Wednesday, 23 July 2014


“A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.” - Lucius Annaeus Seneca

The celebration of special days has always been a feature of human society. There is an overwhelming need to mark the year out, as the seasons advance and single out the feasts as red-letter days when celebrations are de rigueur. It is yet another of the human traits that separates us from animals and contributes to our essentially gregarious nature. All days are not the same, routine is interrupted, the constant drudgery of work and toil is broken up by a feast.

Religious holidays used to reign supreme in the past, but they are only one of these celebrations. Other anniversaries, seasonal feasts, birthdays, national days, commemorations, all play an important role in our life and lessen the boredom of everyday routine. They provide a means of breaking up the year into smaller blocks and give us a chance to mark several important highlights that we may look forward to as the year progresses.

Celebrations also provide ready enough excuses to catch up with friends and relatives, strengthening our ties and sharing our joys. Gift-giving is associated with these festivities and the special pleasure that this gift exchange gives us makes our celebrations all the more important to us. To give a gift is often a greater pleasure than to receive it and I certainly get a great deal of satisfaction from selecting the right gift for a certain person, wrapping it and then presenting it to them, waiting for their face to change (hopefully!) from surprise to appreciation to pleasure.

In recent times the giving of gifts has greatly overshadowed the other important social aspects of celebratory days. Our consumer-driven society looks for excuses to entice people to spend money and buy “stuff” – gifts. Often gifts that are expensive, but oh, so often useless or pointless. Gift-giving is what celebrating means to most people. Most celebrations have now been converted into consumer-fests where we are persuaded to spend as much as possible and buy as much as we possibly can… Another of the traits of our throw-away, consumer, capitalistic society and not a particularly attractive one at that.

However, gifts are not the be-all and end-all and many times, token gifts or hand-made ones are even more important than the expensive store-bought variety. I certainly appreciate them more when I receive them. This of course goes against what the stores would have us think. 

A gift to someone special doesn’t always have to be a physical “thing”. Time spent with someone we love can be the most precious gift. A cordial conversation over a shared meal, a tête-a-tête over a cup of coffee, a pleasant walk in a park are all precious gifts that we can give or receive with joy. But perhaps, even more so are the gifts we give to strangers. Kindness freely given to strangers make the world a better place. Love and compassion freely given not only benefit others, but benefit the giver also. While we may give of ourselves today, tomorrow we may need others’ gift to us.


  1. Agreed... everyone likes to celebrate special days. But if we want to avoid rampant consumerism, I would like to separate private gift giving (eg parent to child) from public gift giving (eg engagement, wedding, bar mitzvah).

    My grandparents always asked guests to donate money to the charity of their choice, on special occasions. As did my parents. For mum's 90th birthday, all the guests put together a very handsome bequest to the National Gallery of Victoria - much more satisfying than 12 bottles of perfume and 18 silk scarfs.

  2. I always enjoy personalised, handmade gifts more than store-bought ones. But it’s something that comes with increasing age - it’s hard to get an 8-year-old to appreciate a handmade gift when they are expecting the latest game for their computer or a shiny new toy.