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Zer Netmouse
December 10th, 2006
09:43 am


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What does gift-giving mean to you?
Last week I was chatting with a friend who asked what gift-giving means to me. At the time I mentioned the sharing of culture, and the joy of sharing a book or music that someone else will enjoy or learn from.

As I've been shopping for the season, however, I've thought more about it. Gift-giving is also in the category of more general care-giving, in my book. Some gifts you give just to make someone smile in the short term, but some you give because the person's life might really be improved by it. I might buy a fancy top, or earings that are a perfect match for a favorite outfit for someone, thinking of how she doesn't get out much and how this might look great on her and help enable her to do something she loves, which is be out with other people, and thus be better connected in her close community. When my mom gave me a dishwasher while I was getting my master's degree, it was specifically to make my life better and help take care of me in a way she otherwise couldn't because we lived far apart. Sometimes, in this way, gift-giving provides a way of being there for your friend or loved one even when you're not there in person. The object is there, and also they might gain confidence or joy from the association of that object with you and your caring when they use, wear, or otherwise experience it later.

This is especially strong, for me, with gifts that were handmade by another person. That's not just the really comfy throw on the couch, it's the warm comfy throw knitted by Aunt Murph specifically for Bill. Or the blanket made for me by Caro. Those objects have a warmth of caring knitted into them over long hours.

My mom once sent me a whole birthday outfit, with jewelry and everything - not just a store-bought dress, but a carefully constructed entire ensemble that was perfect for the occassion where my birthday coincided with winter waltz and I had a date flying in from Philadelphia to share the night with me. Some parts of the ensemble were actually only on loan - but she gave me the experience, which was the important part, along with her loving attention and her trust. Trust can be a gift.

Still, I don't generally feel invested in whether or not someone remembers that something was from me. It's a nice bonus to gift-giving, but I've gotten enough gifts that I couldn't later remember the source of that I feel really forgiving of that pattern in others. I guess with the culture-sharing gifts, it's especially nice if people do remember, since it strengthens a connection you may have of shared interests. And, if there's a story associated with it, of shared history.

Sometimes we give gifts in such a way that it reinforces the status or other aspects of our relationship, in a (hopefully) positive way. My sister didn't give her first bronze sculpture to just anyone, she gave it to me. And I appreciate it in a way probably not everyone would, either, partly because it's a little gargoyle whose face is somehow reminiscent of the cat we had through almost my whole young life (from when I was 2 to when I was 24, I think).

I would rather get a single gift that is for me, personally, in this way, than a hundred that are rote gifts stimulated by a hallmark holiday. Gifts that are purchased throughout the year and are saved for a holiday I can relate to. Gifts that were bought because there was a felt obligation to give a certain ammount or type of thing... well, they can be as inspired and creative as any other, or they can not. I like spontaneous generousity, but saving up surprises can be fun too. When I went to Russia I bought gifts that lasted me for almost a year of birthdays and holidays; revealing them slowly was part of the fun.

I think the connecting part of gift-giving is why an email or card or newsletter, especially one with a personal note in it, is still a valuable and cherished gift. The value of the gift isn't the amount you paid for it, it's the message: "I think of you and I wish you well." Sometimes a gift goes along with the card that will help the recipient achieve that well-being, but underneath it all, it really is the thought that counts.

So that was a bit of an essay from my perspective. What does gift-giving mean to you? what are some of the favorite gifts you have given or received?

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:December 10th, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC)
My general perspective is one that our society doesn't much appreciate. Most of the gift-giving that goes on I find to be a chore, particularly when I know I'll be receiving and thus I ought to be reciprocating. It doesn't mean anything (in my opinion) when it's expected.

However, once in a while I find some true inspiration. Something that is just *right* for someone. A bit annoying when it's my GF's father and not my GF, or whatever inconvenient thing like that, but still. It has nothing to do with when it is or what expected gift-giving occasion is coming up, it has entirely to do with the item and the person. Then it's a true gesture from me. I've been known to hang on to those items to fill an expectation at a later date, just because it gets me out of the dilemma.

I guess this is more a rant on the expectations in this society than really answering your question, but the answer is buried somewhere in the second paragraph. I'm just not sure how better to say it.
[User Picture]
Date:December 10th, 2006 04:13 pm (UTC)
I'm with you on preferring gifts that have personal meaning. I like to give gifts when I come across something that seems perfect for a particular person - and to make gifts with someone in mind.

I don't much like giving gifts out of obligation, though I make an exception for very young children who will appreciate anything for the sake of its novelty.
[User Picture]
Date:December 10th, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC)
At the moment, I'm in the "bah, humbug" phase, when gift giving is a bit of an obligation. But not so thoroughly anti-gift that I actually opt out of many of the situations where I could; I feel like I *shouldn't* feel that way.

It got to the point, fairly early in my adult life, where nothing I wanted a *lot* was something I could possibly receive as a gift, except specific books and music that I had delayed getting to have *something* to put on a Christmas list. This pretty much killed the excitement of Christmas for me.
[User Picture]
Date:December 10th, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
I agree with the personal aspect of gift giving.

On two occasions, someone from my group of friends suggested that we do one of those white elephant exchanges. It sucked big time. I hated the fact that the gift was not intended for someone, but was something that anyone might like. The asinity of it was displayed when someone bought something specifically for my wife; something specifically for her that no-one else would even want!

This year, my sister suggested that we (siblings and spouses) do a white elephant. I'm bursting with anticipation. [/sarcasm]
[User Picture]
Date:December 11th, 2006 03:55 am (UTC)
The best kind of gift-giving experience for me is like the one I had earlier this month, where I was shopping for someone else completely and stumbled upon the perfect present for seagrit's husband: a laser strategy game! It's a strategy game! With lasers! I am so excited about giving him this gift, because I know he's never heard of it and will break out in the biggest grin when he opens it (because it's a strategy game! with lasers!). Mostly I just want the people I love to know I was thinking of them.
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