenience, service, and support. Buying American products helps keep US employment up and keeps exports down. Both of these have a positive effect on inflation and our standard of living. As I mentioned in my previous posting, buying locally-made products keeps energy usage down by minimizing energy-consuming transportation. As for quality, there is no question that you’ll find our locally made crafts are the finest quality in the world. And if ever a locally-made product should become damaged, it can be easily and promptly repaired.

So how do insure that the products you are considering are made in the USA? Massachusetts Bay Trading Company was founded to promote and sell products made in New England. We work closely with local craftspeople to produce the products for our site. When an item important to us cannot be made in New England, we strive to find a source for it elsewhere in the US. Unfortunately, a limited number of products cannot be sourced from the US – hopefully this is only a temporary condition. We clearly denote

each product that is made in Massachusetts with the “Made in Massachusetts” medallion, shown to the right. Products that are made in another part of the country, such as some of our Red Sox items, are designated as Made in USA in the product description.

Made in Massachusetts medalion

Keep your eye out for products and stores that display the American Made Alliance logo and you’ll not only get the highest quality products, but you’ll be doing your part

to get our economy back to strength… You’ll also avoid the embarrassment of lugging a made-in-China gift back to its country of origin. And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to read my earlier blog entry to avoid other faux pas and pit falls of international gift giving.

American Made Alliance logo

Shopping at green stores – the environmental mission statement

•February 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment
  Melting Glacier
Spencer Peterman Wooden Bowl
Recycle symbol

I just saw a pretty scary program about how glaciers and ice sheets are melting even faster than we had previously realized. It got me thinking about ways companies, especially retailers, can do their part to make their businesses sustainable, starting with a business I know something about, namely gifts.

Irresponsible gift companies can adversely affect the environment in many ways: selling products made from scarce and disappearing raw materials, using excessive packing materials, or not taking full advantage of local products and thereby wasting the energy required to unnecessarily transport the products. Even small companies should be fully committed to office automation and electronic communication to minimize paper and energy consumption.

Among retailers, Starbucks is at one extreme, having established a solid reputation for environmental and community consciousness. Their environmental mission statement was initially written in 1992 and they have an environmental affairs group chartered to direct the strategy and set and track progress toward the company’s environmental goals. Macy’s is another example of a retailer with a strong sustainability plan.

Still, not all retailers have shown the same commitment to the environment. For example, neither Williams-Sonoma nor Neiman Marcus have a publicly-visible environmental mission statement.

Massachusetts Bay Trading Company is a retailer committed to the environment and sustainability as shown in their Environment Mission Statement. The company has found that sustainable products can be the best in many regards. For example, the trees used in the Spencer Peterman wooden bowls have natural patterns in wood created by special fungus that grows only after the trees have fallen. So the company never uses growing trees for their products. Locally-produced products not only reduce the energy needed for transportation, but foreign visitors always appreciate receiving locally-grown and locally-made crafts and products that reflect the local history and culture.

A Present for Every Occasion: Gift giving traditions around the world

•April 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Do you have friends or business acquaintances all over the world? Do you ever wonder about international gift etiquette? I’m also curious about other peoples travels. Please feel free to add!


Etiquette is very important in Chinese culture. Knowing the appropriate time and recipients for gifting is imperative in order to not only make a good impression, but to avoid accidental insult.

When giving a host present, the Chinese are most happy if the gift can be shared with the entire family. It is even more exciting if the gift is home-made or comes from some place other than their home. Most gifts western gifts are vastly different from anything china sees and therefore welcomed with enthusiasm.

You must never leave your gift in the shopping bag; the wrapping is very symbolic. For everyday thank you gifts and occasions the tradition is to wrap with red ribbon. Use silver and gold ribbon to show celebrations for wedding gifts, and black and white ribbon for funerals.

Avoid clocks and the number 4 when giving a gift (8 is a lucky number because it sounds like the word peace.) Phonetics have a very strong meaning in the Chinese culture and both those words phonetically sound like death omens and constitute bad luck.

Never give a gift to a single person in a business relationship because it will be understood as a bribe and will not be accepted. It is better if you address the gift to the entire company, in which case it will be eventually accepted with gratitude. I say eventually because in the Chinese culture it is customary to decline a gift at least three times before accepting. It is rude to be to enthusiastic about receiving a gift.


