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per amica silentia lunae

or, across the ferny brae with the evil voodoo celt

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On gifts and gifting
I've noted a number of people (both in the past and this year) who have declared that they don't want gifts for Christmas/Yule/etc. While I understand and respect this, it makes me wonder...

Giving, really, is (or should be) as much for the giver as for the recipient. Should one's desires automatically take precedence over the other's? How do we honor both of them?

It's also worth examining the societal ideation that holiday giving is some kind of "quid pro quo" situation- that you're obligated to give gifts to everyone who gives to you; sometimes even that they need to be of an equivalent value (either monetarily or time/effort investment). While this sort of thing may be true in some families (not to mention the more mechanical sorts of office gift exchanges), it really need not- and should not, IMHO- be true in gifting between friends. Giving should be done because it makes the giver happy and makes the recipient happy, not out of some sense of obligation. That's what generosity is.

One good answer is charity donations and the like. The giver may need to do a little inner reset to realize that just because they're not giving something tangible, it is still a gift. There are, of course, other "intangible" gifts that could work for both giver and recipient.

But what about when the giver has bought or found a gift months in advance, and already has it in their possession? What's to do then? (NOTE: neither monsteralice nor I are in this situation this year, although we have been in the past.) Maybe the inner reset has to be on the recipient's side this time- to take the gift as an expression of love, and to know that nothing is required in turn.


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I have found if you don't give it for a holiday or birthday, etc.; but just "Here, I think you need this" then the feeling of "quid pro quo" is negated.

Re: already bought gift


What kitteblue said. Hold onto it for a month or two, or give it early, and dissociate it with a holiday.

Re: already bought gift

Good idea...

It's an interesting discussion topic. I'm a big fan of giving people incidental gifts if I happen to find them. I never consider this a quid pro quo exchange, but I have had a few friends who are made very uncomfortable by this, so much so that I've just stopped doing so, even though it saddens me. I often see this from folks who don't have the where with all to return the favor, but honestly, for me accepting a gift I've given and letting it bring you joy IS the favor.

you raise very valid points and concerns. I for one have stated in my lj that we are not mailing out Yule cards this year. This is due to both time, financial and ecological concerns. We love getting greetings from our friends and family, but would rather have an e-card than a paper card and will be sending out e-cards to mark the occasion.
We aren't doing away with the practice, just practicing it in a different medium

I have tended over the past few years to steer more towards homemade gifts or something of personal sentiment that just buying a gift for giving sake. I find that this means more than just "hey I got you this, hope you like it". It means more to me because I've put time, energy and thought into the gift, especially if it is made by me, and I really hope it means more to the recipient for the same reasons.

I never expect gifts. I never have, if someone wants to give me something, I accept it and thank them for their generosity, but I don't base things on "I gave you so you need to give me" or the other way around, I feel that looses the original intent when it becomes that way.

I think in our current american holiday culture gift giving gets lost in the mass frenzy of the holidays that we as a culture have created. Unfortunetly its no longer about sharing a gift of love, its about sales and marketing and an ever expanding list of "must buy fors" The only way this is going to reverse if we refuse to buy into the pressure to buy buy buy this time of year and focus instead on the original meaning of the holidays (no matter what you call it, Yule, Hannukah, Christmas, Kwanza, etc) Too much of our economy is based on the buying power that it becomes the focus of the holiday, instead of a practice of a holiday.

This mentality has turned a beautiful celebration of life and family into a stress creating choatic event that everyone is so relieved to be over when its over, which is sad. I don't agree with getting bombarded by christmas ads from mid-october on, and I don't want to be so stressed out just from grocery shopping or picking up a few items when the crazed mobs have hit the stores. But again, the only way this can chance is if we all actively say ENOUGH to the cultural pressures.

So there you have my 2 cents worth.

It's only lost in the frenzy if you let it be.

I never let gift-giving holidays be about the marketing. They're always about "I wanted to give this to you." It's just that I choose to do so during a cultural event that has included gift giving for hundreds of years.

