This year the Books and Reviews’ Gifts Ideas contained more titles than last year because I felt that last years’ were not enough. I hope you have enjoyed them: this is my last post on the series and I would like to devote it to talk about the nature of gifts thanks to an essay I read some days ago: Gifts by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Just recently I realised I wasn’t making the most of my Sony e-reader and decided to split some of my reading time between books and those works that I could download on my e-reader. I found this collection of American Essays over Project Gutenberg and instantly fell in love with it (click here to download it). Now that I no longer attend literature lessons, I long for essays, so I decided to give these a try. Whilst exploring the titles on the index I found Gifts (1844) and thought it would fit perfectly this time of the year and the Gift Ideas series. Just take a look at the first lines:
IT is said that the world is in a state of bankruptcy, that the world owes the world more than the world can pay, and ought to go into chancery, and be sold. I do not think this general insolvency, which involves in some sort all the population, to be the reason of the difficulty experienced at Christmas and New Year, and other times, in bestowing gifts
If fits perfectly the current state of affairs regarding economy: this year while doing my usual Christmas shopping I’ve noticed less stock and fewer people buying which translates into less money to be spent and less money earned by business. But this should never stop us from making gifts as Emerson notes: gifts do not need to be expensive, they need to come from our hearts and our desire to make the other person, that we love, happy.
Emerson continues his essay talking about gits and how they should be purchased: by keeping the other person’s tastes in mind. I highlighted the difficulty of buying books as presents for non-bookish people because they could be inappropriate if the person does not like to read in this post. I would feel horrible if someone bought me fitness clothes for Christmas because although I do enjoy a run every once in a while, I am not the sports type, so by giving me the clothes I would ask myself if the person is trying to change me, or worse, the do not know me at all. Emerson puts it nicely:
Next to things of necessity, the rule for a gift, which one of my friends prescribed, is, that we might convey to some person that which properly belonged to his character, and was easily associated with him in thought.
But, what struck me the most on Gifts was a little comment on the obligation that comes with gifts. First of all, I live in a mainly Catholic country and by talking to many other people from different religions, I’ve found a huge difference in how me perceive help and gifts: we gladly accept it all while, for example, Lutherans or Protestants seem to be more than proud on self-sufficiency than we are (and I admire them a lot for this). Having said that, it is only my perception and although I live in a Catholic country I have an almost-Lutheran perception of help and gifts as well. I rely on my self-sufficiency most of the times and every time I’m given a gift, I know I’ll have to return it. I quote Emerson:
The law of benefits is a difficult channel, which requires careful sailing, or rude boats. It is not the office of a man to receive gifts. How dare you give them? We wish to be self-sustained. We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten.
I would really like to know your opinion regarding this, I know this blog has readers from a lot of different countries and I’m really interested in how you perceive this. I have also seen old people say opening a gift in front the person who has given it to you is not polite, then I’m the most disrespectful person ever because I tear the paper almost crazily. Have you heard this? Are there any rules associated to gifts in your country?
Finally, I would like to highlight this short sentence that appears at the beginning of the essay but that clearly sums up what I believe about gifts:
The only gift is a portion of thyself.
In this “state of bankruptcy” we must remember to keep all this in mind: the gift has to please the other person not us, but it can also me meaningful and remind them of us. In the very same store, two people buying a present for the same person would buy two different things, because we unconsciously put a part of us in the selection.
What do you think about the points Emerson makes? Do you agree?
You can read the whole essay for free here.
Past Books and Reviews’ Gift Guide posts: