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Gifts – Does the thought really count?

November 16th, 2008 · No Comments

With Christmas looming, Santa must be cracking the whip on his little elves, topping up the sleigh’s oil and giving Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer gang a final health check before he lets loose over the North Pole on Christmas Eve.

Like Santa, I wonder how many other people are starting to think about gifts.  In fact I’d like to know where this whole present thing started from anyway. Why do people buy gifts?

Perhaps the most famous example of gift giving is from the bible when the three wise men delivered their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus.  I know what baby Jesus was thinking – I’ll ditch the frankincense and myrrh and take the gold thanks.  It seems not much has changed today, like Jesus we have all been given a dud gift.

I recall my friend Anna was invited to a baby shower one day and had forgotten to buy the mother to be a gift.  Anna’s grandmother came to the rescue and assured her she had an ‘emergency’ back-up gift for just this type of occasion.  Anna wondered if she could trust her grandmother’s judgment on this matter but time was of the essence, so she rushed over to her grandmother’s house on the way to the baby shower and collected the gift which was wrapped quite badly… she had a bad feeling but ever the optimist, bravely pushed on.

The bad feeling returned when present opening ceremony began.  Anna anxiously waited her turn, in the meantime women were ‘ohing’ and ‘ahing’ over baby clothes, baby hampers and stuffed giraffes. Finally the mother to be picked up Anna’s gift and the ‘ohings’ and ahings’ came to an abrupt halt. The wrapping paper gave way to a horrendous sight…. a see-though and somewhat dirty plastic case revealed  the contents, a 1970s sheet and pillow case for a single adult bed.  Oh yes, the 70s colour theme was loud and clear – the sheets were decorated with big brown, purple and orange flowers.

Bless Anna’s grandmother, Anna had later found out that her grandmother had dug it out of a dowry chest.

Clearly, Anna should have considered the story of the three wise men and bought a gift of gold instead of trusting the judgement of her grandmother!

The Village Days

So why do we engage in these gift giving activities?

In the past staying alive from day to day was pretty hard.  Basic food staples were scarce, and luxuries were almost unheard of so people brought their neighbours gifts including food and household goods as a way of celebrating various milestones, such as surviving another year in the unforgiving world or the marriage of two teenagers.  Esiah from down the road or the next hut over donated a plough to get the young couple started whilst Zachariah supplied a sack of green potatoes (that was all that he could spare over winter).  When Abigail fell pregnant the women in the village would provide the child with a home spun woollen blanket.

Somehow we have gone from giving gifts of necessity that impacted the recipient’s bottom line survival to giving gifts out of desperation or obligation (brown, purple and orange flowered 70s sheets –need I say more).   Let’s look at this phenomenon further.

From necessity to obligation – How did this happen?

So how did we get to this point where we feel obliged to buy gifts? As adults we buy gifts not because we want to but because we feel we have to.  We are the product of many years gift giving propaganda – Christmas Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and any other eventful ‘something day’ has been formalised with the expectation that a gift must be purchased.

I am not really Katherine the Scrooge!  The thought of giving a loved one a well considered gift and watching their face as they open it gives me great pleasure.  But let’s face it, surely we all at one time or another felt the Christmas shopping dreads because we feel the obligation to buy a gift for every single family member including second, third and fourth cousins that you haven’t seen in 20 years along with gifts for their children that you have never met.

Haven’t we all had a back up box of Cadbury Roses stashed away in the cupboard in case Auntie Rose and Uncle David unexpectedly pop over with a gift and we don’t get embarrassed by not giving them a gift?    Gee wouldn’t that be the end of the world!

What do we do when Uncle David and Auntie Rose give us an ugly old salad bowel with purple, brown and orange flowers to match our 70s sheets and pillow case?  Do we throw it away, or do we keep it in the back of our cupboard in case they come and visit in another 10 years and we have to pull it out to show that we appreciated their gift?

Now comes the scandal- how many times have we recycled our unwanted gifts?  That address book you were given by your Cris Cringle at work made an excellent gift for your fourth cousin’s child didn’t it! These days we have no excuse to relieve our obligation duties – shopping centres are open 24 hours to accommodate the last minute obligation rush!

So next time you think about shopping for a gift why don’t you stop and ponder about what you are buying and why……

hmmmm now where did I put my unwanted gifts from last year?



Tags: musings

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