Are You Giving Gifts for the Wrong Reasons?

I love Christmas time and I love to pick out gifts for my friends and family. I try to put thought into whatever I give and think about the person receiving it. I listen to them throughout the year and decide what messages they sent to me when they were completely unaware they were sending one. When something I’ve wrapped up brings a squeal of delight from the receiver, that’s all the gift I need in return.

With my gift giving strategy in mind, I’d like to share with you some strategies I’ve observed from other folks over the years. The following strategies are ones I don’t think work, even under the best circumstances.

The I-Got-You-A-Birthday-Present-And-I’ll-Give-It-To-You-Later strategy is one that screams to the recipient “NOT REALLY, BUT IT SOUNDS GOOD TO SAY THIS TO YOU!”   Folks, if you don’t care enough to give the gift on the occasion, then don’t say you have a gift waiting for the person. And don’t tell them you have a gift unless you’re thoughtful enough to actually give it to them on the day or soon thereafter. If you’ve put some thought into their birthday, then by all means, celebrate it with them. No one *expects* gifts on their birthday after they reach a certain age, but everyone loves to receive gifts on their birthday, no matter how old they get.

While we’re on the subject of birthday gifts let me also take a moment to add that no one likes to be told they *have* to buy a gift for someone’s birthday. “It’s Sally’s birthday next week. You need to remember to buy her something.” Really? When is this ever okay?

I remember going to great lengths to acquire creams and lotions for a close friend. They were different scents and packaged in adorable pots and tubes. I was completely enchanted with them and collected various types throughout the year and sent them to my friend on every occasion. When I visited my friend I found the pots and tubes stacked in a corner and asked about them. This is what she told me “Oh those! I keep them handy to give out to people that come by and have had birthdays and such that I’ve forgotten.” I was floored. Obviously she had *forgotten* who had been sending them to her as gifts so I asked her where she acquired so many delightful creams and lotions. “People keep sending them to me and it’s just crap I could pick up at any Dollar Store.” Wow! Why would she ever think I would go to the trouble of mailing something to her on her special day that I spent only a dollar on? And what Dollar Store was it that she was finding these lovely items in? I’d like to shop there. Needless to say, I have never sent her another pot of cream or tube of lotion. I pay closer attention to what she would really like to receive as a gift now and try not to focus on the possibility that my next gift might also end up on her re-gifting shelf. And if it does, at least someone is getting a vicariously thoughtful gift.

How about when you give someone a thoughtful gift and the minute they open it they say “I really don’t need this.” or “I don’t really like this.”?? Even if you really don’t, you should never say it out loud to the Giver. Try to think of what went into the gift. The thought, the planning, the excitement the Giver felt in putting together this special package, just for you. Then be polite and keep your negative thoughts to yourself. If this is you, then you probably don’t deserve a gift.

I’ve been on the receiving end of gifts I didn’t need or like and I was busted one year for returning one of them to the store and getting something I did need. When the Giver found out I had made an exchange she flew at me with admonishments. I finally had to address the situation in a way I wasn’t comfortable doing. “Remember when you kept telling me that you were going to buy me this piece of furniture for Christmas because *you* thought I *needed* it? Remember when I kept telling you that my apartment was the size of a postage stamp and while I appreciated the thought behind the gift, I had no room for it?” I hated doing that. It was never that I felt ungrateful for the gift. I loved it, but circumstances would not allow me to keep it.

When I made the exchange I didn’t feel guilty, especially after months of reminding the Giver, who repeatedly told me what I was getting and insisted that I needed it, that I didn’t need it. That whole episode left me empty and left the Giver feeling hurt and angry. This is not what gift giving should be about. And this brings me to my next failed strategy observation.

I know the act of buying or making a gift is very exciting. I feel it every year. I like hiding stuff away and keeping my presents secret until the Grand Opening! I am also very good at keeping secrets and no matter how much prodding I get, I never tell. Some folks have a difficult time exercising this kind of control though and will tell you exactly what they got you the minute they buy it and then they’ll tell you what everyone else got you too. There is no Magic in that.

This brings me to Burning Man and Halcyon’s video. When I first started attending Burning Man I was told “There are 52 members in your camp. You MUST bring 52 gifts to give to your camp mates.” So I would think and prepare the entire year before the event and produce something lovely that could be replicated 52 times. I always had the best time giving them out once I arrived. Well, there was one that I didn’t particularly enjoy…I held up my gift with great flourish and was so excited to give this camp mate my craft and she took it from me as if I had handed her a smelly sock and said “John makes all of my jewelry.”

I have to tell you that I did not come home with 52 camp mate gifts of my own, but the ones I brought home, I treasured. I always wondered how that was supposed to work out. I never expected anything and was quite content to share my gifts with everyone. It never occurred to me that no one had the right to *make* me bring 52 gifts. I just did it.

My second year I was told again to bring 52 gifts for my camp mates and I just couldn’t work up the excitement to create under  pressure, so I brought nothing but my love. I remember hearing one of the campers exclaiming “Why would I give her anything when she has given nothing to me?” Oh my. Perhaps bringing love is not enough for some folks? WTF?

My introduction to this wonderful ritual was horribly skewed from these past experiences. I could not relate the Burning Man gifting practice to my own real world practices and so was confused about exactly how this all worked.

My third year at Burning Man I camped with a new group of folks. That year no one demanded I make any gifts at all. In fact, whenever the subject of gifting came up it was in reference to the entire Burning Man community and not just limited to my camp mates. This was a new message to me. So I decided to research this Gifting practice and I was fortunate enough to find Halcyon.

With all of my observations and strategies I could never have truly understood the true meaning of gifting without him. Giving a gift is not about you, it is about what you can give of yourself to another human being. Whether it’s a trinket or a smile, everyone has something to give. He also addressed the discomfort no one ever talks about in receiving a gift. The response “Oh no! I have nothing to give you in return!” has never left my lips since listening to Halcyon explain how this one statement can take away from the Giver’s experience.He opened my eyes in a way no one else ever did and his message stuck.

Halcyon’s gifting message changed my perspective, not only on gifting at Burning Man, but all year round. He asks that we all take a moment and think about what gift giving means. “Gifting is a way of seeing the people around you. Gifting is a way for you to see everyone else’s life as an opportunity for you to help.”

Thank you Halcyon. You are in my heart this season. In Halcyon’s world not only is love enough, love is the most important gift of all.

While you’re out there fighting the shopping mall crowds or surfing the cyber world for that special item, keep your eyes open and don’t miss any opportunity to give back. You may find that in sharing what you already have, you may receive back the best gift of all…yourself.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Find more of Halcyon’s wisdom at

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About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
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8 Responses to Are You Giving Gifts for the Wrong Reasons?

  1. Halcyon says:

    Bravo! So stoked that the mssg resonated with you. Reading this was a gift. 🙂 ((hug))


    • madelinelaughs says:

      Thank you for stopping by Halcyon! You are truly a light in all of the dimness of the world. Keep on doing what you do. Love you!


  2. Sarah says:

    What a fantastic blog and video. 🙂 I absolutely love giving gifts and am a very particular giver. I particularly appreciated Halcyon talking about how to be a good receiver of gifts, as this is something that is so important to keep in mind! Thank you for sharing your insights. 🙂


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  5. I have been the fortunate receiver of your gifts and I have to tell you, the thought and love you put into your presents and your presence is beautiful and endearing. I feel so lucky to have you as my friend.


  6. It is best to find out the recipient’s needs before giving it to them.


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