Holiday Ethics in Rhyme

 “The holiday season — a time for good cheer!  For egg nog, for parties, for friends to be near. But I must be careful lest I accept free, A gift not permitted, no matter how wee.”

So began, in 1994, the first version of what has become an annual federal government  holiday poem to accompany the otherwise long and dry list of dos and don’ts about holiday gift giving and receiving that all federal government employees must follow (Itkowitz, 2014).

Last year the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ethics issued a seven-page guidance document on gift rules and statutes—seven pages of rules that covered parties and receptions, holiday gifts (what’s acceptable; what isn’t), how to handle unacceptable gifts, and financial disclosure requirements, among other topics. Thankfully, in the spirit of the season, this long list of rules was accompanied by a very holiday-ish ditty written to make readers smile while also emphasizing the gift rules. See the link to “Holiday Guidance on the Gift Rule” below.

Meanwhile, here is a sample—six of the 22 stanzas of “The House Gift Rule: A Rhyme for the Holidays.”

The holidays are coming, and all through the House,

Its people were stirring & beginning to grouse,

That they needed reminders if gifts came their way,

Because within Ethics rules they wanted to stay.

So the Committee has issued this pink sheet (so pretty!)

And laid down the rules, down to the nifty gritty.

The Committee dug deep, and it thought really hard,

Before issuing its guidance (with the help of its bard).

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

And now to the gift rule, it’s Rule Twenty-Five

Clause five(a)(2)(A) into which we now dive.

You must think of”gifts” as a term that is broad,

As gifts could be loans, favors, or something quite odd.

An exception is required before accepting a gift,

Keep reading this poem cuz’ the exceptions we’ll sift.

And remember these rules they apply every day,

On vacation? At home? They don’t go way.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . .

In parting we know that holidays are fraught,

With whether gifts are permitted or not.

But knowing the gift rule should give you a reason

To relax and enjoy this holiday season.

So we leave you with good cheer and hope that you call

Our Committee with questions even if small.

We are here to help you, most every day

And say to you now, have a good holiday!

A creative and festive approach, don’t you agree? Perhaps this year you too can tap your employees’ creativity to draft your own version of a poetic seasonal reminder of ethics and gift giving. Enjoy the season!

Ethical Advocate provides 24-7 confidential, secure, and anonymous ethics hotlines and also provides related ethics and compliance training. Contact us to learn more


Itkowitz, Colby. “And Now, a Congressional Ethics Holiday Rhyme.” In the Loop (Washington Post blog), December 5, 2014.

HOUSE Committee on Ethics. “Holiday Guidance on the Gift Rule,” December 4, 2014.