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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Joy of Gift Giving

Yes, I'm no spring chicken but I remember not too long ago when a gift to another was chosen with thought and care and consideration for the recipient, and its bestowal on the recipient was a moment of joy and surprise. It might even be (horror’s of horrors) hand-made.

Somewhere along the line, giving and receiving of gifts has become a greedy faux of tradition that now breeds expectation, obligation, stress and even resentment.

Nothing accentuates the sad incursion of blatant greed into the world of gift-giving worse than the gift registry.

I wouldn’t be writing about this if the registries stopped at weddings and baby showers. After all, there are still some young couples who really need to outfit a home, and the generosity of the friends and relatives at this special time is a long-standing tradition, even if the ‘white wedding’ is not. A couple facing their first child appreciated the gifts of small items that the experienced parents knew they would need.

Greed, however has taken the gift registry to new levels. Today registries exist for every occasion: birthdays, baby showers, anniversaries, graduations, you name it. Kids today can go to their favorite toy store, and with a scanning gun, scan in all the goodies they want for their birthday, and include the list with the party invitations.

Expectant moms do the same thing- create registries for their upcoming showers, and get whatever they want. This might be tolerable but the new generation has ‘serial’ shower: moms who already have kids having showers for their next kid. I very recently attended a shower for a young woman who is due to deliver her fourth child. Fourth. When I asked about a registry I was told she just wanted gift-certificates from a certain store. Money.

These, like the serial wedding showers of divorcees, or multiple showers for first timers, are nothing but blatant displays of naked greed. Quite often the gifts given are returned to get the cash value. Years ago I was pointed in the direction of two registries for the same bride, both at reasonable stores, not high-end. At the first store there was a registry with maybe 40 items, averaging about $50 each.

But at the next store I noticed that she had registered for the exact same gifts, different brands here and there, but the same items, again about $50 per. In a chat with a relative I learned that they didn’t want any of it—that every item would be returned in hopes of getting enough cash for an island honeymoon. Am I wrong to feel dupped? I don’t think so, since if truth be told, I hate shopping and I also hate showers.

And "bon voyage", or off to school celebrations. Now come on. To a kid, a registry might seem like an ideal way to get your dorm room decorated—maybe a new laptop, not for things like computer game systems, skates, sports gear, clothes, and of course, the almighty gift card. My experience has seen that many kids head off to college, only to drop out due to laziness, or excessive night life, or both. Let’s wait and present the student with a graduation gift instead. One that I pick out.

Don’t get me wrong- I see nothing wrong with gift-giving. There is nothing more delightful for me than to be handed a beautifully wrapped little morsel when I least expect it, and find a delightful surprise within- or do the same for a close friend.

But today that isn’t really the case- the exchange of gifts often is a cover for barely restrained hostility in some places.

Christmas has become the worst, with weddings following a close second. Got something you want to get rid of, and can’t afford the stuff on the registry, and resent the feeling of being shaken down? Re-gift. That's another post, I guess.

Another thing, do these people give any thought to the finances of the people they are requesting gifts from? Do you really have to spend that much? It should go without saying that a person having trouble making ends meet, or on a fixed income maybe can’t afford to spend $120 on a vase or $400 for a place setting of china or stemware at $80 and up per stem.

It’s enough to turn one’s heart against gift giving completely. And finally, one would think that people who are old enough to be receiving a wedding or shower gift would be able to muster up the manners to thank the giver in a genuine and gracious manner, regardless of what the gift is, or how much it cost. If you are the receiver, be sincere in your thanks, generous with your friendship, and gracious in your kindness.

Gifts are, after all, a small token of friendship, celebration, appreciation, love. They should not be objects of obligation and greed. Remember that it is the presence of friends and family that is the greatest gift of all...right?

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