I have several siblings (several- more than three, less than a dozen). For years, I gave every sibling a Christmas present. Then, I gave every sibling and his or her significant other a Christmas present. THEN, I gave every sibling, their S-O and their CHILDREN individual Christmas presents. THEN, I gave each family a box of Christmas presents. Finally, I sent some of my siblings a “family” Christmas present. Now, they are lucky to get a greeting card from me. This is the evolution of my family gift-giving.
( I did not expect nor did I often receive presents in return. Sometimes I was happily surprised. I just like giving gifts.)
A lot of these gifts were homemade. Because homemade gifts are super, right? Well, they are, if they come from my sisters, who all take great pride in crafting the most delightfully sewn, knitted, quilted items. I go for the Big Effect, and that sometimes means that my gifts fall apart 24 hours after they are unpacked. Still, it’s the thought.... Or, is it? (My food gifts are usually awesome!)
A gift can be as small as a button, as mysterious as an empty box, as ephemeral as a kiss. Books about gift-giving and generosity that I love.The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen
. I will mention this book every Christmas season in some form or other, because I love it so much. I love the brown paper feel of the illustrations. I love the feeling of winter, darkness, and struggling hope. I love its simplicity. And I love the joyous resolution. The Bear family is so poor that they don’t even hope for presents this year. On Christmas morning, they find that “Toddler Christmas” visited in the night and brought them small, precious gifts.Birthday Surprises edited by Johanna Hurwitz.
Hurwitz asked 10 children’s authors to write a story about a birthday in which a child received an empty box. Sometimes, the box was the actual present. Sometimes, the box represented something else. In one case, the box was sent by mistake and the present was delivered in person. Imagine getting a box filled with air. Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant
. First published in Rylant’s collection, Children of Christmas
, this story tells of a train that rolled through the mountains and gifts that were thrown from the back to the impoverished children. Every year, a boy wishes for one particular gift. Every year, he gets something he needs. He returns as an adult and we find out whether his wish ever came true.
The following website offers a list of books about gift-giving and generosity to share with your young ones. The Best Childrens Books about Generosity.
The Anthropology of Gifts - Part One
Look what I got in the mail right before Christmas!
-a beautiful slip-covered
copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
with the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel. (The book pictured comes from Atlas Books, a book marketing company. The mention of this company is not an endorsement. The Atlas Books catalog offers lots of lovely looking books. However, I suggest that authors looking for a marketing company do a thorough investigation on their own.)
This is an example of a traditional "gift" book - lovely to behold and to hold. Other traditional gift books are coffee table books, heavy with color plates, or educational tomes to enrich the recipient's mind, or inspirational volumes. Gift books look impressive on display.
Every major publisher puts out books in the Fall that are designed to catch the eye and to answer the needs of the gift-giver.
Most book review sites produce Best of... lists before the holidays so that no one goes ungifted. I prefer to let people do their own choosing. I am not alone in having received book gifts that were not to my liking. I have GIVEN books as gifts that ended up in yard sales.
This brings me to something I have been mulling over during this season of grabbing, getting, gifting, griping, to say nothing of wrapping, worrying and wondering - the anthropology of gifts.
Part One: Did you get what you wanted this holiday? Did you give the perfect gift? Are you wishing that you had spent more...or less? Did your friend get a better gift from you than you got from him?
Does it matter?
Why do you give gifts, anyway?
We learn that there are two acceptable reasons to give gifts;
to show affection,
to earn affection.
(The second reason is, ahem, less acceptable than the first.)
It follows that gift-giving should be completely altruistic. There should be no thoughts of, “Whoa, she will be blown away when she sees my awesome gift.” Nor, should we be worrying that, “This gift won’t seem too brown-nosey, will it?”
In the history of gift giving there are so many other reasons;
to show power, - as in, “No gift you give me is worth as much as the gift I give you. So watch it. I might take it back.”;
to earn prestige, - “Look how very important and special I am. I can give so much.”;
to flatter, - “YOU deserve this wonderful gift.”;
to insult, - “YOU barely even merit this tiny awful gift.”;
because it’s expected, - “I got invited to my cousin’s step-son’s wedding and I never even met him. I don’t want to look cheap.”;
because it meets a need - “I noticed that your socks are worn. Here, have some socks.”
The feelings that accompany gift-giving and getting are also significant -
hope that the recipient will be pleased,
envy over what others receive,
worry that we haven’t quite discharged our gift-giving duty,
worry that someone will be empty-handed,
worry that we will be disappointed,
hurt that the giver has no idea what we like - or who we are - even what colors we hate!
Yep, it’s a mine field, this giving of gifts.
A young friend once complained that her relatives, whom she barely saw, gave her a beautiful Christmas stocking.
“As if I was a little kid,” she snorted. She was in her late teens. “They have no interest in me, at all.”
By the way, the stocking was absolutely gorgeous. It was not appreciated. The relatives did not want to show up empty handed, especially when they spent so little time with my friend.
And this brings up the politics of RECEIVING gifts.... Whoo, Nellie! Do we really want to go into that, right now?
The ONLY acceptable way to receive gifts is happily and with a “Thank you.” Jumping up and down with glee is acceptable if you are small enough to jump up and down without shaking the floors. Sulking is never a good thing.
If the gift is insulting, the giver has been thwarted. You seem pleased. They will have to try harder.
If the gift attempts to impress, well, act impressed if you want to, but it is not obligatory.
If the gift was meant to flatter, don’t make much of it - unless you want to flatter back.
If the gift feels obligatory, remember, the giver didn’t have to give you anything.
If the gift seems insignificant, perhaps it is all the giver could give you.
As mothers, and grandmothers, and maiden aunts, and crotchety old uncles are always telling us, “It’s the thought that counts.” (Except when it IS the thought that counts, - and the thought is nasty - then we are not supposed to notice.)
This holiday season, I decided not to worry about it. I asked my loved ones what they wanted and gave them what I could to meet those requests.
I love every gift I receive, because I love the givers.
The best gift we have is our friends and family. So, if we remember that, it’s all good - (in the words of Pete the Cat).