As we get fully entrenched in this holiday season, now best known for getting and giving gifts, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the cultures that have really perfected the art of giving gifts. Asian cultures specifically of course. Fellow blogger Joz and I both had the opportunity to travel back to Taiwan over the recent Thanksgiving holiday. We met up while we were there, and had the opportunity to reflect on the custom of having to bring gifts when visiting Taiwan, and how it always seems we never bring enough of them.
The custom of bringing gifts was instilled in me by my parents. It was partly a matter of “saving face”, as you instinctively know all the relatives you will be visiting will have a gift for you. If I were to have visited Taiwan without bringing appropriate gifts (like mixed nuts, chocolates, and face cream), I’m sure my mother would have turned over in her grave. But even with all my preparation, I still felt unequal to the task at hand. Everyone seemed to have a better, nicer gift to give me or my daughter who accompanied me to Taiwan.
The practice of gift giving in Chinese culture is also firmly planted with my family here in the U.S. I wouldn’t dream of visiting an auntie or uncle here in the states without stopping by a bakery first to pick up a cake or tart to bring along. Now with Christmas so near, I can hear my mom’s admonishments in my head to make sure I have a gift for everyone that comes to our house for Christmas dinner. This thought goes through my head, even though we sent out invites specifically saying there would be no gift exchange for adults in this economic downturn. I also said we were picking names out of a hat to determine who brought the single gift for each child who is coming to dinner. But secretly my mind is insisting I give every niece and nephew their own gift. Having a gift for everyone is so ingrained in my behavior, that I keep a fully stocked gift closet, so that no matter who comes over, I have something to give them.
There was one Christmas I stocked up on large tins of cookies and treats from Costco, so I could give them to my aunties. Each one got a different container, so I knew what I gave everyone. I gave one auntie a large red tin container. Imagine my surprise when on Christmas night, I received back the same container from a different auntie. The re-gifting had gone full circle. I’m not relaying this story to embarrass my aunties, but to show how practical the Chinese can be as well. My own mom, was a champion at re-gifting.
I can’t finish an article on the art of gift-giving without also giving a nod to Japanese culture, which has not only taken gift-giving to an art form, but the practice of wrapping gifts is an art form in Japan as well. So enjoy your holidays, and remember to go forth and gift appropriately.