5 Festive Gifting Traditions Around the World

Ok confession time. Writing about Personal Finance can be boring. And when it seems like you are cut off from the rest of the world, cocooned in a private bubble with your closest family members, with one occasion after the other, it seems even more difficult. So, as a blogger, what is the solution? Probably to find something fun in Personal Finance and add it to the growing repertoire of posts! In that regard, and considering the current calendar of unending festivities, I thought why not talk about gifting and it’s role in festivals.

Festivals are a universal age-old way of us humans connecting socially and also in a way breaking out of the humdrum daily routine. One recent insight that I derived was the fact that in most parts of the world, winter can be long, dark, gloomy and dreary. Festivals provide a much-needed excuse and push for people to forget those surroundings and celebrate in full flow. No wonder, the second half of the calendar is usually chock-a-block with festivals in most parts of the world.

As for gifting, there’s quite a fascinating history behind it. While it might have started as an effort-based barter of showing appreciation and gratitude to our loved ones, with increasing commercialization and financialisation of gifting, this often gets complicated. I think no one captures the essence of this complexity better than Sheldon Cooper in Big Bang Theory:

Sheldon: Wait, you bought me a present? Why would you do such a thing? (…) I know you think you’re being generous, but the foundation of gift-giving is reciprocity. You haven’t given me a gift, you’ve given me an obligation (…)

Penny: It’s ok, you don’t have to get me anything in return

Sheldon: Of course, I do. The essence of the custom is that I now have to go and purchase a gift of commensurate value and representing the same level of friendship as that represented by the gift you’ve given me.

In case, you are interested in diving deeper into the idea of gifting and reciprocity, check out this wonderful analysis done by Richard Tepper on his blog.

While you ponder on the deeper implications of an innocent enough tradition like gifting on festivals, here are 5 of the biggest gifting festive occasions across the world:

1. Diwali

Call it my Diwali hangover, but this occasion still manages top of the mind recall. Personally, my favourite festival, Diwali is a celebration of Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya after a 14 year exile. Traditionally, the citizens of Ayodhya lit up the city on that moonless light with oil filled earthen lamps. It is also believed that either then or over time, the tradition developed of making Indian sweets at home and exchanging with family or neighbours. Even today, I don’t remember much of Diwali gifting within the family. Rather, it is done between house holds, and now even business associates. As a marketer, Diwali used to be a time to look forward to, since a lot of agency partners tended to get creative or send over delicious gifts, as a thank you for the business generated. The most common gifts today include Indian sweets, nuts, chocolates, cutlery and home decoration items.

2. Eid-ul-Fitr

While there are two Eids celebrated in a year, Eid-ul-Fitr is the one that caps off the challenging one month of fasting during Ramadan. Eid-ul-Fitr is associated with “Eidaat” or gift giving, mostly to children. If adults do gift to each other, then clothes are the preferred gift, making it a pretty closed group affair. Although if this article is to be believed, “the act of gift giving is longstanding tradition within Islam originating back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed who believed that exchanging gifts would strengthen the bonds between Muslims and non-Muslims”.

3. Christmas

Probably the poster boy when it comes to festivals and gift giving, Christmas is the best known occasion for gift giving to probably all and sundry, be it family, friends or colleagues. What started as a celebration of a baby born in a manger, has now turned into an occasion of bounty left under a tree or in a stocking by a burly, old, jolly man in a red and white suit. It is theorized that when the pagan religions of the Romans were merged into Christanity with the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine to Christanity in AD 312, he was obligated to adopt the popular festival of Saturnalia which had gift giving as a major trait. Merging it with Christanity, the gift giving was given relevance under the hood of the Three Wise Men and the gifts they came bearing for Baby Jesus. Today, of course, we need no excuse. As far as 7 weeks prior to Christmas, stores in the US are well stocked to help you check off your gifting list.

4. Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is a week long celebration in China in acknowledgement of their system of time-keeping and of course the rotation of the twelve types of years. The most common tradition is to give a red envelope, stuffed with money (in even integers). However, today the gifting has diversified to include in it’s wake tea, liquour, cigarettes, fruits and healthcare products. Red and gold remain the most common colours of packaging. The Chinese also believe that things should be gifted in even numbers.

5. Purim

Before researching for this article, the only Jewish festival I knew about was Haunukkah. However, turns out that one of the biggest Jewish celebration is actually Purim. Purim, a festival celebrated every March or April, commemorates the occasion of Queen Esther of Persia, saving the Jewish people of imminent execution by Haman, advisor to the Persian king. As for gifting, one of the big Purim traditions is that of Mishloach Manot which calls for sending of food or drink hampers to friends, family and even poor people. When it comes to food, a commonly eaten item is Hamantaschen, which are sweet or savoury filling stuffed in triangular pastry shells.

So, there you have it. Do you celebrate any of these festivals and do you indulge in gifting at these times or forego of these traditions altogether? Let me know in the comments below.

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