Dec 17, 2008

Gift Giving

I thought that the primary reason for gift giving is to show affection, affinity... good feelings toward the recipient. Sadly, even though we are suppose to appreciate gifts regardless of their value because "It's the thought that counts" but in practice, we assign value to gifts based on how much they cost!

In some cultures, giving gifts is a way to demonstrate the giver's prestige -- the bigger the gift, the more wealthy the giver and perhaps by inference, the less wealthy the recipient in comparison. So, a disproportionately large gift is an insult.

Apparently, some cultures accept the practice of going into debt in order to give a big gift, one that signifies, or even bolsters one's station in society. If one is the leader of the group, one is expected to give bigger gifts than people who hold a lesser role. In some cultures, the size of the gift for each role is codified.

In olden days' etiquette, you were not supposed to reveal to the recipient the monetary costs of a gift. The recipient is supposed to appreciate the thought and guess the value for themselves. In that same apparently passe etiquette, carefully wrapped and decorated gifts demonstrate the thought and care that went into creating or selecting the gift. I hear that in the old Japanese culture, the way a gift is wrapped and presented contain specific meaning about the relationship between the giver and the recipient.

It seems many people feel that the monetary cost of a gift, and whether it's 'new' or used, designates the giver as generous or a cheapskate. Well, what about say, a gift of the Cullinan Diamond (one of the stones in the British Imperial State Crown), but it's old and was previously owned? It is clearly a 're-gift' but is it a cheapskate's gift?

What about giving money as a gift? The aforementioned passe etiquette definitely states that giving money is crass but nowadays, it seems to be OK. If someone gave money that their employer gave them, to another person, is that re-gift also a cheapskate gift? What about gifts that didn't cost the giver any money: Donald Trump shares his knowledge on real estate deals; an artist gives a performance, a friend gives emotional support... are gifts also considered 'cheap' because they didn't cost the giver money?

O. Henry's short story, "Gift of the Magi" (podcast) is heart-warming, about gifts that don't cost much but are very meaningful.