It's what you make of it.

I'm kind of torn. I love receiving and I love giving. I would never want someone to feel obligated to reciprocate. I started keeping an Amazon.com wishlist mainly for Mom and Dad and the grandparents, as they wanted to give things, and I was able to communicate about things I wanted or needed in a productive way. But I don't send it out to give people "ideas," or hints though-- I've only ever posted it somewhere in response to more than one person asking for it.

By the same token, I hate gift registries for things like weddings. (this is me pointing my finger at my own hypocrisy.) I've bought wedding gifts from them many times, knowing that folks have them for similar reasons to why I have my own. I've always felt they were so impersonal, though.

It's tough, though, too, as we look to the next generation of capitalist consumers. When I find something for The Moonchild, I'm almost trying to avoid things like birthdays and holidays, because if I put a lot of thought or intent into something... she's 5. Whatever it is, is going to get lost in the sea of ZOMG, SHINY! that's heaped on her from many directions. divalion's story-box idea is a great one for kids of many ages, and it's probably something that The Moonchild will remember, from the sea of ZOMG, SHINY!, years later. By the same token, it's a gamble: is a really-well-thought-out-and-executed gift for a child going to be remembered if she's smothered by piles and piles of stuff? Depends on the kid. I've handmade some things for AgentM's kids, and that actually went really well when they were little. Now, after talking with AgentM at length (with lots of aunts and uncles, they get tons of stuff), and countered his "don't give them anything, they get a ton of stuff," with "please don't punish me for that, eh?" and sorted out some "things to do with Miss K" like a movie for each of them, separately, or a dinner out, or something.

It's working okay. I can hope that they'll get to college late-night 3:00 AM beer-and-philosophy sessions and say, "Yeah, I got all that stuff from my aunts and uncles and stuff, but Miss K took me to the movies, and that was cool."

Yeah, gift registries seem kind of mechanical. I think they're mainly there for people (such as relatives) who don't actually know the recipients all that well, and feel uncomfortable just getting them something they think is cool. That's why we set up a registry...

That, and they date from the days that newlyweds would be setting up a household... it was a way of making sure that there wouldn't be unneeded replication of items...

If you think we're bad about "quid pro quo," take a look at some Asian cultures. There, if you receive a gift, you must give back one of equal value. Failure to do so is dishonorable.

I first learned of it when my office gave a wedding present to a co-worker from China. She returned it with a big box of edibles, explaining the reason.

I had another situation where my department (ten people--no hardship) traditionally bought everyone trinkets whenever we went on vacation. One time, there was a new guy, and he happened to be of Chinese extraction (I think his parents were the immigrants). He immediately asked me the value, and tried to explain why. I told him I knew the tradition, and we agreed that the proper payback would be that he bring back trinkets from his vacation, whenever he took it.

The point is, we only *think* we're strict about that sort of thing.

But for the immediate situations you describe in your post, I think the other comments resolve those dilemmas if they exist. And yeah, charitable contributions are nice too. When my father died, people were nice enough to send money to the Heifer project in his name for me.

This year I made the suggestion that my dad's family does a name draw so we each just do one person and a repeated share gift for each (like note cards, or jam jar). Step-mom looked at me terrified when she realized this ment she could not give each of her sons a gift, or might not even get their name in the draw. Thus the idea was squashed and the lavishing upon her boys (who are now in their 20s) continues.
I boycotted for a few years, but I missed the time with my family and them as people with stories of their lives.

I would never, ever be ungracious about accepting a gift from someone even if they knew I had requested not to receive gifts. I think that gifts should always be accepted in the spirit of love with which they were given.

For me, there are two very distinct sides to the whole gift question.

One is definitely financial. I don't think that gifts have to be a quid-pro-quo, but when you're regularly poor enough that gift-buying at all is a struggle, then gift exchanges become very stressful. Receiving gifts but not giving them, or having a noticeable difference in the cost of gifts received vs. given, reinforces-- I have to call it a power dynamic. You end up in the role of chronic supplicant, torn between being grateful for gifts and feeling lousy about yourself for being unable to buy them for yourself or to provide such things for others. Or, there's the stress of figuring out where to draw the line on your list of friends, and hoping that you don't hurt the feelings of a friend who thought you were close enough to buy a gift for, but you couldn't afford a gift for them, and they know you bought gifts for other friends. OY.

