Published on New York Spirit
With the major gift-giving holidays upon us, it is the season of bustling markets and perplexed customers. Retailers are trying their level best to entice you with their products, trying to convince you they have the best gifts money can buy for your loved ones. Newer options and creativity in gifts is at an all-time high. So the dilemma lies in picking what for whom. Gift-giving has become an integral as well as an ‘albatross-around-the-neck’ kind of gesture. Sometimes it is out of love, sometimes it is out of expectations.
For thousands of years, Native Americans celebrated gift-giving with the potlatch on life events. The ancient Roman festival, Saturnalia, also had a day for gift-giving. In ancient Rome, gifts were exchanged during New Year. At first, the gifts used to be modest, such as a twig from a sacred tree or food items. Then, we all know the story of the three wise men who visited Jesus and gifted gold, frankincense and myrrh. Even then, the grander gifts weren’t a tradition on Christmas. Any gifts that were exchanged were small, handmade items.
Magnificent gifts were traditionally reserved for exchange between royalty and governments. Egypt presented stone vessels with a cartouche to Hittites. The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the United States from France. A cheetah was gifted from India to George III, the king of England in 1764. Queen Elizabeth too was presented with many animals as gifts. In ancient India, gifting hundreds of cows to Brahmins was considered sacred by the kings. Gifting diamonds to queens was the tradition in 18th century–from Arcot to Kohinoor, the list is extensive.
But let’s not get carried away by these grand demonstrations of wealth; let’s come back to this era of gift-giving.
I was watching a video where a young boy was all set to open his gift while the father was filming. He unwrapped the gift to find a cardboard box, and when he looked inside exclaimed, “Bubble wrap!!!!” The parents burst out laughing. He didn’t care for the toy; he got busy popping the bubble wrap. Children impart wisdom in the simplest manner. It is certainly not the cost of the gift that made him happy. The joy was in popping the bubble wrap. (Well, it is certainly a delight to most of us also!)
Gift-giving is essentially more gratifying for the giver, whether it is when one wants to show off or when one wants to feel the pleasure within. Joy can be looking at your dog trying hard to tear off his Christmas wrapping paper to get to the bone. Psychologically speaking, the long-lasting gratification comes from knowing that your gift is getting consumed by the receiver. Even when you help someone in need with your gifts, the feeling that you have taken care of someone is what fills your heart with glee and radiance.
The Talmud says, “The reward of charity depends entirely upon the extent of the kindness in it.”
It is the thought that counts. The present often serves as an aide-memoire of the person. When your mom or spouse or friend devotes time creating or pick a gift according to your taste or need, they are ‘investing’ in the gift. It is a flow of energy getting exchanged which, in this case, is usually positive and blissful. The way you receive the gift determines what energy you are deriving from it. If you go by the material value of the gift and somehow dislike it, you cut the energy then and there. What remains is the junk. When you feel really good within because of the gesture itself, you take that happy, vibrant energy with that gift. (And when you consume it, your mother’s joy knows no bounds!)
To tell you the truth, we cannot ‘give’ anything. We are drawing everything from this planet. Nothing is ours. We take air, water, food. Forget about everything else, we have even taken this body suit for our soul. Hence, the act of giving is actually a transaction. Gifts are a transaction. The act of giving out of love and kindness and the ability to share the blessings we have is the true significance of gift-giving. Equally important is receiving it whole-heartedly.
Next time, add a little card with your gift expressing how much you love or appreciate his or her presence in your life. The personal touch always works! I still open the first page of a book gifted to me by my supervisor at my first office job on the New Year. I will be forever grateful for the wonderfully and thoughtfully written lines about me. We lost touch over the years, but whenever I read those lines I feel that invisible energy exchange is still alive.
There is a Greek word called haplotes. It means ‘sincerely, generously and without pretense or hypocrisy.’ This is what our gift giving and receiving should be like. Always!
May the gifts we receive and offer are blessed, sacred and soulful!