Everyone knows it: the story of the sweater under the Christmas tree that you would never wear – but you do. After all, you don’t want to hurt anyone. But it can be better, says an expert.

For many people, giving presents is an integral part of Christmas. But the joy afterwards is not always great. The sweater you knit might scratch, you can’t do much with the fifth pan and you really can’t smell the expensive perfume at all.

Only: Can you say that to your loved ones? Yes, thinks the psychologist Matthias Richter, board member of the German Society for Systemic Therapy, Counseling and Family Therapy (DGSF). However, with tact. In an interview, he explains why white lies are usually not a good idea at Christmas – and how to get around it.

After unpacking the Christmas present, it becomes clear: Unfortunately, it doesn’t suit your own taste at all. And then?

Matthias Richter: Basically, I think honesty is the best strategy. It is certainly still better for relationships with people close to you, perhaps even causing a small insult, than pretending to be happy – and dragging the disappointment around with you. Because that keeps you going.

And it’s also something human that you sometimes make mistakes when giving gifts. I think everyone has experienced it: you get something as a gift that you don’t really like. Or you’ve given something away and feel that it just doesn’t fit the other side. If nothing is said then, that creates a kind of bad mood.

My recommendation would be to first look: What can I appreciate about the gift, even if I don’t like it that much? So the good intention, for example, the effort that someone has made. And then to start with that and not to say categorically: This is nothing at all. Then you can add what I don’t like about the gift and find a way out together. If you bought something, there might be an exchange option.

This is not the case with the self-knitted sweater. A reason for a white lie?

Just because a sweater is knitted myself wouldn’t be enough for me to call a white lie. I would say: I can see how much work you have put in, but I don’t like the wool, the colour, the shape or maybe the style.

Especially with something that you have knitted yourself, another use could make much more sense than taking it home, leaving it in the closet and throwing it away later. Maybe there will be someone else who can do more with it. But you can only talk about it if you say openly that I don’t like it. And then think together with the person giving the gift: how can you deal with it now?

Of course, things are different for people who are not yet or no longer able to cope with such a disappointment. I’m thinking in particular of children who may have drawn a picture or made something that you can’t do anything with. Or to old people who, due to their state of health or their ability to remember, are no longer able to cope with such a situation.

Is it even possible to avoid disappointment with Christmas presents?

I think so. Not 100% natural. But the number of such experiences can be reduced by making arrangements beforehand and asking yourself: With what attitude do we want to gift ourselves, if we do it at all? For example, I have long since agreed with my adult children that we will not give each other gifts, but that we will be happy to meet each other.

If you decide to give yourself something, you can discuss beforehand in which direction the gift could go. Then you narrow it down a bit and don’t leave it entirely to the imagination of the person giving the gift. These would be measures to reduce disappointments.

Of course, there are also families who really appreciate this surprise. It’s about thinking about what you could give the person in question. But then you should also expect that a hit will go wrong. If you agreed on this beforehand, it’s not that bad.