I get invited to a LOT of gift-giving occasions-- birthdays, weddings, housewarmings, you name it. It would be a hardship to afford gifts for them all, but it still creates a lot of social anxiety-- will people think I'm a jerk if I don't buy a shower gift AND a wedding gift? Am I obligated to give all my friends' kids birthday gifts every year, and if I give to a couple but not all, will the parents of the other children feel slighted? Hell, I can recall a baby shower I went to not very long ago, where my gift was comparatively small-- a few books, which still cost me as much as I could afford-- and everyone else there had brought such lavish gifts that I felt ashamed when mine were opened. I felt this strong vibe that the people there who didn't know me were wondering why I was so cheap and why I didn't give enough of a shit to bring a properly nice gift.

So to a very large extent, I would just rather not give or receive gifts in any formal way, and just eliminate as much as possible the shame, guilt, stress, and social censure that so often accompanies gift exchanges when you don't make much money.

The second aspect, though, is Stuff. The bigger problem that I have with gifting, money issues aside, is that I and so many people I know are drowning in Stuff and desperately trying to scale back. And people tend to exchange a lot of gifts that are stuff for stuff's sake. Things that don't really serve a purpose except to say "I gave you a gift". While I always appreciate the sentiment, I just don't need more dust-collectors that I will later guiltily give away because I never had a use for them.

I do love giving and receiving gifts, but what I am trying to steer towards, when gifting happens, is stuff that isn't clutter. Something that I or my recipient really *needs* or would have bought for themselves anyway; or something consumable, or a shared experience, or a charitable donation to a cause meaningful to the recipient.

My no-Yule-gifts wish, though, was shaped more than anything by a desire to enjoy the holidays without stressing about how to manage gifts for everyone. It's not cocky to say "50 of my closest friends/family"-- it's extremely realistic for most of us. You invest either a ton of time or a ton of money into honoring all those people with gifts, and it's not realistic. So I wish to ease my own mind and that of my friends' by not creating any expectation of a gift exchange. It doesn't mean I won't give or receive any gifts, period...but it does mean that no one has to exhaust their resources to make sure it happens. I would just like for gifts, when they happen, to be returned to an act of joy.

Totally understand on your reasoning, especially the Stuff part of it...

So, should "don't give me any gifts" statements be qualified, with something like your It doesn't mean I won't give or receive any gifts, period...but it does mean that no one has to exhaust their resources to make sure it happens?

I would just like for gifts, when they happen, to be returned to an act of joy.

I like that.

Well, ok.

I have a lot of thoughts about this, but I should organize them and put them somewhere else.

I just wanna point out...
Have you noticed how the major saturation of "gosh, isn't all that gift-giving a big mean ole' stressful bitch?" propaganda is coming from the exact same companies that are trying to sell you stuff for stuff's sake? They're just making whatever means they use to "fix that problem" for you the reason to buy their stuff instead of other stuff...the same ones that wanna make sure you feel the pressure to keep up with the Jonses in terms of big parties and meals and cars with bows on them.

If you're gonna liberate yourself from the synthetic stress, don't forget to chuck the false perception that said stress is really being caused by the holiday in the first place.

I mean, at its base, the holiday season is because winter is a sad and lonely time for non-hibernating mammals, and it IS important to re-affirm connections. It's a valuable ritual to find some way to assess and declare your bonds. So pick something to do, and open yourself to respecting what other people pick to do.

I mean, at its base, the holiday season is because winter is a sad and lonely time for non-hibernating mammals, and it IS important to re-affirm connections. It's a valuable ritual to find some way to assess and declare your bonds. So pick something to do, and open yourself to respecting what other people pick to do.

Well put.

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