Giving—Is It Expected?
YOU may well know that the giving of presents is frequently dictated by custom. In most cultures there are occasions when gifts are expected. Such gifts may be meant as tokens of respect or expressions of love. Many of them are never used by the recipient; others help to fill real needs and are deeply appreciated.
In Denmark when a baby is born, friends and relatives will visit and bring along gifts that they hope will be useful for the infant. In other lands, friends may have a party at which such gifts are given in anticipation of the birth.
Occasions when gifts are expected are, in many instances, annual affairs. Though such celebrations were not a practice among early Christians, they have become very popular among most professed Christians and non-Christians alike. The practice of giving birthday gifts may fade in other cultures as children grow older, but custom among the Greeks dictates otherwise. In Greece much attention is given to birthdays. They also give presents to a person on his “name day.” What is that? Well, religious custom attaches a different “saint” to each day of the year, and many people are named after “saints.” When the “saint’s” day arrives, those who bear that name receive gifts.
In addition to birthday celebrations for their children, Koreans have a national holiday known as Children’s Day. It is a time when there are family outings and when presents are given to children no matter what the date of their birth. Koreans also have a Parents’ Day, when children give to their parents, and a Teachers’ Day, when students honor their teachers and give them gifts. According to Korean custom, when a person reaches 60 years of age, a big party is held. Family and friends join in extending wishes for longevity and happiness, and gifts are presented to the one who has reached that point in life.
A wedding is another occasion when popular custom may call for gifts. When a couple in Kenya get married, the groom’s family is expected to offer a gift to the bride’s family. The guests too bring gifts. If the bride and groom follow the dictates of custom, they will sit on a platform, while the guests bring forward their gifts. As each one is presented, an announcement will be made that “So-and-so has brought a gift to the couple.” Many of the givers would be sorely displeased if they did not receive such recognition.
Among the Lebanese, when someone gets married, friends and neighbors, even people who do not know the couple well, come for days afterward with gifts. From childhood, they are taught that giving gifts is a responsibility, like paying a debt. “If you don’t do it, you don’t feel good,” said a Lebanese man. “It is tradition.”
Of all the occasions when giving is expected, however, in many lands Christmas is foremost. Is that not so where you live? As recently as 1990, it was estimated that Americans annually spend upwards of $40 billion on Christmas gifts. With great fervor that holiday is also celebrated by Buddhists and Shintoists in Japan, and various forms of the celebration are found in Europe, South America, and parts of Africa.
Christmas is a season when people expect to be happy, but many are not. And not a few find that the frenzied shopping for gifts and anxiety over paying the bills incurred overshadow whatever moments of pleasure they experience.
Yet, the Bible says that there is happiness in giving. Indeed there is, depending on the spirit in which the giving is done.—Acts 20:35.