When I went to Paris I learned that it is very important to give a thank you gift whenever you are invited to someone’s house. Being from the US my first idea for a “thank you for having me to your house” gift would be a bottle of wine. While I’m sure it wouldn’t be thrown away, in France the host typically likes to serve their own wine. A more appropriate gift would be flowers, candy or liquor, something that is not so readily available.

Paris is a very Catholic city so Christmas is an occasion for gifts under the tree just like in the US.

One of my favorite moments with my host family was when I was able to give back to them by sharing a piece of my home. Upon arrival I gave them an oil painting of the Swan Boats, in a pretty gold frame. The family had never been to the US before, and it was a perfect icebreaker directly initiating a conversation about Boston and Paris.


The first thing to think about when you go to India is NO DEAD COWS! It is illegal in almost every state in India to slaughter a cow. Most native Indian people are Hindu (about 80%) and a large percentage are non-alcohol-drinking vegetarians. While most people wouldn’t bring a slab of meat as a gift, it is also important not to serve meat if you invite Indian dinner guests. Alcohol is a popular international gift, but it is not as appreciated in this country. Alcohol is not banned by the Hindu religion, but it is often saved only for religious ceremonies and very special occasions such as weddings. Any gift given to an Indian family would be graciously received whether it can be used or not.


The most important thing I remember from my 12 day stay in Italy is do NOT bring flowers as a gift to your host. The only time people give flowers is at funerals, so if you want to avoid awkwardness and confusion, wine is always a good bet.


Japan is a country based on traditions and respect. It is very important to know the proper way to act so as not to unknowingly insult a colleague.

Just like in the United States, it is important to bring the host a small token or gift (food or drink.) Beware though, expensive gifts are not required because gift giving is reciprocated in Japan. If you bring something overly nice to your host, they are required to give you something equally as nice when the opportunity presents itself.

Wrapping paper is very important in formal situations in Japan; always remember to wrap your present, even if it is something small. When receiving a gift wrapped present, it is impolite to open it immediately. Only in some cases is it ok to open a present right away, but even then you must ask permission first.

If you attend a wedding or funeral during your stay in Japan cash is a customary gift, similar to the United States. As for the money container, you must go to a store and purchase a special envelope with a red tie around it. Only then is the gift appropriate.

Most importantly, it is crucial to be humble. When my Japanese friend handed me a gift she quickly stated, “Its nothing, its not a nice gift…” It surprised me but I waited until I got home to open it and found a gorgeous bracelet that I still love to this day. After inquiring around a friend told me that in Japan it is customary to belittle your gift out of respect, even if you think it is a great present.


Etiquette rule no. 1 before traveling to Turkey: The Turkish don’t stop eating until their guests stop, because they want you to finish everything and have a second helping, and thirds, and eat until you can’t walk and then let out a loud burp in appreciation. It is very insulting not to finish what you are served. This can be a big problem for vegetarians because the Turkish do not understand why people would abstain from meat. Especially in lower class homes, meat makes up an inexpensive and critical part of the Turkish diet.

Weddings are HUGE in Turkey. As a wedding gift, it is a Turkish tradition to buy the bride golden coins, worth a hundred or more dollars, to pin on her dress. Friends, relatives, everyone buys them – my friend’s mother spent time after college in Turkey and built very strong friendships. She buys the coins for families she knows. An older grandfather in the village even gave her money for her daughter’s coins, knowing that he wouldn’t be alive long enough to see their walks down the isle. At the wedding rifles are shot into the air and everyone has a blast moving freely with their arms raised above their heads, dancing around their partners.

It is also tradition to be invited to the houses of your acquaintances for warm goat’s milk.


Brits love and quite frankly, expect, gifts from close friends when they return from holiday. I learned this the hard way when I got back to the London after memorial day and was the only person who hadn’t brought chocolate for the entire company. They really do expect gifts – sweets mostly, for the company.

My landlady came back from Germany and brought me a scarf, so basic female accessories are also the norm among good girlfriends. I noticed that guys give those little shot glasses quite a bit and get a kick out of them.

In the business world gifts are not expected. If you want to show your appreciation make sure to pick something small so it is understood as a gift and not a bribe.